Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Pic of the Day


The Art of Tax Evasion

In 2009, I had my first teaching job; it paid pennies. If you factor in my debt, mostly from student loans, I may have been just above the poverty level. I was forced to pay nearly half my gross income in student loan payments. I was forced to have two jobs: teaching grades 7-12 at a private school and working as an adjunct instructor at a local college. Neither paid well. I was still barely making ends meet. When I did my taxes for that year, I owed over a thousand dollars because having two jobs put me in a higher tax bracket, and neither job had taken out enough tax from my paychecks. I didn’t have the money, and I was scared to death. I finally scrounged up enough money to pay my federal income tax though it meant I didn't always get to eat, and I still could not come up with enough to pay my Alabama state income tax. They eventually garnished that amount from my 2010 tax refund. I’d gotten a minuscule tax refund that year, because I had lost my second job which lowered my income drastically.

Therefore, it makes me angry when politicians run on a platform of reducing taxes; it's usually Republicans, and the only people who get the reduced taxes are the wealthy. The poorest among us rarely get tax cuts, and yes, some of the middle class received more money in their checks after Trump's tax cut, but mine was only a few dollars. I doubt it has amounted to even $100 a year since it went into effect. However, taxes on wealthy Americans have fallen sharply in recent decades. Many still pay a lot to the federal government. A typical billionaire pays tens of millions of dollars in federal income taxes each year, but what is that compared to ordinary people like me paying nearly 25 percent of my annual salary? The wealthy’s tax rate may be higher than mine, but they have numerous ways to lower their tax burden with deductions. In 2018, I did not get a tax break because I moved into a slightly higher paying job and into a new tax bracket; I went from paying 15 percent to 22 percent. 


While most billionaires do pay some taxes, President Trump is apparently different. On Sunday, The New York Times(NYT) published an investigation of his finances based on thousands of pages of documents not previously made public. The Times exposé of the President's tax returns revealed a pitifully inept businessman and a serial tax evader crushed by massive debt that could expose him to conflicts of interest given his position as President with the power to help undisclosed lenders. The number one reason for being denied top-level security clearance is debt; it makes you susceptible to bribery and blackmail. His personal debt underscores a long-time fear about his administration—that he is managing US diplomacy to prioritize his own personal and financial goals rather than the broader national interests. Trump receives millions of dollars in income from countries like Turkey and the Philippines led by autocrats whom he has praised but who infringe on traditional US values like human rights. 


The NYT article showed that Trump paid no taxes in 11 of the 18 years between 2000 and 2017. In both 2016 and 2017, he paid only $750. That means in 2010 when I had to pay an exorbitant tax bill because I was working two jobs to survive and still ended up doing without in order to pay that tax bill, Donald Trump paid nothing in taxes. Trump was able to do so both because many of his businesses reported losing vast sums of money—which reduces his taxable income—and because he has engaged in questionable tax practices. Even while declaring losses, he managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses including residences, aircraft, and $70,000 in hairstyling for television—all of this during a period when I went without food and had to work two jobs.


The publication of the well-researched article, based on more than two decades of his tax information obtained by The Times, came just days before the first presidential debate, and 37 days before an election in which he appears to be trailing Biden. It poses a serious challenge to a presidency that Trump may need to preserve to outrun creditors with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans soon coming due. It leaves the president facing many questions about his morals, behavior, and patriotism since he appears to be paying more in taxes to several foreign nations than he is to the United States. The reporting also raises the possibility that Trump's deceptive accounting practices, already the focus of several investigations in New York, could open him up to serious legal issues when he leaves office. For instance, The Times report says the president has been battling the Internal Revenue Service for years over whether losses he claimed should have resulted in a staggering tax refund of $73 million. 


The fact that Trump paid just $750 in taxes in two straight years should be the most damning since it is so identifiable and strikes such a clear comparison to the larger figure almost all Americans pay. If a man with his own airliner, gold-leafed homes, and a string of golf resorts can get away with that who is to argue the system is not permanently biased against regular people? Seth Hanlon, a Democratic policy adviser, pointed out, “In 2017, a single worker without children who made $18,000 would have paid $760 in federal income tax. Donald Trump paid $750.” Biden recently made this very explicit in a new ad that came out Sunday night:

Which Donald Trump is the true Donald Trump? Is he the business mastermind who has been lying to the IRS about his losses? Or is he the failed businessman who has been lying to the American people about his success as a businessman? It seems every time Donald Trump is caught in a new lie or yet another political scandal, there’s always a tweet from the president’s past that makes him look like a hypocrite on the issue of the day. He is a Republican after all; it’s the party of hypocrisy. Here is what he said about Barack Obama’s taxes in 2012: 

To compare Trump to his predecessors, the federal taxes paid by presidents over the past 40 years during their first year in office are as follows:

  • Ronald Reagan: $165,202
  • George H.W. Bush: $101,382
  • Bill Clinton: $62,670
  • George W. Bush: $250,221
  • Barack Obama: $1,792,414
  • Donald Trump: $750

Lily Batchelder, the Robert C. Kopple Family Professor of Taxation at New York University School of Law, said, “Trump’s tax returns suggest he has only ever been successful as a showman, not at running actual businesses.” I realize these revelations about Trump's finances and tax evasion are unlikely to change his strong emotional and cultish connection to his followers. He has been successful in constructing alternative political realities while discrediting journalists and with the help of propaganda from conservative media. After all, his supporters have ignored numerous stories about Trump's refusal to pay his creditors, casino bankruptcies, and morally questionable business practices that have been circulating for years. Throughout a political career filled with scandal, Trump has rarely paid a price for any of his scandals, outrages, and insults—any one of which would have doomed a normal politician. His brand is well known; he is a rule-breaker and a successful businessman. He may be a rule-breaker, i.e., a criminal and a fraud, he is definitely not a successful businessman according to his finances. In the past, he has explained that avoiding taxes shows he is a smart businessman and is an approach anyone would take if they could. Yet, what he has been doing is equivalent to tax evasion. On Sunday, Trump quickly adopted his typical tactic of trying to pass off serious revelations as nothing to concern voters because he said, "It's fake news. It's totally fake news. Made-up, fake.”

For any of my readers who continue to support Trump, I have some questions: What will it take for Trump to lose your support? His amoral, misogynistic, homophobic, racist behavior didn’t do it. His shady dealings with foreign countries haven’t done it. His rude and arrogant behavior hasn't done it. His disdain for the press and our veterans hasn't done it. His lack of business acumen and his penchant for tax evasion for over a decade are apparently not going to do it. What would change your mind? Can anything change it? Can you not see what is wrong with supporting this man? 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Pic of the Day


The Art of Debate


The Art of Debate

By Anna Hopper


For most of my life

I’ve walked around blind

Never watching the news

Kept an open mind


One day I was informed

“You sound like a liberal”

I felt rather scorned 

The subject was literal


I took a step back

And replied, “okay”

I love the blacks 

And respect the gays


Perhaps the left wing 

Has a vacant seat

But what shall I bring

I refuse kissing feet


So very unworthy

To judge another

When my hands are dirty

Dear sister, brother


But I’ve come to see

Accusations weren’t true 

You don’t know me

As I don’t know you


Not defined by race

Class or career

We all deserve grace

Redneck or queer


I’m tired of the hate

And our pride being burned

The art of debate 

Is yet to be learned 




There will be a lot of debate over the next several weeks. Tonight begins the first in a series of presidential debates. They’re always unpredictable. There will also be debates over the Supreme Court nomination hearings. The politics in America will get nastier and nastier as we draw closer to the election, and I don’t expect it will end with election night. We have a hard fight ahead of us on all fronts. In the debate tonight and the ones in the future, I hope Biden crushes Trump, but I’d be stupid not to worry a little about the debates. If you think you know what will happen in the coming presidential debates, think again. Even the best debaters have stumbled during debates in the national spotlight.


The first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, when the two candidates squared off in the first televised presidential debate, is a good example. Most commentators expected Richard Nixon to win the debate handily. Not only did he have eight years of experience as vice president, but he also had a reputation as a skilled debater. But when the camera came on and began to broadcast, Nixon came across as pale and weak. John F. Kennedy appeared cool, tanned, and in command. Nixon, unlike Kennedy, seemed nervous and declined to wear makeup. While Nixon fared better in the second and third debates, and on October 21, when the candidates met to discuss foreign affairs in their fourth and final debate, Nixon’s one-point polling edge before the first debate turned into a three-point lead for Kennedy after the debate. JFK went on to win the election by a hair.


In 2000, observers expected Vice President Al Gore, a capable debater, to wipe the floor with Texas Governor George W. Bush, who was not then and is still not known for his eloquence. But that’s not what happened. In their first debate, Gore sighed, huffed and puffed, and left a poor impression. It was an impression that was lampooned on Saturday Night Live, and it stuck with him throughout the race. His pre-debate lead was wiped out. After all three debates, it was Bush who emerged the winner of the election, but not without controversy (see Gore v. Bush).


Debates, however, are lost, not won. That was apparent in 1976 when President Ford intimated that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination. It was a big blunder that played into the negative stereotype of Ford as dimwitted. Jimmy Carter didn’t win that debate, Gerald Ford lost it — and with it the election. Self-inflicted injuries are the worst kind. Americans like debates. They offer voters a chance to see candidates side-by-side. They motivate supporters and serve as tiebreakers for undecided voters. Debates can make voters more comfortable with candidates and lessen doubts. The smartest debaters use them to identify with the nation’s political temperament.


Debates have big audiences with enormous media buildups. They work best for candidates who use them to clarify the choice that voters are about to make. They offer valuable opportunities to sharpen messages and sort out issues that have become jumbled in the fog of campaign warfare. That’s why the question Reagan posed at the end of his debate with Carter—“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”—was so effective. It’s a question everyone needs to consider in this election. There are many unknowns when going into a debate, and one thing is for certain, Trump is full of surprises. He will lie about anything and say anything to get a positive reaction from his base, which they will believe because he has them believing anything they disagree with is fake news. However, in debates, surprise can kill––putting the target, and sometimes the aggressor, at risk. 


As the underdog in the polls, Trump has less to lose. He needs to change the dynamics of the race. He will likely position himself as the only defense against a takeover by the radical left and portray Biden as a left-wing zealot, which Biden is decidedly not. Viewers will be watching this debate to see what happens. For supporters of Trump, it will be an opportunity to reinforce cult-like devotion; for his opponents, it will be an opportunity to reinforce deepening revulsion. For the percentage of the electorate that is undecided or not happy with either candidate, it could be an opportunity for them to actually make a choice. 


There is little doubt that Trump will be nasty in his remarks and try to bully Biden. Biden needs to stand firm. Trump’s usual dirty political tactics could open himself up for tough counterattacks, especially if Biden goes after Trump on the coronavirus and healthcare and emphasizes the Trump administration’s uncaring and reckless policies. Biden will need to hammer Trump on his and the Republican strategy of ramming a conservative judge through the Supreme Court confirmation process before they lose the election. Biden needs to focus on the hypocrisy of the Republicans. The revelations about Trump not paying taxes for a decade will surely be a topic that is discussed, and Biden has a chance to show the American people that Trump is a liar, a cheater, and a fraud. 


Anything goes in this election. And in the debate tonight, anything can happen. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Trump has a lot to answer for, and if Biden stays calm, hits back hard and effectively, and doesn’t falter or stumble, Biden will most likely come out on top in this debate. There is a lot of opportunities to make Trump look small, weak, and petulant. There is little that Trump can claim the higher ground on, and therefore, he will hit below the belt and show his lousy temperament, which will not sway his cult followers who love that about him, but it could sway the undecided against him if Biden plays his cards right. Biden needs to remember what Michelle Obama always says, “When they go low, we go high.” There is no doubt that Trump will go low, but Biden needs to stay above that and come across as a strong defender of democracy.


Monday, September 28, 2020

Pic of the Day

A Mental Health Day


Sometimes you just need a break from life. It can be because of a lack of motivation, general irritability, zero interest in work or activities you once enjoyed, or feeling overwhelmed and like you’ll never check off everything on your to-do list…. All of these things can contribute to feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and burnt out. 


Here are nine signs that you might be experiencing burnout:

  1. Irritability & quick temper. P
  2. Withdraw from things that used to be fun and meaningful. P
  3. Constantly feeling anxious. P
  4. Feeling detached from both work and others. P
  5. Cynicism. P
  6. Lack of motivation or focus. P
  7. Feeling exhausted. P
  8. Lack of self-care: exercise and nutrition. P
  9. Feeling physically sick. P 

Do these sound familiar to you? I know for me they do. It checks all my boxes. For no apparent reason, I have been unusually irritable lately. There are things that used to be fun, that I just don’t want to do. With the coming election, I am definitely feeling anxious. Working from home has me feeling detached not only from work but form others as well. The current Republican administration has me feeling cynical, because who can trust any of them. In general, I am lacking any kind of motivation. The only motivation I have is to occasionally rant in my posts about politics. I am exhausted all the time. I have not been exercising nor have I been eating the right foods. You all know about my headaches, which are part and parcel to all of these.


While my Botox treatment seems to be helping my migraines, they are not helping my sinus headaches. The weather has been changing drastically here in Vermont. Each day we are having 30 to 40-degree swings in temperature, and there is a storm front that will be moving through in the coming days. These things wreak havoc on my sinuses. This weekend was not a good weekend, and I’m to the point that I need a mental health day. The problem is, I have meetings today, a class to teach tomorrow, and I have to be in the office on Wednesday and Thursday. Therefore, I am checking out today except for the short meeting I have this morning.


The truth is, we can all benefit from a day to clear the fog from our heads. I have read that taking a mental-health day can improve energy, motivation, mood, and one’s ability to manage stress, and time off might actually increase overall productivity rather than decrease it. While officially, I will be working today, I doubt I will be doing much of anything.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Pic of the Day


Remember the Beatitudes

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

For they shall inherit the [a]earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

—Matthew 5:1-12 (NKJV)


Kurt Vonnegut, an atheist and a humanist, is not someone I usually look to for religious views. He never showed disdain for those who sought the comfort of religion but instead acknowledged church associations as a type of extended family. Vonnegut proclaimed he was a "Christ-worshipping agnostic" and sometimes called himself a "Christ-loving atheist." Vonnegut was an admirer of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, particularly the Beatitudes, and incorporated it into his principles. In his 2005 essay collection, A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut wrote:


“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. "Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”


Vonnegut has a very valid point. In 2003, Roy Moore, then Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice (for the first time), installed a 5,280-pound granite block monument (that broke the floor) of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building in the dead of night (done without the consent or knowledge of the eight associate justices and later caused him to be removed from office for the first of two times). Moore never mentioned the Beatitudes, the basis of Christ’s message, but instead focused on the Ten Commandments. Moore’s actions over the years clearly show that he does not follow the Beatitudes. He prefers media attention to faith. As Governor Kay Ivey’s spokeswoman said last week when asked about Moore filing a lawsuit against Ivey over the mask mandate in Alabama, “It appears this is another attempt to garner some press attention.” Moore is known more for his hate and outrageous statements and actions than for his devout Christianity, which he apparently does not possess.


The United States would be a better place if Christians followed the message of Jesus and did not pick and choose only from the sections of the Bible they want to follow and ignore those they deem inconvenient. Just as Trump supporters pick and choose what they want to believe about him and his policies, the conservative Christian Right picks and chooses what they want to follow of the Bible. Trump is doing the same thing with the Constitution. I have no idea where Trump gets inspiration and comfort, but I don't believe it is the Bible, or he would be a very different person. He seems to lack all morals, and he is too erratic to have a foundation for his ever-changing belief.


In contrast, when Joe Biden seeks inspiration and comfort, he turns to his faith. His speeches are woven with references to God and biblical language. When Biden spoke to the faith-based anti-poverty group the Poor People's Campaign, he described the United States under President Trump as a "nation in the wilderness." Biden told the group, "All of you remind me of how Scripture describes a calling born out of the wilderness. A calling to serve, not to be served. A calling toward justice, healing, hope — not hate. To speak the good news and followed by some good deeds. It's not just enough to speak the good news, but good deeds."


This wasn't a one-off religious reference; this is how Biden routinely speaks. He launched his candidacy by referring to his campaign as a "battle for the soul of the nation." It was the central theme of his primary run and remains a core belief of his campaign. If elected, Biden would become only the second Catholic president in American history. It's not a detail he highlights, but people who know him well say his Catholic faith is central to how he sees the world.


Biden carries a rosary in his pocket and attends Mass every Sunday, while Trump plays golf. Trump supporters dismiss Biden's faith even though he is described by all who know him as a deeply devout person of faith. Ironically, even though we have a president who has shown no sign of being a Christian, especially a deeply devout one, Biden will likely lose the states in the Bible Belt. Biden has framed this election as a clear moral contrast between Trump and himself, but many of Trump's supporters see Biden as amoral only because he is a Democrat. However, Biden is running perhaps the most overtly devout Democratic presidential campaign since Jimmy Carter in 1976. 


During Holy Week this past spring, the campaign released a video in which Biden spoke about faith seeing best in the dark, juxtaposed with images of the coronavirus pandemic. And when he delivered a eulogy for George Floyd and called for racial justice, he spoke of growing up with a Catholic social doctrine that taught him "faith without works is dead."

Biden's faith informs his values, and, in turn, his values shape his politics. Biden focuses on faith, rather than religious doctrine; he prays with voters, rather than proselytizes. And yet for some religious conservatives, all of that pales in comparison to the single issue of abortion. Trump has tried to portray Biden as a heathen. Last month the president attacked the Democratic nominee for being a man "against God." And more broadly, Trump and his supporters have made religion a cultural issue, painting Democrats as the party against religious freedom. The struggle for Trump in defining Biden as a godless man is that Biden’s faith has been in public view for decades.


To heal the United States, we need a president that believes in the tenets of the Beatitudes. We need someone who believes "faith without works is dead." James 2:14-17 says:


What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.


For four years, Trump has relentlessly pursued an economic agenda that rewards wealth over work and favors multinational corporations over small businesses. But middle-class Americans have been largely left out. Trump has not only refused to deliver for struggling working families; he is now pushing for another misguided tax giveaway for America's wealthiest families. That's the fundamental difference between Trump and Biden — Trump is focused on further enriching billionaires like himself, while Biden wakes up every day asking how he can help the middle and lower classes in America.


Biden cares about the weakest among us, those who are in the most danger. It is a moral failing and a national shame when children are separated from their parents and locked away in overcrowded detention centers, where the government seeks to keep them there indefinitely. It’s shameful when President Trump uses family separation as a weapon against desperate mothers, fathers, and children seeking safety and a better life. It’s disgraceful when children die while in custody due to a lack of adequate care. Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” This is a recurring theme for the ancient Hebrews. They were told to remember their treatment/enslavement by the Egyptians and not do the same for foreigners in their territory. 


Unless your ancestors were native to these shores, or forcibly enslaved and brought here as part of our original sin as a nation, most Americans can trace their family history back to a choice–a choice to leave behind everything that was familiar in search of new opportunities and a new life. Biden understands that is an irrefutable source of our strength, like the original, though unofficial, motto of the United States says, "E pluribus unum”—out of many, one. Generations of immigrants have come to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs, the hope in their hearts, and a desire to claim their piece of the American Dream. It's why we have been continuously able to renew ourselves, grow better and stronger as a nation, and meet new challenges. Immigration is essential to who we are as a nation, our core values, and our aspirations for our future. Biden will assure that we never turn our backs on who we are or what makes us uniquely and proudly American. The United States deserves an immigration policy that reflects our highest values as a nation. 


The challenges we face will not be solved by a constitutionally dubious "national emergency" to build a wall, separate families, or deny asylum to people fleeing persecution and violence. Addressing the Trump-created humanitarian crisis at our border, bringing our nation together, reasserting our core values, and reforming our immigration system will require real leadership and real solutions. As Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” As the Hebrews were strangers in Egypt, so were all of us once strangers on this continent. We need someone who will fight for the justice deserved by the foreigners among us today.


Matthew 14:14 says, “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”  Jesus was the Great Physician. He was a healer and cared for people’s health, both physically and spiritually. In Luke 10:9, Jesus commands his disciples, “And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’" We currently have an administration that is attempting to take away millions of Americans' healthcare as they attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I won't pretend that the ACA is perfect. It needs reforms, especially in healthcare costs and the control insurance companies have over treatments doctors prescribe to patients. However, we know that there are parts of the ACA that are vitally important. As president, Biden will protect the Affordable Care Act from these continued attacks. He opposes every effort to get rid of this historic law, including Republicans' efforts and efforts by Democrats. Instead of starting from scratch and getting rid of private insurance, he has a plan to build on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate.


For Biden, this is personal. He believes that every American has a right to the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can access affordable, quality health care. He knows that no one in this country should have to lay in bed as I do at night staring at the ceiling wondering, “How am I going to pay for the treatment I so desperately need?” Biden knows there is no peace of mind if you cannot afford the care you need because of a pre-existing condition because you've reached a point where your health insurer says "no more," or because you have to decide between putting food on the table and going to the doctor or filling a prescription. 


In Matthew 25:34-36, Jesus says, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’" We must help feed the poor among us. Eating well should be a right, not a privilege. We need a government that will help make nutritional and healthy foods affordable to all Americans. Biden believes Americans should have the ability to have secure housing and live in a safe community. Housing should be a right, not a privilege. Tens of millions of Americans spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing – leaving them with nowhere near enough money left over to meet other needs, from groceries to prescription drugs. Americans need someone who cares and who will help make the United States better for all.


Finally, Biden believes that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity and live without fear no matter who they are or who they love. During the Obama-Biden Administration, the United States made historic strides toward LGBTQ+ equality—from the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to Biden's historic declaration in support of marriage equality on Meet the Press in 2012 to the unprecedented advancement of protections for LGBTQ+ Americans at the federal level. But this fight’s not over. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and rolled back critical protections for the LGBTQ+ community. By blocking the ability of transgender individuals to openly serve their country, denying LGBTQ+ people access to critical health care, proposing policies allowing federally funded homeless shelters to turn away transgender people and federally funded adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples, and failing to address the epidemic of violence against transgender people—particularly transgender women of color—the Trump-Pence Administration has led a systematic effort to undo the progress President Obama and Vice President Biden made. With Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, the Religious Right is gloating over the possibility of taking away all of the gains made in LGBTQ+ rights. Brian Brown, a co-founder of the hate group National Organization for Marriage (NOM), said in an email that the Supreme Court nomination would "pave the way for the restoration of marriage to our laws and scrapping the illegitimate, anti-constitutional imposition of same-sex ‘marriage’ on the nation.” He went on to say:


It will mean that religious liberty will be restored to its rightful place as a foundational constitutional right, and that the fake “rights” that are constantly demanded by the left – including special rules for homosexuals and the so-called transgendered – will no longer see the light of day.


We need protection of our rights, not someone who will work hard to destroy our freedoms. Trump's nominee Amy Coney Barrett will be a disaster for our rights. Barrett is also a profoundly conservative thinker. Barrett makes clear that in matters of constitutional interpretation, she would not hesitate to overturn decisions with which she disagrees. On Barrett’s chopping block could be the right of same-sex couples to marry; the existence of affirmative action programs at colleges and universities; the constitutional protections against discrimination based on gender that Ginsburg made the center of her career; the Affordable Care Act, which she has publicly criticized; and environmental protections and other regulatory efforts enacted as part of the congressional power to oversee interstate commerce. Our rights as LGBTQ+ individuals depend on electing Biden as president.


Biden wants to bring about a better United States. Trump has worked for four years to divide this country and tear it down. Trump has ignored the duties of the president and has ignored the fundamental values of democracy and freedom. Biden will answer the call to be the kind of leader the United States needs in a president. He will be guided by his faith to take care of all Americans and bring greater equality to all. He will not use religion to oppress us. He will value democracy and freedom as he has for the past 50 years of service to this nation. We need a man who has faith. We need a man who has morals. We need a man who believes in the tenets of the Beatitudes. We need Joe Biden as president. Remember the Beatitudes in all you do, that includes when you vote in November.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Pic of the Day

Moment of Zen: Autumn Leaves

Autumn is here, and in Vermont, we will reach peak leaf season over the next two weeks. The beauty of these few weeks of autumn makes it worthwhile to live in Vermont.

"Autumn Leaves" is a popular song and jazz standard composed by Joseph Kosma with original lyrics by Jacques Prévert in French, and later by Johnny Mercer in English. Paula Cole sings my favorite version (above) and Nat King Cole sings another beautiful version (below).

Friday, September 25, 2020

Pic of the Day


Read It and Eat: Southern Literary Recipes

There are a lot of things the South is known for, both good and bad, but one of the great things is food. In New Orleans, you have Creole and Cajun food that finds its origins in the multicultural background of Louisiana. North Carolina, Memphis, and Texas are all known for their barbecue, each with a distinctive style that makes them unique. The coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia have their own low country boil and seafood specialties. Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia each fight over which one invented Brunswick stew, one of my favorite southern stews, and people all over the South have a different recipe for it.

The South is also known for its literary traditions that date back all the way to the humor traditions of the “old southwest,” which mostly is comprised of the states west of Georgia and the Carolinas. The Southern Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s saw some of the most famous works in southern literature. This time period gave us William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and Tennessee Williams. The post-World War II period was dominated by women: Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Harper Lee. Throughout it all, “Southern Gothic” permeated many of the most famous works with its dark romanticism and southern humor. Southern Gothic authors included the likes of Dorothy Allison, Walker Percy, Ambrose Bierce, Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Truman Capote, Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, and Williams.

While there is a lot to dislike about the South (racism, right-wing politics, homophobia, religious zealots, etc.), you can’t go wrong when you combine the South’s love of food and it’s love of a good story. Probably the most famous marriage of the two is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg. In Flagg’s novel, the titular restaurant is the go-to spot in Whistle Stop, Alabama, for satisfying meals—and heartwarming company too. Flagg describes the quintessential dinner: “Idgie and Ruth had set a place for him at a table. He sat down to a plate of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and iced tea.”

I used to love to pick the tomatoes while they were still firm and green, slice them up, and fry them. You’ll find them as a popular side, an appetizer, or offered as an off-the-menu seasonal special that’s prepared in a new, creative, flavorful way, usually with some type of special sauce or topped with seafood, such as shrimp Remoulade. I’ve even had them as the main dish on a BLT, which is quite delicious. While this Southern staple deserves its fame by simply being delicious, it also has Alabama native Fannie Flagg to thank for its unwavering popularity. In 1987, Flagg published the novel Fried Green Tomatoes, which would later be adapted into a major motion.

Anyone can make fried green tomatoes and enjoy them at home. To serve four to six people, the ingredient list is fairly simple and straightforward: cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, vegetable oil, seasoning salt (or Cajun seasoning if you want a kick), and pepper. The recipe starts with unripe green tomatoes, which are soaked in buttermilk and coated with flour and cornmeal mixture, and fried. Start with three medium-size green tomatoes, which you need to slice into ¼-inch slices, dredge through the cornmeal mixture, and fry until golden brown.


  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, divided (preferably Lawry’s)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper + ½ teaspoon pepper, divided (you can substitute Cajun Seasoning)
  • 3 green tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • Vegetable oil

How to Make It

Step 1
Soak the slices of green tomato in buttermilk with seasoning salt and pepper; set aside. Combine ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cornmeal, 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl or pan. Dredge tomato slices in cornmeal mixture.

Step 2
Pour oil to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch in a large cast-iron skillet; heat to 375°. Drop tomatoes, in batches, into the hot oil, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels or a rack. Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt.

It’s just that simple, but the next recipe is not. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch’s neighbor, Miss Maudie Atkinson, makes a bourbon-loaded Lane cake that’s famous all over the town of Maycomb, Alabama. Miss Maude says in the book, “I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her, she’s got another think coming.” Honestly, I have never eaten a Lane cake. I was always thought of this cake as a very fancy and complicated cake to make and to be even more honest, I am not a great baker. I can cook up a storm, and if I have a recipe, there is nothing I can’t cook. But when it comes to baking, I have only two specialties: a cranberry cake and cherry-pistachio cookies.

More than 100 years ago, Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama entered the annual baking competition at the county fair in Columbus, Georgia. She took first prize. The cake came to be known as The Lane Cake and gained literary fame in 1960 when it was featured in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. In March 1966, Southern Living featured the cake in its second issue. It is still a popular layer cake; however, it has undergone many changes since Mrs. Lane's original recipe, mostly in the filling ingredients. Many bakers use other fruit in the recipe instead of the raisins. Coconut, pineapple, and pecans are popular additions. In North Carolina, chopped apples and cinnamon are used along with raisins, and apple brandy makes a good addition to the fruit.

Recipes for this cake vary from kitchen to kitchen and state to state. Part of the charm is making your own creation with ingredients that your family likes or are popular for the season. This isn’t one of those desserts where you can pop in and out of the kitchen; it takes some effort, but the moist cake, I am told it is totally worth the wait. It’s packed with Southern flavors like toasted pecans, coconut flakes, and dried peaches. The Lane Cake is topped with a Peach Schnapps-infused frosting that’s both incredibly unique and fluffy. Bourbon is one of the primary components in the dessert, which helps the flavor to improve as it ages.

1898 County Fair Winning Recipe

Cake Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 egg whites


Step 1
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put wax paper in the bottom only of 4 9-inch cake pans.

Step 2
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Step 3
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, mixing well until light and fluffy.

Step 4
Combine the dry ingredients with the creamed ingredients gradually while adding milk as you go. Mix together well and add vanilla while mixing.

Step 5
Separate the egg whites from the yolks and save the yolks for use in the filling. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer in a separate glass bowl until soft peaks form. Gently add the beaten egg whites to the cake batter. Be careful not to over mix (see tips below). The batter will be smooth but look slightly granular.

Step 6
Divide the batter evenly into the 4 pans. Bake in a 375-degree oven until the edges shrink slightly away from the side of the pans and cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean—approximately 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Step 7
Turn the layers out of pans onto wire cooling racks; remove the wax paper and turn the layers right side up; cool completely.

Recipe for Filling:

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup bourbon or brandy (or other alcohol of choice) or grape juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Step 1
In a bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add sugar and butter to the egg yolks and continue to mix well. Put in a 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat; stirring constantly until thick (this might take as long as 15 to 20 minutes to get thick).

Step 2
When thickened, remove from heat. Stir in raisins, pecans, bourbon, and vanilla.

Step 3
Cool slightly. Spread generously between each cake layer.

How to Make the Frosting

You can use your favorite frosting recipe for this cake, or the Seven Minute Frosting recommended here. Some people frost just the sides of the cake and put the filling mixture on top with just a rim of frosting around the edge to keep the filling in place on top. It's your choice.

Seven Minute Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Step 1
Set a heatproof glass bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. In a bowl put the sugar, corn syrup, 1/4 cup water, and egg whites. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer (about 2 minutes).

Step 2
Remove the bowl from the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture on high speed until glossy and soft peaks form (about 5 minutes). Beat in the vanilla.

Step 3
Immediately frost the sides and top of the cake.

1966 Southern Living Recipe

This version of the Lane cake is complete with a peachy makeover and an unforgettable meringue frosting.


Cake Layers:

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour (such as White Lily)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Shortening

Peach Filling:

  • Boiling water
  • 8 ounces dried peach halves
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Peach Schnapps Frosting:
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup peach schnapps
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt

How to Make It

Step 1
Prepare Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°. Beat the first 2 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add 8 egg whites, 2 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Step 2
Sift together flour and baking powder; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with 1 cup water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract. Spoon batter into 4 greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round shiny cake pans (about 1 3/4 cups batter in each pan).

Step 3
Bake at 350° for 14 to 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Step 4
Prepare Filling: Pour boiling water to cover over dried peach halves in a medium bowl; let stand 30 minutes. Drain well and cut into 1/4-inch pieces. (After plumping and dicing, you should have about 2 cups peaches.)

Step 5
Whisk together melted butter and the next 2 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 10 to 12 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in diced peaches, coconut, and next 3 ingredients. Cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Step 6
Spread filling between cake layers (a little over 1 cup per layer). Cover cake with plastic wrap, and chill 12 hours.

Step 7
Prepare Frosting: Pour water to a depth of 1 1/2 inches into a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk together 2 egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and next 3 ingredients in a heatproof bowl; place bowl over boiling water. Beat egg white mixture at medium-high speed with a handheld electric mixer 12 to 15 minutes or until stiff glossy peaks form and frosting is spreading consistency. Remove from heat and spread immediately over the top and sides of the cake.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Pic of the Day


Dirty Politics

Three times a week, I receive the History News Network (HNN) newsletter. HNN is a platform for historians at George Washington University writing about current events. I spend part of every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday reading a variety of articles, essays, and opinion pieces published by them. Some of the material is really fascinating. I often get blog post ideas from these readings. 

One of these ideas came from an essay by historian George C. Herring. Herring is Alumni Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Kentucky (UK). A native of Blacksburg, Va., he received a bachelor's degree from Roanoke College after service in the U.S. Navy. He earned both a master's and a doctorate in History from the University of Virginia. He joined the UK faculty in 1969, and taught classes at all levels from introductory survey courses in U.S. history to graduate seminars. A leading authority on U.S. foreign relations, he is the former editor of Diplomatic History, and a past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. He authored America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 among other books.


I cannot do justice to the words of Herring. He says what I have believed for over four years now. In essence, he describes how Donald Trump is destroying the very fabric of American democracy. While dirty politics is nothing new, Donald Trump has taken it to new (and childish) heights. He, and many of his followers, enjoy being bullies and making fun of others just for a laugh. I hope you will read what Herring has to say in his essay.


Dirty Politics, Then and Now

by George Herring


Donald Trump has brought to American politics and to the presidency a uniquely personal, combative, and mean-spirited style, honed in the cutthroat worlds of high-end real estate, finance, and show business, that relies on personal insults and denigration of foes. In the realm of dirty politics, virtually by default, he has been allowed to rewrite the rules of the game—to the enormous detriment of our country.       


To be sure, personal attacks, mudslinging, and name calling date to the beginning of this republic. “JEFFERSON—AND NO GOD,” nervous Federalists screamed in 1800 in a vain effort to thwart election of the allegedly infidel, pro-French Virginian. Andrew Jackson’s rivals had the temerity to besmirch his beloved wife, Rachel. The twin issues of slavery and secession made the election of 1860 especially ugly. Abraham Lincoln’s enemies depicted him as a “horrid looking wretch,” assaulted him with vicious racist attacks, and claimed that he favored miscegenation.  


Sometimes the mudslinging took on a lighter tone. In 1884, Democrat Grover Cleveland was rumored to have fathered a child out of wedlock, inspiring the ditty “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” At times, it has been downright silly. In 1944, Republicans charged that Franklin Roosevelt had wasted millions of taxpayer dollars by sending a U.S. Navy vessel back across the Pacific to rescue his dog Fala, who, allegedly, had been left on a remote island. Today’s politicians thus follow a time-honored tradition.


But there is also something new in the volume of the attacks, who is purveying them, and how they are purveyed.  The internet gives a platform to political hacks, private citizens, extremist groups, conspiracy theorists, and even foreign governments—think Russia and Iran—to spread misinformation and outright lies with little or no test for truthfulness. This has exponentially increased the amount of personal smears and rendered them more nasty.


More important is the role of the mud-slinger-in-chief. In years past, presidents have generally turned a blind eye to the antics of their zealous underlings. They have left to others the job of responding to attacks. Surprisingly, perhaps, Jackson defended his wife’s honor with words rather than dueling pistols. In another exception, FDR turned the tables on his opponents with a brilliantly sarcastic riposte pronouncing that Fala was a Scotty and his “Scotch soul” would never condone such a waste of money. “Roosevelt’s dog got Dewey’s goat” was the verdict on this incident.   


Trump is the ringmaster of today’s supercharged political circus. The role comes naturally to him. It is a part of his persona and his modus operandi. He is a master of innuendo and hyperbole. He is not troubled by moral or ethical standards, and has no more than a passing acquaintance with the truth. He delights in churning up chaos and seeks to exploit it to his advantage. He early latched on to Twitter, and he spews out with seeming impunity so many tweets that opponents are hard pressed to know how or whether to respond. Mud-slinging seems to be the one part of the job that he truly enjoys. One must grudgingly concede that he has a certain gift for it.


He ventured into dirty politics before he ran for office by taking up the notorious “birther” theory that Barack Obama was not eligible for the office he already held. In 2016, presidential candidate Trump dreamed up belittling nicknames for his primary opponents: “Low Energy Jeb” (Bush); “Little Marco” (Rubio); “Lyin’ Ted” (Cruz). He hawked the preposterous insinuation that Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination. In the campaign itself, he labeled his opponent “Crooked Hillary” for her alleged misuse of government emails and led the chant “Lock Her Up.” His slurs can be blatantly racist and sexist: “Pocahontas” for Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, and the unspeakably crude remarks directed at presidential debate anchor Megyn Kelly after she dared challenge him.   


Seeking reelection, he has picked up where he left off, shifting the low energy moniker to “Sleepy Joe” and “Slow Joe” Biden and questioning his opponent’s mental acuity. Childishly, he insulted Vice-Presidential nominee Kamala Harris by knowingly mispronouncing her first name. He launched a half-baked birther theory for her as well and piled on with a barrage of misogynist slurs: “phony Kamala,” “nasty,” “angry,” “madwoman.” The Trump family low--so far--has been the “like” (later removed) that son Eric attached to a tweet calling Harris a “whorendous pick.” Older son Don Jr.’s labeling of Biden as the “Loch Ness monster of the swamp” ranks a distant second. Junior has also hinted that Biden may be a pedophile.


It could be argued, of course, that Trump is simply being honest, that he is merely bringing into the open stuff that usually remains behind the scenes. But that is too easy. What the president of the United States says makes a difference. He demeans himself, if that matters. He demeans the office of the presidency, one of the most prestigious positions in the world. He demeans this nation in the eyes of its own citizens and the world. Actions have consequences, and Trump’s tirades can incite his followers and provoke his opponents to act similarly, revving up the already rampant divisiveness in this country, sparking hatred and violence, and even causing death, as with the killing of two people by a teenage Trump enthusiast in Kenosha, WI. “The unthinkable has become normal,” Senator Bernie Sanders has rightly noted.  


Shamelessly, the Republicans either won’t or can’t rein in their president. The only way to get rid of his toxic influence is to vote him out.


Because politics can leave a bad taste in your mouth, here is some eye candy as a palate cleanser.