Time is Running Out

Dear Editor:

Formal collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians? I have my doubts. Russian meddling in the 2016 election? Absolutely! The question not being focused on enough is why they wanted so badly for Trump to become President. It is the elephant in the room. Our intelligence services agree that Putin wanted Trump to become President.

Why? Why did the Russians see our Presidential election as an irresistible golden opportunity to advance Russian interests at our expense? Face it, folks. They did. Intelligence experts from republican and democratic administrations have admitted it.

So what motivated Putin and company? Why were efforts made by Russian meddlers to sew suspicion and discord in swing states such as Wisconsin and Michigan? Hyping racial tension and a distorted picture of the threats presented by refugees and immigrants helped elect a person who promised to protect America by banning Muslims and building a border wall Mexico would pay for.

Even before the election, candidate Trump did everything he could to demonize the media, those evil people who cannot be trusted to be truthful. The press that our third President and the author of the Declaration of Independence felt was indispensable to a republican form of government could not be counted on, according to the man who said John McCain was a war hero only because he got captured. If you think the Russians didn’t—and don’t—love that stuff, you may be delusional.

Confidence in the independent judiciary considered so vital to a free society, was another casualty of the new master of disinformation. Whenever he disagrees with a judicial finding, the man who knows so little about the Constitution that he can rationalize pardoning Joe Arpaio—a man who thinks you can tell who the Constitution applies to by looking at his/her physical characteristics–takes issue with a judge’s ancestry or dismisses him/her as too liberal or too conservative!

Why wouldn’t the Russians think a President who seriously—though often baselessly—undermines public confidence in the validity of our election outcomes is their kind of guy?

Lately our President has sought to stoke the public’s feelings of resentment over the Federal tax code. While it certainly can be improved, the desire to pursue making it more equitable need not be achieved at the price of fanning the flames of public distrust in the “evil doers” in Washington, D.C..

Unfortunately for President Trump—who certainly inherited every bit as much mess as any modern President—winning is what it is all about. Ethics? Smethics! Whatever it takes to win is justifiable. The end justifies the means, and the chips can fall where they may.

Before dismissing the above as “fake news”, ask yourself to honestly explain what his comments to Billy Bush revealed about him. Explain his disrespect of John McCain and Gold Star Father, Khizr Khan. What did his comment about shooting someone and not losing a vote suggest? The tax returns we haven’t seen are shorthand for, “I don’t really care what you think, folks”. The list goes on, and on, and on.

Admittedly, there may be a method in his madness at times. But when a deficit hawk like Republican Senator Bob Corker can question his stability and competence, and Senator Jeff Flake likens him to the Biblical Flood, it may be time to begin rethinking the narcissist in Chief.

Which of the Constitutional grounds for impeachment applied to Bill Clinton? Which of the Constitutional grounds for impeachment might Trump be impeached for? When Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said months ago there was a certain smell in the air, what was he referring to? Collusion, though possible, is not a pre-requisite in the case of a President who is in way over his head.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY

Wind Turbines

Dear Editor:

Not sure why I bother, as those who possess intelligence the rest of us lack will follow a murky master plan in pursuit of their own agenda anyway. As long as they have an “R” beside their names, it is all good on election day. The silent majority sometimes seems oblivious to the fact that they live in a democracy.

Nonetheless, general election and republican primary voters might consider where their choice for town supervisor stands on wind energy locally. Wind farms are great fits for industrial wastelands, abandoned oil fields and other “moonscape” locations. Those who mistakenly view Orleans County as desolate due to a shortage of neon signage may be missing something a bit more subtle.

Orleans County can continue to be a habitat diverse “Mecca” for birds and wildlife in general. But its attractiveness to wildlife—and those who appreciate such assets–can be degraded by the siting realities of industrial wind turbines. Where will turbines be sited if they have to be 1200-1500 feet from dwellings and roads? In most instances they will be erected In the middle of an existing woodlot.

John Riggi, Jim Simon and others have done a good job making the case against wind turbines in Yates. But Yates is not appreciably different from Orleans County’s other nine towns.

Will degrading much of the County’s natural environment be added to the list of mistakes that includes the sale of a Four Star County Nursing Home? The entire county is in the Atlantic Flyway. This is not fake news. In my opinion, wind “farms”—a good idea under the right circumstances—don’t belong here.

We need more decision makers who are willing to take the path of greatest resistance and are willing to fight to protect one of Orleans County’s more valuable assets.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY

Trouble in Orleans County’s G.O.P. Paradise?

Dear Editor:

Might there be trouble in Orleans County’s G.O.P. paradise? What could he be referring to, you might ask. After all, way more than 90% of countywide offices have been held by the folks with pachyderms beside their names for the past thirty years!

Nonetheless, fault lines have emerged within G.O.P. ranks. The mere idea that the Grand Old Party’s choices for town supervisor will be determined by September 12th primary elections in at least four Orleans towns is shaking parts of the G.O.P. establishment. The nerve of some people! Normally, when the choice is between an occasional “jackass” and someone designated by an elephant, it is an easy call for many supporters of the G.O.P..

It seems that no matter how many Orleans County assets they gave away, or put at greater risk, stalwart G.O.P. legislators–especially Callard, Johnson, and Eick–were shielded by the pachyderm and re-elected. Of course the former Chairman is no longer there, having resigned under “mysterious” circumstances.

When a person with an office attempts to behave responsibly in Orleans, he, or she, risks being shown the door by the G.O.P establishment. The former G.O.P Elections Commissioner can no doubt attest to that. Hopefully, she will satisfy the establishment’s lust for payback for awhile.

Then there is that impossible to control Sheriff. The G.O.P. establishment had to swallow hard on that one. Though he is willing to work with anyone whose intentions are positive, what good is a Sheriff to the establishment if he won’t play ball with the Party hierarchy?

On top of everything else, there is the fact that the G.O.P. faithful are in the unenviable position of having to explain the actions of a President with precious little understanding of his office and even less comprehension of the United States Constitution.

There does, indeed, appear to be trouble in paradise.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY

Respect for People

Dear Editor:

Twenty years ago I often asked my classes to reflect on how monkeys differed from people. The simplistic point I hoped would be thought provoking was that monkeys tend to imitate, whereas people—ideally– tend to differentiate between that which is worthy of imitation and that which is not. Being more thoughtful than monkeys, one might hope people would not do what is dumb merely because they were aware that someone else had set a precedent for “dumb”.

When a person disrespects another based on anything superficial, it should not matter who has done the disrespecting. If an unemployed person, a junior high student, a U.S. Senator, a criminal, or a corporate C.E.O. mocks another person for their occupation, religion, race, social station, or whatever, it shouldn’t matter who has behaved badly. Bad behavior is bad behavior, and there is no excuse for imitating it the way a monkey arguably might.

When confronted by ignorant intolerance, we can imitate, or resolve to respond more thoughtfully and become determined to treat all targets of unreasoned disrespect more respectfully than we may have in the past. This is possible even if we have always tried to treat people respectfully regardless of inconsequential differences such as the uniforms they may wear at work, the color of their skin, their accents, what they call the buildings they may worship in, or something else.
How we respond to bad behavior is a measure of our humanity.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY

Wittingly or Unwittingly, or Does Intent Matter?

“I never had sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky”, sounds a bit like a 2017 tweet. Recall that the grounds for Clinton’s impeachment had to have been that his conduct constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

What if he had unwittingly committed treason, another of the impeachment-worthy offenses? (Recall that bribery is the other.) Would not knowing, for example, that he had given “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States—part of the Constitutional definition of treason—have meant he was innocent of treason?

What Clinton did undoubtedly delighted the Kremlin. Did it rise to the giving “aid and comfort” to the enemies of the United States level spelled out in the Constitution? Was there intent to provide aid and comfort? If so, the Senate may have failed when it did not convict Clinton based on potential treason. As with so many other things, the Constitution’s authors did not define what might be included in giving “aid and comfort”.

Fast forward about twenty years. Candidate Trump harped incessantly about the “crooked media”, dishonest journalists, and “fake news”. Those attacks came from a man who, rightly or not, had a lot of credibility once he became the republican nominee. They have continued since the inauguration, and, as President, his credibility has arguably risen.

What difference does it make whether the comments of the President discredit the media? Keep in mind that his comments never cease, and the media was believed by Thomas Jefferson to be indispensable to a democracy. One has to assume that most who understand what it takes to make a democracy work would agree on the importance of a free press to a functioning republic, hence the protection of press freedom included in the very First Amendment.

Dangerous attacks on the judiciary have waned, but President Trump’s baseless allegations and outrageous assertions about election fraud continue relatively unabated. Anyone who has paid a modicum of attention—and is not a serial denier– knows it. Does anyone with an understanding of republican government think it doesn’t matter? Today, Mr. Trump has the influence of the office he sought as a candidate.

Public confidence in their sources of information is essential in a democracy. Once the bulk of the American public loses confidence in those it must depend on for information upon which to act and no longer trusts the outcome of elections—thinks that they may not be legitimate, and cannot be accepted—the grand republican (representative democratic) experiment is in trouble.

There is no doubt that relentless attacks on the foundations of our republic by the President of the United States are pleasing to Vladimir Putin, who once was the world’s disinformation champion. Is it possible that President Trump fails to grasp the significance to our democracy of a President’s relentless expression of distrust in the institutions essential to its existence? Perhaps the most positive conclusion one can hope for is that he does not, i.e. the President did not intend to provide aid and comfort to the Russians.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY

Comments on Chris Collins and Donald Trump

When only 40% of the American public approve of Donald Trump and the job he is not doing as President, it is somewhat confounding to see someone defend Congressman Chris Collins. Mr. Collins was the first elected official in the US to endorse Trump. Despite the female genital grabbing, the lies about releasing his tax returns, the treason he committed with Russia in hacking our election, the promises to do away with Affordable Health Care, the EPA, the Department of Energy, Education and Meals on Wheels; Mr. Collins said Trump was going to make America great. Trump has gathered the most corrupt cabinet in US history, who are hell bent on destroying the very agencies they direct. Big money ties influence every decision they make. Massive tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the middle class are looming again. Collins is in the hip pocket of big oil, coal and big pharma. So, you won’t see him advocating for fair drug prices, and renewable energy. Collins has been a strong advocate of destroying our national wildlife refuges in the pursuit of fossil fuels so his corporate buddies can get rich. A living wage? You won’t see Collins pushing for that either. Collins is part and parcel of the do-nothing Congress. An elected body which has done nothing to help middle class Americans.

As conservatives like to do when they run out of quasi-arguments, they resort to bashing Liberals, leftists and Democrats, as if they are the same thing. The historian in me cannot resist educating folks like Kimberly Kennedy:
1. Liberal means possessing or manifesting a free and generous heart; bountiful. Appropriate and fitting for a broad and enlightened mind. Free from narrowness, bigotry or bondage to authority or creed. Any person who advocates liberty of thought, speech or action.
2. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are Liberal concepts.
3. A Liberal wrote the wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.
4. Jesus healed the sick and helped the poor, for free.
5. Reagan raised taxes eleven times as President, legalized abortion as Governor of California, and supported gun control.
6. Nixon created the EPA

And one more thing about Chris Collins. If he is so brave, why doesn’t he come to the town halls and speak directly to his constituents? Why is he hiding? Maybe he dreads answering to why he supports a President who is under FBI investigation for colluding with Russia to fix an election.

Thank you for your attention.

Al Capurso

Trump and the Politics of the Present

Dear Editor:

Those who write political commentary must see Donald Trump as a journalistic “mother lode”. If I wrote for a living I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Perhaps Maya Angelou’s, “When I show you who I am, believe me the first time” would be a good place to start. Though it went over many heads, when he called a Hispanic maid “Miss Housekeeping”, it inadvertently suggested to me that he judges people in part by how they make a living.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly shown he believes –as some wealthy people do—that he is above the law.

But how many wealthy people are arrogant enough to brag that they are so rich and famous that they can get away with groping women randomly? How many would say they could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote? Of course, he was only joking. Has his refusal to reveal his tax returns while running for the Presidency been a joke as well? On whom?

Does the $25,000,000 Trump University settlement suggest Mitt Romney’s characterization of him may be on the mark?

After following him casually for over twenty years, one might have a difficult time taking him seriously. My son knows contractors he stiffed in Atlantic City in the 1990’s. He was for the Iraq War before he was against it. Obama pulled out of Iraq too soon. At the time, it was, “We should declare victory and leave”. George W. Bush was responsible for ISIS during the primaries. Obama and Clinton were responsible for ISIS during the campaign. Ted Cruz’s father was connected to the Kennedy assassination. Hillary is unfaithful to Bill, etc, etc, etc.

Guess what? We have to take him seriously now! I have very educated republican and democratic friends who voted for him. The top Senate republican on the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, said this week, “I have never said this publicly, but I voted for him”.

Each of us will judge for ourselves, but much of what I see him doing is about making himself short term political “hay” for which the entire country will eventually pay.

Foreign policy is an example. Giving right wing ideologue, Benjamin Netanyahu (whom Leah Rabin blamed for her husband’s 1995 assassination by Yigal Amir), encouragement to stonewall against what the King of Jordan said this week is the only answer to Middle East peace—a Palestinian State—may be as troublesome in the long term for Americans generally as Ronald Reagan’s “Strategic Partnership “ with Israel. Expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank is to Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, the Islamic Brotherhood and ISIS types what aviation fuel would be to a brush fire.

Bans against immigration from predominantly Muslim nations until we can “figure out what the hell is going on” are an affront to the many millions of Muslims who have long seen the United States as an inspiration. Among other things, what it will succeed in doing is aid in extremist recruiting by helping radicalize naïve Muslim youth. But it sounds good in the present and is consistent with campaign rhetoric.

Then there is belaboring the notion that our allies aren’t paying their fair share. One has to wonder what someone as good with numbers as Mr. Trump would suggest are the values of allowing major U.S. weapons systems and military bases across the periphery of Russia. What are our air bases in Ramstein and Incirlik, and so many others, worth? What price might the nations allowing us to station Pershing II’s, our most modern fighter bombers, and air defense systems on their soil eventually pay? What political price have their leaders already paid for allowing them since the Cold War?

A long time ago, I did an NDEA Institute through the U. of R. My “research” involved determining and itemizing forward-based American military installations in Asia. At that time, we had 40,000 troops in South Korea and 115 military installations in Japan. How does one calculate their value? What might the eventual consequence of such facts be to the South Koreans and the Japanese? Who are we there to protect? How might a paranoid North Korean dictator react to them? Continually disparaging the contributions our allies make to their defense—and ours—might not sit well with populations that would necessarily be the first to go in the event of war. But putting America First seems long overdue.

Being “America First” sounds good to many of us. It plays well (remember how Romney described Mr. Trump?). The problem is that most of international politics is not as simple as the President would have us believe. Insulting allies, encouraging disrespect for Palestinians—and possibly even Kurds–and stereo- typing entire religions are a few of the things that will have consequences. Don’t think for a second that the Kremlin doesn’t love it.

But there are many more and they may be far more problematic. This is one history lesson we may not want to sleep through.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY

Immigration Perspective–Part Two

Dear Editor:

What do we really know about the people who immigrated to the United States for three hundred plus years beginning in the early 1600’s?

English separatists, it might be fair to say, were people who were principled non-conformists who decided to take their chances with the Pequots and Narragansetts rather than accept persecution for what they believed. They gave up familiar surroundings for religious freedom. Today we sometimes call such people “refugees”.

South Florida’s Cuban-American population exited Cuba rather than live under Castro. Today, they are some of our most patriotic Americans.

When a family leaves Oaxaca, Mexico and travels close to three thousand miles to try their hand at life in an area where Spanish isn’t even the first language, what does that suggest about them? After all, most of those in their village will never leave, preferring to live out their lives in familiar surroundings regardless of how difficult life may be.

To me it says those who decide to leave are more determined to improve their lives than those who do not. It suggests those who decide to forsake all that they know for an unknown have confidence and courage that most of their neighbors do not. It is likely whoever initiated the move possesses considerable imagination and likely has a plan. A willingness to leave all that is familiar behind—just as it always has—suggests uncommon ability that provides such a dreamer with a sense that he/she can pull it off in a strange new land where not everyone welcomes him/her.

Our ancestors very likely were such people. The land of their birth—familiar though it was—wasn’t meeting their expectations. They may have prized more social mobility, economic opportunity, or religious or political freedom than they had—or were ever likely to have—in their native country. You see, our ancestors rolled the dice. They were risk takers, which is just the “ticket” in a free enterprise system.

It has long been my conviction that the United States is an exceptional country because its people are generally the descendants of exceptional people, if for no other reason than they left. Immigrants are typically the exception, not the rule. Those who are willing to put up with less stay put.

Say what you will about today’s immigrants, their essential experience is, in most regards, no different than it has been since 1607. One needs look no further than the vast majority of newly arrived people from south of the Rio Grande to confirm that they, too, fit the profile of our immigrant origins.

The United States is an extraordinary country largely because our ancestors were not ordinary. Whether they came to clear the woods with an axe to make room for a forty acre farm, dig the Canal with picks and shovels, mine and fashion the stone used to build a 175 foot church steeple in Albion, sit on a cabbage planter all day in the summer heat and dust, cut the mature cabbage heads in the mud during another frigid and rainy November, or establish a Mexican restaurant that is the talk of Western New York State, they likely didn’t do it on a whim. Leaving your familiar birthplace to travel thousands of miles to take a chance that life could be better in a strange place never has been anything like trying a new hairstyle.

America is similar to a functional patchwork quilt that isn’t yours or mine; it is ours. It has become an inspiration to the world no matter where ancestry.com tells us we originated. To me, God may have put innumerable different people on earth as a challenge. Might they look past superficial differences and get along? The answer provided by the American experience has generally been a resounding, “Yes”!

Sincerely yours,
Gary F. Kent
Albion, NY

Immigration Perspective–Part 1

Dear Editor:

The year was 1998. As I recall, the Reagan era Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was largely responsible for governing our approach toward undocumented immigrants.

At the time, the entire grounds crew at Atlantic City Country Club was of Mexican descent. The course superintendent had the highest regard for every one of them, just as he had for the Vietnamese immigrants who had earlier comprised much of the crew at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1998, the Social Security Administration discovered that the entire 23 person Atlantic City CC grounds crew was illegal. To prevent them from being deported, the course superintendent knew that each of his crew would have to come up with $2,000 initially, jump through a bunch of hoops, and pay another $2,000 in order to become legal, though not citizens. Some called this “amnesty”. Many still do. Tom Reynolds called it “amnesty” as I recall.

Congressman Chris Collins, one of President Trump’s earliest camp followers, insists that neither local farmers, nor their valuable employees, need worry about farm workers being rounded up by a deportation force.

Hopefully, Representative Collins is keeping track of the wind direction coming from Washington. Our food supply and economy may hang in the balance.

A reporter from The Boston Globe was in Orleans County earlier this week having a difficult time finding farmers who would speak to him on the record. It isn’t hard to understand their reluctance.

President Trump puts on a good show. It may be he is smart enough to realize that it had better be nothing more. From what I hear, farm workers are not so sure of his intentions. Even if he is mostly talk, he has many of them scared.

My brothers are two generations removed from what has ironically become a sort of stigma—immigration status—in a nation of immigrants! I guess my Austrian grandparents were legal (not sure about the ‘refugee’ thing), though they thought it wise to change their last name nonetheless.

My brother, Keith, worked for Martin Farms for many years. Cutting cabbage was his specialty, and he was the only “Anglo” Martin’s had who could cut cabbage with the migrant workers on a consistent basis—for years.

My brother, Kevin, was the only “Anglo” I ever saw who could match– hamper for hamper– the cucumber picking stamina of the Ramos family and the other Mexican-Americans from Mercedes, Texas who worked at Spalla Farms. (In case you missed that history lesson, Mexican people have been living in what is now the United States longer than Captain John Smith’s people.)

In the late 1960’s, I tried picking cucumbers for a grand total of three hours before surrender. Crying “Uncle” got me on the wagon dumping hampers.

Guess what? If Mr. Trump gets too carried away playing to his base and trying to match campaign rhetoric with “Presidential” action, we are in a lot of trouble. Farm workers reclaim abandoned houses, have their own local businesses, keep many local farms going, and are among the best students in Orleans County’s schools. None of the ones I have known was/is a “bad dude”, and I have known quite a few.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Kent
Albion, NY

Liberty Enlightening the World

I want to talk about an astounding gift. It was given to the United States by France. A statue, named, “Liberty Enlightening the World”, more widely known in the present day as the “Statue of Liberty”. It was placed there in 1886. My great-great-grandfather Carl Fink must have seen the Statue when he arrived by steamship in 1887 from Germany. It faces southeast, the direction of incoming ships. It faces outward to those arriving, not inward to those already here. It represents the principled welcoming of our nation. It is not a barrier or a threat.

There are two texts I want to share. The first is the conclusion of the poem written by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”, whose words are displayed with the statue:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The second is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the Light of the World. A city on a hill cannot be hid.
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket,
but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works, and give glory to God in heaven.”
[Matthew 5:14-16]

I commend both of these texts to you as we strengthen our resolve in troubled times. Let us lift up our light of welcome!

Jim Renfrew
Clarendon, NY