This might be understandable for the president of a high school student council. This is someone who has the nuclear codes. How much more can he embarrass us?
This might be understandable for the president of a high school student council. This is someone who has the nuclear codes. How much more can he embarrass us?
It’s hard to know where to begin with a week that marked the eight-month anniversary of the Trump Administration. Really. It has only been eight months.
Friday’s headline news was the resignation of Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, for his staggering use of government funds to charter private jets, including one to take him to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C. Price, who had railed against such abuse when he was a Congressman and criticizing Democrats, attempted to deflect widespread outrage by offering to pay for the cost of “his seat” – not the total cost of the flight – but the gambit did not work.
The President accepted the resignation, but has yet to offer any comment on other Administration flyboys such as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, each of whom has resorted to private jets or military aircraft for their personal convenience and enjoyment.
One of the rallying cries at Trump rallies was “Drain the swamp” – you know, kind of like “Lock her up” for using personal email accounts – because of the candidate’s professed desire to rid Washington of those who used government for personal gain. As one wag observed, the Trump appointees are flying in private jets over the swamp.
Price, it should be noted, oversaw the federal agencies responsible for programs that are frequent targets of Republican budget-cutters, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federally-funded public assistance and public health programs.
Joining Price and the other flyboys in the clueless department is Gary Cohn, Chair of the President’s National Economic Council. In defending the President’s tax cut plan, he said that the middle income taxpayer – who, after all, is the group the President claims to be helping – makes about $100,000 per year, and should expect a tax break of about $1,000 from the proposal. He said that would enable the family to “buy a new car” or “remodel their kitchen.” I had fortunately brought my car to a stop, because my laughter would have made driving unsafe.
Cohn reportedly received a severance of $285 million when he left Goldman Sachs, and one wonders if he ever (1) bought a car, or (2) needed to pay attention to bills he received for home renovations. Renovating a kitchen for $1,000. It was mindful of Trump once saying “No one knew how complicated health care could be.” I thought at the time he had never seen a bill for health care services, although given his casual approach to other financial obligations, it may not matter.
Then we have the President saying that his tax bill would not “benefit me, believe me.” In fairness, this is probably as true as most other things he says. But the notion that a bill benefitting the wealthy, including elimination of the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, would not benefit him is ludicrous on its face.
To cap off a week he began by playing the race card ended in the same place. Saturday morning he issued a policy proclamation – i.e. a tweet – saying that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them.” This, of course, is a standard racist meme. But making this your response to 3.5 million American citizens literally facing the possibility of death is actually beyond clueless. It is the type of cruel, inhumane comments he so often makes.
Nothing is more predictable following a disaster or tragedy than political “leaders” saying it would be inappropriate to have a discussion on a possible cause of the event.
The mass murder in Las Vegas, therefore, meant we could not have a discussion on the effectiveness of the nation’s gun laws. Hurricanes wreaking devastation in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands precluded a discussion on climate change. And let’s not forget the effectiveness of environmental regulations on the impacts possibly caused by lax regulation and enforcement in the Houston area.
So here is a proposal that allows us to avoid discussing matters that may offend sensibilities. When there is the next mass murder accomplished by guns, let’s have a robust discussion on climate change. When extreme weather happens – the annual “100-year storm” – let’s talk about gun violence.
Of course it’s not going to happen when we have a Congress controlled by the National Rifle Association and the oil and gas industries. After all, if the murder of 20 children in an elementary school doesn’t compel a discussion on the availability of guns, nothing will.
It takes a special person whose intellect is such that he can grasp a wide range of subjects and take nuanced and responsible positions on each. So here we have the President of the United States who was able to sandwich tweets about protesting players in the National Football League around a threat to destroy North Korea.
Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the playing of the national anthem last year to support Black Lives Matter and their protests about unarmed black men being killed by police officers. Trump criticized this behavior and has since been rebuked by other players, the NFL Commissioner and even supporter Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. Today there were numerous demonstrations throughout the NFL in opposition to his views on race.
While the subject of the protests is significant, the act of protesting is something one would normally think is trivial given what the President faces on a daily basis. Rather obviously, that is not the case with the possibility of war.
In between his tweets about the protests, the President of the United States said, if North Korea’s Foreign Minister “echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer.” Good way to lower the temperature on the escalating threats by Kim Jong Un and Trump.
Now maybe it’s because I grew up next to a military base where there were B-52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and we had school drills of getting under our desks in case there was a nuclear conflict, but I am not actually comforted by equating the significance of a harmless protest with threats to wipe out another country.
I realize Trump will always appeal to that part of his base for whom his bigotry is a feature, not a bug, but his seemingly equal levels of anger for the trivial versus the cataclysmic should be disturbing to all Americans.
The Sport of Kings took a couple of more hits this summer in publicized incidents that involved — wait for it — illegal drug use on horses.
The most recent resulted from a YouTube video of trainer Jorge Navarro and owner Randal Gindi celebrating a win in Florida by Navarro’s brother, also a trainer. As the horse neared the finish line, the pair were yelling “the Juice Man” and “that’s how we do it, we fuck everyone” and claiming to have pocketed $20,000 from a wager with a bookie. (For those not conversant with common track parlance, “juice” refers to illegal drugs.)
The incident took place at a Monmouth Park bar. The track’s stewards fined Gindi and Navarro $5,000 each for conduct “extremely detrimental to racing,” and recommended that the New Jersy’s regulatory body increase the penalty, since the stewards levied the maximum they could.
Navarro was Monmouth’s leading trainer this year with a record-breaking 65 wins, shattering the record he set last year with 59. This year’s winning percentage was a remarkable 41%. According to Frank Angst of BloodHorse.com, he has a history of drug positives, serving a 60-day suspension in 2011-12 in Florida, and now faces a hearing in Florida after one of his horses tested positive for cocaine.
As disturbing as this is, it was easily matched earlier this summer by a federal criminal trial in which Murray Rojas, twice the leading trainer at Penn National, was convicted of 14 felony counts for drug violations. In trial testimony, another trainer, Stephanie Beattie, stated that she and between “95 and 98%” of other horsemen treated horses with illegal race-day medications, according to reporting by T.D. Thornton in TDN.com.
If you need more disturbing info on this, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, representing their opinion of the interests of trainers and owners, provided legal support for Rojas. According to CEO Eric Hamelback, the NHBPA did so because of their view that the United States “Department of Justice overreached on what is clearly a state regulatory issue.”
While I suppose Hamelback can be praised for supporting the sovereignty clause of the Constitution’s 10th Amendment, it seems to be a strange case on which to plant the flag. Although in his statement he said the “court correctly found Ms. Rojas not guilty of charges related to this attempt to set a new legal precedent” on some charges, the allegations in the case, as well as the number of other individuals pleading guilty to related charges, belie his efforts to make her a sympathetic defendant.
According to the Paulick Report, Rojas was convicted on 14 of 21 felony counts covering a 12-year period. Four veterinarians pled guilty after being confronted with allegations of backdated records and falsified records. To overstate the obvious, we are not talking about an arguably innocent drug overage for one horse in one race. The testimony of trainer Beattie, who became an FBI informant, was a particularly damning indictment of the racing at Penn National.
Rojas was twice the leading trainer at Penn. Monmouth Park’s Jorge Navarro won five Monmouth training titles and twice broke the record for most wins during a meet. His astonishing win percentage of 41% this year is one that naturally raises quite a few eyebrows. As fellow trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said to T.D. Thornton of TDN.com, Navarro “has a tremendous win percentage … you would have to look far and deep for anyone to say he’s that much superior to the rest of the trainers….”
That someone who’s winning percentage automatically draws suspicion of illegal drugging, and then yells in a track’s bar about juicing and “that’s how we do it” says little about either his intelligence or his commitment to the sport. Perhaps NHBPA CEO Hamelback will determine that Navarro’s First Amendment rights warrant the expenditures of his organization’s financial resources.
As disturbing as these two instances are, even more troubling is the protective attitude of some of the industry’s top figures in dismissing allegations that the sport has a serious problem, both in reality and in perception. A common refrain from these “leaders” is that there is no problem other than people speaking out about their perspective that there is a problem. If they would be silent, there would no longer be an issue.
Unfortunately, there are few in the sport who, if speaking honestly, would deny that illegal drugging is a major problem. And now we have two leading trainers who have brought that problem to the forefront — once again — through a federal prosecution and shooting off one’s mouth in a public setting.
The approach announced Tuesday by Attorney General Sessions today on the so-called “Dreamers” is archetypical behavior by Donald Trump. It encapsulates so many of his characteristics: lack of leadership, failure to have a clear policy, political ineptitude, failure to keep promises, complete disregard for the less-advantaged, failure to take responsibility, passing the buck, and, let’s not forget one of his favorites, trying to screw his ever-increasing list of perceived enemies. All that is missing is a sense of the personal corruption that imbues so much of his behavior.
DACA, of course, is the acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy announced by Barack Obama to deal with a problem arising from the inability of Congress to enact legislation on immigration. It provided an avenue for children who were brought to this country by illegal immigrant parents to remain in the here. For many of these 800,000 “Dreamers,” America is the only country they have known.
The policy announced by the current Administration is that the program will end in six months, ostensibly to give Congress time to craft a law. In the 24 hours following the Session announcement, our President tweeted that the Dreamers should be wrapping up their affairs so they can leave within six months. Then he tweeted that he may revisit his policy if Congress doesn’t act within six months. You figure out what his position is.
That our President announces inherent and conflicting policies on Twitter is not new. He is someone for whom the 140-character limit is not a restraint on his deepest thoughts. But this roll-out is so typical of his presidency and its many failings.
First, there is no leadership. Not only do we not know what the actual policy is, but he abdicates responsibility for it by kicking it to Congress. It is reminiscent of his being the last person in America to realize health care is “so complicated,” and then deferring to Congress. Of course, someone born with the proverbial spoon may not ever had to confront an actual health care bill that someone else did not pay.
Second, and again as with Obamacare, there is no regard for the hundreds of thousands of people who will be affected by the chaos created through either callousness or ineptitude. Neither the millions losing health care nor the hundreds of thousands losing their home particularly care whether the President’s views are caused by hostility to them or just blatant incompetence.
Then we have the betrayal of campaign promises — again a similarity with his actions on health care. Trumpcare was never going to be better and less expensive than Obamacare, although there is no evidence he even knew what the components of the Congressional plans would be. (In fairness, when you have to fixate on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings, there is less time to stay informed on policy details.) When he said the Dreamers “have nothing to worry about,” that apparently did not include his efforts to deport them.
Fourth, there is the dumping on Congress responsibility for solving a long-simmering problem in a short time-span. I realize that for those Trump supporters not motivated by racist and bigoted policies, upending the established order in Washington was a major appeal. It’s hard not to agree, and immigration policy is as good an example of congressional dysfunction as exists. But the goal should be to reach solutions, not exacerbate the dysfunction. Throwing this on Congress’ lap when they are dealing with funding relief for Harvey (and, presumably, Irma), when there are fights over the debt limit and the budget can hardly be described as a sage move.
One suspects, however, that Trump is less concerned with getting things accomplished than lining up who can be blamed when things do not work out. We know he will not take responsibility for anything going wrong because he never has.
But now he can even the score with the Congressional leadership who he believes has not kowtowed to him, particularly on Russia. And he made Jeff Sessions announce the unpopular policy, speaking of someone who did not kowtow on Russia. Although, I suspect Sessions thrilled at announcing a policy that was in his wheelhouse, embracing the xenophobia and bigotry that are so close to his heart.
The bottom line is that we have a President who is afraid to announce a major policy that he supposedly embraces, and is leaving others to clean up the mess. Hopefully, he will not act similarly on North Korea now that he must be aware that China is not willing to be his surrogate.
Saratoga Race Course has witnessed a disturbing number of equine fatalities this meet. Since racing began on July 21, eight horses have had catastrophic breakdowns while racing, and
seven six more died while training in the morning. It has been the cause of considerable consternation on the back stretches, and among fans and the media.
On Monday, the New York State Gaming Commission and the New York Racing Association issued a press release announcing they were “implementing additional actions immediately” at the track to address the health and safety concerns. The release was five pages long (single-spaced), apparently in an attempt to convince the public that serious attempts were being made to address a crisis in public confidence.
It announced one new action being taken by the bodies responsible for the conduct of racing: an additional veterinarian was going to be assigned to the track during training hours, “doubling” the number of vets who witness the morning training conducted on two tracks.
I must admit that I do not know if having a vet present during training is a good idea, but I assume it must be. If that is the case, why has it taken the Gaming Commission and NYRA so long to take this step? If you have been to the main track and the Oklahoma training track in the morning, you know that one person could not cover both facilities.
The only other new action being taken is the decision by the National Steeplechase Association — not the Commission or NYRA — to ban apprentice riders from steeplechase events at both Saratoga and Belmont. That decision was announced in a one-sentence policy announcement by that organization with no explanation or rationale. That it applies only in New York indicates that this it is a panicked reaction to create the inaccurate impression that something is being done.
All the other “additional measures” are steps that have already been taken, which is not to diminish their significance. The press release was reminiscent of one of my efforts in college to throw together a bunch of unrelated topics for a term paper under the sophomoric view that the professor would not recognize bullshit when he saw it.
The cause of fatalities is a complicated one, and there are many possible explanations ranging from track conditions to undetected physical issues to irresponsible use of drugs. New York has implemented a number of steps in recent years to enhance the safety and welfare of horses. Dr. Scott Palmer, New York’s Equine Medical Director, chaired a Task Force in 2012 that produced a landmark report identifying a number of steps that should be taken to improve the health and safety of both equine and human athletes.
Dr. Palmer also chaired a group that reported on 2014 Saratoga fatalities, recommending additional steps to enhance safety. My memory is that the Gaming Commission reported that he was writing another report of 2016 fatalities, but the Gaming Commission has refused to answer my questions about whether there is such a report. The Monday press release states that another investigation is being conducted on this year’s breakdowns, but the Commission refused to answer my questions about whether that would generate a report.
There is little secret in why the Gaming Commission and NYRA issued this press release now. The Travers is the signature event of New York’s summer racing. Media outlets that care little about digging into a complicated story will relish reporting on the number of fatalities, because that is simple.
But putting out a release trumpeting “immediate” and “additional” steps that are neither, undermines the credibility of New York racing, particularly when the claims can be so easily debunked. As Rick Violette, Jr., President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said: “The litany of programs and initiatives and safety measures are only impressive when they work.”