June 2016
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Hillary's Handbag

The detestation I feel for Donald Trump has elided the dislike I felt for Hillary Clinton. I will vote for her-- she is much smarter, more knowledgeable, presidential. It is a choice between a very unsatisfactory, rocky status quo and a chaotic, destructive solvent that will leave us in tatters.

Hillary Clinton has been photographed apparently carrying a $3,500 handbag recognizable to fashionistas and wearing a $14,000 Armani jacket. She has made $20 million in speaking fees in a few years, at $250,000 a pop and up, addressing many Wall Street firms (and she refuses to release those transcripts). Under the circumstances, I seriously question the extent to which she can identify with the 99%--and if she is really wearing clothes and carrying accessories which cost that much, her common sense regarding the optics.

Kenneth Starr

Kenneth Starr, who led the heavily politicized, Gingrich-inspired Clinton Whitewater investigation as special prosecutor, has just resigned as Baylor University president due to the atrocious behavior of a football team on his watch. As we say in Brooklyn, what goes around comes around: the glaring spotlight on every flaw, the public narrative that you can do no right.

Trump and Dealmaking

I haven't read The Art of the Deal, but litigation is what someone brings when deals break down--every lawsuit is a failed negotiation-- and Trump sues at the drop of a hat and has been sued more than anyone else I know of in public life. Most companies smaller than Fortune 500 get sued every two years or so. I am general counsel to a midsize company which has been sued five times in twenty years, at the conservative end of that spectrum. Trump has been involved on either side of thousands of lawsuits, which is seriously dysfunctional. There is a thought process that a smart CEO goes through with a careful lawyer, analyzing the underlying contract, identifying violations, calculating odds. Trump is a familiar villain, a type against whom I have successfully defended a number of lawsuits: he sues when he doesn't like the outcome, never taking personal responsibility that a bad result may have been driven by his own behavior or choices. In his distorted thinking, suing is part of the "art of the deal". Bullies think that bullying is a feature, not a bug in the system.

An inevitable side effect of Trump's self-regard is that he also pays bills only when he feels like it, putting some small firms which made the mistake of dealing with him out of business. He is really a terrible person, with no redeeming qualities of common sense, humility, compassion.

Democracy as Terrorist Activity

The C.I.A. has a a drone targeting methodology referred to as “signature strikes”, in which certain behaviors on the part of previously unknown people lead to the conclusion they are enemy combatants. Among the “signatures” which have led to fiery death via Hellfire missile is..... democracy. On March 17, 2011, in the Pakistani town of Datta Khel, “the signature behavior was a meeting, or 'jirga,' which is an assembly of tribal elders who convene to settle a local dispute. In this case, a conflict over a chromite mine was being resolved”, Arianna Huffington, “‘Signature Strikes’ and the President’s Empty Rhetoric on Drones”, The Huffington Post July 10, 2013 There were forty-two deaths, including all of the tribal elders of the town.

Ben Gunn

This is truly a vagrant thought, an example of the kind of meditation for which this column exists: I just re-read Treasure Island and was really struck by the character Ben Gunn. He is an old pirate who was previously marooned on the island, and independently discovered, unearthed and stored the treasure which the other characters are seeking. Once the upper classes arrive--Jim, the Doctor, the Squire--Gunn without a second thought turns the treasure over to them, recognizing that somehow they have a superior right to it, undoubtedly through their higher birth. He humbly solicits nothing, but accepts a modest gift of a thousand pounds, which he squanders. Stevenson at least as a novelist had the ability to see people of other birth and origin, and portray them believably and sympathetically on the page, yet it never occurred to him that Ben Gunn, who had suffered and labored, might have a better claim to the gold than the officious interlopers who had come looking for it as a trivial summer vacation adventure.

A Farewell to Rush

Rush Limbaugh's long demagogic ascendancy may be sunsetting; his contract is up, his syndicator broke, advertisors fled, the audience is shrinking. Just in case you think I am gloating over the decline of a vital independent voice with whom I happen to disagree, Jane Mayer revealed in Dark Money that the Heritage Foundation paid Rush Limbaugh's production company $2 million annually “to push the think tank's line on issues”. p. 508

Good English

The twenty year old woman drummer in a band named Good English wrote a sentencing letter asking for consideration for Brock Turner, the student who raped an unconscious woman at Stanford. Turner was her personal friend. I too have written a letter for an acquaintance being sentenced for a crime, and continue regarding this as a normal act of humanity. Good English saw numerous concerts canceled, and was dropped by its publicity firm. I don't really want to live in a world in which we are all obligated to call for the public burning of anyone facing sentencing, in order to protect our own livelihoods.


I read an interesting defense of the AR15 by the co-founder of some successful Internet publication, who lives on a Texas ranch and uses his to shoot "varmints". The gist of the article was that there is really no such thing as an "AR15" (it is a customizable modular system, not a gun); there is no such thing as an "assault" rifle (as opposed to a "defense" rifle), etc. This is an infamous logic-chopping approach, reminiscent of the aftermath of the massacre of the striking banana company workers in One Hundred Years of Solitude in which lawyers claimed that the banana company didn't exist, there were no workers, and there had been no massacre. This kind of reasoning can't eliminate the irreducible fact that someone was able legally to purchase a gun and ammunition which allowed him to shoot forty nine people dead in a few minutes. In most nations, you can't do that. What the author skirts, and never says, is what do you tell the parents, lovers, friends of the murdered? This is the way our world works and should work, so suck it up? I remember twenty years ago, an NRA board member committing what I now know is called a "Kinsley gaffe", blurting out an actual belief by accident, that gun deaths are "the price we pay for liberty". No, its the price the Orlando victims paid for your liberty.

This makes me think of the famous last words of a Englishman named Rumbold at his execution (so brlliant that Thomas Jefferson plagiarized them): " “he never would believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden”. Our obligation to die so you can enjoy your AR15 makes us horses.

Watch lists

That said, banning guns that can spray that many bullets, and magazines that can feed those bullets, is a solution, but discriminating against people whose names wander onto wacky, error-filled secret watchlists is not. The Democratic initiative to give more credence to these watchlists is a sad moment for civil liberties. And masks the real issue: the FBI had investigated Omar Mateen; the gun dealer properly initiated a background check to the FBI when Mateen bought the gun; FBI technology is so primitive and not cross-referenced that the FBI background check people were unable to determine that their agency had previously investigated him. You would think that when a suspect buys an assault weapon, they could send someone out the next day to determine why he wants it. This is not a guess on my part; the FBI has notoriously primitive computer technology, and an attempt to update it cost $170 million and led nowhere. When you file Freedom of Information requests with FBI, as I have done, the agency's web site warns you to file a separate one in every FBI office which may have touched the subject matter, as the information is probably not correlated anywhere.


Widespread famine and food riots in Venezuela are barely being reported in mainstream media. We may be quietly losing a First World, oil rich nation without anyone noticing. This is an indication of what the dystopian future will look like: even if we had some impulse to help, I did a rough calculation that feeding a nation of thirty million people would cost about $6 billion a month for food alone, plus transportation, warehouses, distribution systems, armed guards. Who wants to spend that in today's decaying world? It is only a matter of time until the fault lines--war, famine, refugees, xenophobia, panic--resolve to a depressingly familiar outcome in human history: bodies in heaps.

Exxon investigation

Attorneys general in some blue states such as New York are investigating Exxon for its climate change communications over the years. On the face of it, I don't see a moral or legal difference between that investigation and those of Red State AG's like Kenneth Cuccinelli in Virginia conducting a witch hunt against climate scientists. The First Amendment allows us to be grossly wrong and even dishonest in our rhetoric. Therefore, we all take a hit from the Exxon witch-hunt.

Violence at Trump rallies

On a related note, attempts by anti-Trump demonstrators to shout him down at rallies, and attacks on his supporters outside the venues, are unacceptable. Free speech does not permit us to play that way. The Nazi "Rollkommando" was a unit which had the job during the 1932 elections of disrupting and shutting down socialist rallies. The 2000 "Brooks Brother riot" which closed the Florida recount, and Rush Limbaugh's experiments in sending "Dittoheads" to shout down Obamacare town meetings, are disgraceful examples of American Rollkommandos, but so are the anti-Trump demonstrators. Mainstream media and political voices blaming Trump for attracting this violence are disgraceful hypocrites.


There's volumes to be said about Brexit. It is a gross example of our worldwide panicked flight from the Enlightenment; of the falsification of public discourse in the age of Twitter; of the ridiculousness of referendums, so easily manipulated, in an age of representative democracy. Also, the gross ambition and irresponsibility of the people asking already suffering pensioners further to immolate themselves in the name of "liberty". "The beggars change places," Yeats said, "but the lash goes on".

My IPhone

I had been eager for decades to get into the Apple world. Now I think its a lot of hype and little substance. Not only does the phone have bugs and glitches I did not find in Android, it is actually customized to be hostile to anyone transferring from the Android world. As I previously mentioned, all my music is stored in the Amazon cloud, but the IPhone won't allow me to buy any new music from Amazon; I have to go to a different device to do that. I am trying to install a free streaming app from a cable channel and Apple won't let me do that without putting credit card info into ITunes. My next phone will absolutely be another Droid.


I could also write a book on the erasure, as we retreat from the Enlightenment, of the public-private distinction; Donald Trump, if elected President, will absolutely offer new products, "President Trump" brand cellphones or tobacco or soap. I recently had a personal and rather poignant insight into privatization of public services. From 2003-2007, in retirement from the law, I worked as an EMT in New York City's 911 system for a private employer, Transcare. We all knew that Rudy Giuliani, to administer the EMS union a poke in the eye, had invited our private nonunion employer into the system; we rolled to the same calls, sent by the same dispatcher, as the Fire Department units. In February of this year, nine years after I left, Transcare went bankrupt and pulled twenty-seven units off the street on an hour's notice, causing the Fire Department to scramble madly and call sleeping employees to come replace them. This was a public health danger--people may have died due to a lack of ambulance coverage that night--but it also resulted in thousands of EMT's left jobless in a single night, whose prospects for finding employment with the Fire Department are not great (for one thing, it takes about two years to apply and be processed and be invited to join). A New York Times article this week about privatization also mentioned that in certain parts of the country, the for-profit Fire Department will send you a $15,000 bill for their unsuccessful efforts after your house burns down. There is simply no place, as I half knew while I was working at Transcare, for "free market" corporations to provide critical public services.

The Texas Abortion Case

I am reading the just-rendered Supreme Court decision invalidating the absurd Texas requirements of admitting privileges and surgical capabilities, passed for the sole motive of closing the majority of abortion clinics in the state. Justice Kennedy, again acting as a compassionate swing vote, allowed a five justice majority in an otherwise easily-deadlocked eight member Court. The decision is a victory for common sense and protection of the individual. However you spin it, the abortion debate is a fight over whether women have control over their bodies and are therefore the equals of the men who uncontestably control their own. The other side, the "pro-life" side, stands for the proposition that a woman's womb is a public utility and not her private possession. The proof is that abortion, if the religious right had its way, would be the only area in which one life (the fetus) is absolutely permitted to trump another's (the mother's). Trayvon Martin possessed a life, which a jury held George Zimmerman was permitted to take; men are every day permitted to elevate their own life over someone else's. The only reason a woman would ever not be permitted to act autonomously to make that decision would be based on an undisclosed Biblical subtext, that it is her duty to have babies, no matter whose or at what risk to herself.

I was also thinking about the dominant dishonesty of much right wing judicial discourse. If you can't admit what is really at stake, the inequality of women and their duty to have babies, you are forced to resort to a lot of sophistry. The over-ruled Court of Appeal decision held that the plaintiffs had waived certain claims by not bringing them up at the right time in exactly the right language; these kinds of procedural evasions are a towering monument to dishonesty. Then there is the kind of logic-chopping I referred to in the AR15 discussion above, for example, the ruling that the plaintiffs somehow had not proven at trial that twenty-five abortion clinics closing within days after the law's effective date was a direct result (causation games are also famous forms of official lying).