Category Archives: This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President

Morning Ethics Round-Up, 8/16/18: Those Wacky Conways, And The Anti-Trump News Media Goes To The Dogs

Good morning.

1. A conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory about conspiracy theorists...Last night, a CBS procedural that I am finally sick of, “Criminal Minds,” appeared to be taking sides in the Trump vs. the FBI wars, with a side-swipe at Alex Jones, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The episode set up a conflict between the Good FBI agents who are the stars of the show, and the crazy, paranoid, anti-government  “Truthers” who see government law enforcement as sinister and manipulative. (There was special focus on the ridiculous Sandy Hook conspiracy theory, with one of the tough serial killer hunter breaking down in tears remembering the massacre.) The most vocal anti-FBI character in the episode, who sneered out her every line about the series heroes (bad direction, in my view), was revealed at the end as the “unsub,” the psychopathic killer.

For some reason this was the first time it occurred to me how much prime  time network TV serves as a PR service for the FBI, with the virtue, bravery and unquestioned rectitude of the agency and its employees being central to multiple dramas. The propaganda is escalating too: Dick Wolf of “Law and Order” fame is launching a new CBS series called, creatively, “FBI.” You would think, would you not, that this would be an odd time to produce such a series, with the reputation and credibility of J.Edgar’s baby at an all-time, and most deserved, low. However, Hollywood and the entertainment industry now sees its role differently than seeking mere ratings.

There is nothing wrong with TV writers and producers bring their political agendas into our living rooms, and there’s not a thing we can do about it anyway, other than change channels. Rod Serling used to get awfully preachy sometimes on “The Twilight Zone.” This was mighty ham-handed pro-Peter Strzok advocacy, though by CBS, or at least it seemed that way to me.

2. Marital Ethics. This is weird. Ethics Alarms has discussed the unethical conduct of Kellyanne Conway’s husband George, who has become a popular “resistance” and #NeverTrump figure by tweeting virulent criticism of the President, who employs his wife. Now Kellyanne has escalated the problem with an interview criticizing her husband, telling a reporter that his sniping ” is disrespectful, it’s a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows.”  Then, according to an AOL report, she asked that her comments be attributed to “a person familiar with their relationship.” The reporter, correctly, refused.

It is a breach of loyalty and respect for one spouse to criticize the other in the news media. It is cowardly and a breach of honesty to criticize one’s spouse and to try to remain unaccountable for it by pretending the critique came from someone else.

What a fun couple! What a strange couple. What an unethical couple… Continue reading

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Sunday Ethics Reflections, 8/12/2018: Division And Divisiveness

What time is it? I’ve lost track…

1. Keep being intentionally divisive, and eventually you’ll get division…I trace the irresponsible efforts to divide the nation and unravel the bonds of society to the 2000 election, and the false partisan claims that Bush’s was a “stolen Presidency.” Divisive rhetoric became an 8-year strategy of the Obama Administration, with blacks, Hispanics, illegal immigrants, Muslims, LGTB citizens and women being accorded special status as victims and groups in need of special consideration, while whites, men, straight citizens, wealthy citizens, Christians, and, naturally, conservatives and Republicans were consistently demonized and marginalized.  Critics of the first black President were racists, critics of illegal immigration were xenophobes, critics of Hillary Clinton were sexist, and opponents of gay marriage were bigots. The resentment over this long-term and cynical strategy bore misshapen fruit in the election of Donald Trump, and now, says a Zogby Analytics survey, 39 percent of the country support states breaking away from the national government and country, with 42% of Democrats, who have continued to escalate the divisiveness by refusing to accept the election of President Trump as  legitimate, leading the way.

This was where we were headed in 2000, and those who have been reading the Ethics Scoreboard and Ethics Alarms since then know I said so as forcibly as I knew how. Now we are at a point where one party’s leaders are calling for members of the opposing party’s administration to be harassed in public, an attitude that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

In the latest example , Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Houston last week and dines at two Mexican restaurants. The general manager of one of them posted on Facebook,  “We had the honor to serve Mr. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.” The post attracted such an angry reaction that it had to be taken down. [Pointer: Neil Dorr]

2.  Of course! Why else would anyone not love Nancy Pelosi? The news media and its various pundits is deeply complicit in the unraveling of the bonds holding American together, as exemplified by the Washington Post’s jaw-dropping column claiming that Republican opposition to Democratic House leader Pelosi is entirely based on misogyny and sexism—you know, the same reasons I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Paul Waldman wrote,

“Can we stop treating this lie seriously once and for all? We all know what’s really going on. The Republican attack on Pelosi is about conservative identity politics, full stop. It’s partly the same kind of ugly misogyny that has driven conservatives for years, and that comes out whenever the prospect of a woman wielding genuine power rears its head. Women who display ambition are judged harshly, particularly by conservatives; it’s no accident that Bernie Sanders, whose policy ideas are much more opposed to conservatism than Pelosi’s, inspires nothing like the venomous loathing on the right that Pelosi and Hillary Clinton do.”

Oddly, I have found many reasons despite her gender to regard Nancy Pelosi as an unethical menace, and I haven’t come close to covering all of them. Continue reading

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And The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck Rolls On: CBS And Les Moonves

I’ll say this: he’s better looking than Harvey…

 

Ronan Farrow has struck again.

In a new investigative reporting piece, the journalist who revealed that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was a sexual abuser and who also added to the documentation of Harvey Weinstein’s horrific workplace conduct, revealed in his latest investigative article in The New Yorker that clear sexual harassment was alleged by six women in the entertainment business against Les Moonves, and that, as usual, his fish, CBS, and especially CBS News, had rotted from the head down.

Moonves is as long-established, respected and powerful a figure as there is in the media. He became the president of CBS Entertainment in 1995 and the chief executive of the company in 2006, and is paid $69.3 million a year.

You can close your eyes now and imagine everything that follows from here—it will just be a summer re-run of the Fox News debacle that eventually toppled Roger Ailes. We will need a pool to determine who will play the role of Bill O’Reilly, unless Charlie Rose qualifies. The account of actress Illeana Douglas—you know her face if not her name: she played the woman raped and mutilated by Robert DeNiro in “Cape Fear” and appears in several other Martin Scorcese films–is particularly disturbing, if familiar-sounding.

She describes Moonves grabbing her and violently kissing her during a business meeting in 1997. “What it feels like to have someone hold you down—you can’t breathe, you can’t move,” she said. “The physicality of it was horrendous.”  She made a joke and fled, she says, and soon after the episode Moonves fired Douglas from the CBS sitcom she had been cast in and told her that she would  “never work at this network again.” Continue reading

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“McCarthy And Witch Hunts And Fear, Oh My!” PART I: Director James Gunn

I don’t care to live in a culture where law-abiding citizens can have their reputations and careers destroyed by people maliciously publicizing old or private communications to make them hated or distrusted, or worse, a culture where doing this to people is deemed virtuous. Such a culture is one based on perpetual fear, where individuals cannot express an opinion that they may change later, or make a joke to a select audience, or have a conversation expressing strong but spontaneous and transient feelings without risking personal destruction at the hands of someone who wishes them ill.

That is the U.S. culture, however, that extremists on both ends of the political spectrum are successfully constructing,  unles we stop them. Their tools are political correctness, invasions of privacy, abuse of technology, social media and its attendant mobs, and an utter disregard of fairness, decency and ethics.

Two recent example illustrate how serious the problem is. This post is about one of them.

Talented writer-director James Gunn, the creative force behind the  delightful  Guardians of the Galaxy movies was fired by Disney after his old tweets containing offensive jokes were uncovered and circulated on social media and the web. The tweets were deliberately sought by conservative blogger and activist Mike Cernovich,  to intentionally wreck Gunn’s career. Gunn’s real offense was that he has been a vocal “resistance” recruit and a prominent conservative-hater, so once Cernovich had the goods on him, the Right was happy to use them.

No doubt, Gunn’s old tweets included jokes that many would consider worthy of Roseanne Barr on a careless day, like

  • “Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDS.”
  • “I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.”
  • “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!’”

Gunn, realizing that joking about pederasty, rape and AIDS was sufficient to get him Kevin Spaceyed for life, tried to explain:

Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over. In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.

I believe him. I believe him, though something nasty in me would love to know if he was telling friends that the Milwaukee Brewers should punish Josh Hader for the racist tweets he made in high school, because this whole phenomenon is a Golden Rule matter. That has been the Ethics Alarms position forever, including during the 2014 Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck, in which an NBA owner lost his team, millions in fines, and his reputation after his mistress taped an ugly conversation they had in his bedroom and circulated it. I reiterated this position most recently in May of this year:

The position of Ethics Alarms on these incidents, which also includes spurned lovers sharing private emails to the world in order to humiliate a correspondent, the Democratic Senators who leaked the President’s coarse rhetoric about “shithole” countries that took place during a meeting that was supposed to be private and confidential, and Donald Trump’s infamous “pussy-grabbing” statements, is simple. Once the embarrassing words are unethically made public, they can’t be ignored, Once the embarrassing words have unethically made public, they can’t be ignored. Neither should the circumstances of their making, or the unethical nature of their subsequent use was weapons of personal destruction.

There is not a human being alive who has not made statements in private meetings or conversations, whether  those statements be jokes, insults, rueful observations or deliberate hyperbole, that would be horribly inappropriate as public utterances. Thus the feigned horror at such statements by others is the rankest kind of Golden Rule hypocrisy. In addition, the opprobrium and public disgrace brought down on the heads of those whose mean/ugly/politically incorrect/vulgar/ nasty/insulting words are made public by a treacherous friend, associate or colleague erodes every American’s freedom of thought, association and expression, as well as their privacy.

And yes, to anticipate the objection, I do not regard social media posts by non-public persons who later become celebrities to be truly public communications. They are, in the minds of the foolish individuals who send them, personal messages aimed at friendly audiences, and not intended for public circulation. In reaching this position I am influenced by the legal ethics and judicial rule regarding what is public knowledge regarding a former client that can be used by a lawyer . Simply because information is included in a public document that anyone can access doesn’t mean it is considered public enough for a lawyer to reveal it if the information involves a client. Most people don’t know about those facts because they don’t know how to find them, where to look, or whether the information even exists. Information doesn’t become truly public until it is widely accessible and disseminated. Once Gunn (and Hader) became celebrities, their social media presence was public, but not before. True, both Gunn and Hader should have realized that what they posted when they were nobody special had suddenly become a matter of public interest, and true, people need to start thinking that way, but most of our newly famous just don’t. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Black Swan Books Owner Nick Cooke

The “A Nation of Assholes” scenario is in full sway when an entire side of the ideological divide attacks the owner of a public accommodation for insisting that his customers are not harassed and abused. That is a fair description of the fall-out from the recent episode at Richmond’s Black Swan Books, where the owner behaved like the owner of the Red Hen restaurant should have behaved: like an American, like a supporter of diversity of view, like a believer in our political system, like a foe of bias and discrimination.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Nick Cooke, owner of Black Swan Books on West Main Street in the Fan District, said Bannon was in the bookstore Saturday afternoon and that a woman confronted him, calling him a “piece of trash.” Cooke said he called 911 and that the woman left as he made the call.

“Steve Bannon was simply standing, looking at books, minding his own business. I asked her to leave, and she wouldn’t. And I said, ‘I’m going to call the police if you don’t,’ and I went to call the police and she left,” Cooke said. “And that’s the end of the story.”

The Richmond Police Department confirmed a call was made around 3:15 p.m. Saturday for a report of someone yelling at a political figure in the bookstore and that the call was canceled before any officers responded.

“We are a bookshop. Bookshops are all about ideas and tolerating different opinions and not about verbally assaulting somebody, which is what was happening,” Cooke said.

But it was not the end of the story, because so many Democrats and progressives have taken a dangerous turn to totalitarianism and the tactics of  Lenin and the Nazi Party, seeking to harass and abuse those with whom they disagree. The antifa is no longer on the far fringes of the Left: it is creeping toward the center, or perhaps the better metaphor is that the Left is creeping toward it, and I do mean creep. These are awful people, as I’ve said before. Not because of their beliefs, but because of their conduct. Unable to produce the political dominance that they thought had been assured with the election of Barack Obama, frustrated progressives are increasingly abandoning the values and processes of a constitutional democracy to resort to political and social warfare. The attempt to exclude conservatives and Republicans from the basic rights of citizenship, such as being able to walk down a street, shop, or have dinner without being accosted and hectored, represents an escalation, and is signature significance for an ideological movement that has forsworn ethics for the pursuit of power.

( And yes, I personally think Steve Bannon is also an awful person. As is President Trump. As are Maxine Waters, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Joy Reid, Michael Cohen, Charles M. Blow, Barry Bonds, Stephen Colbert, Howard Stern, Joe Arpaio, Omarosa, Anthony Scaramucci, Harry Reid, Scott Pruitt, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. There are many millions of arguably awful people, all well short of being criminals, in this country, and every one of them has the right to live his or her life unmolested when they are not being overtly awful. Any political party that takes the position that this statement is not true should be disqualified from holding power.)

Speaking of awful people, Philippe Reines, a top aide in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, tweeted out the contact information for the bookstore on Sunday afternoon, in effect doxxing her and siccing the social media mob and the Maxine Waters Brigade on the book store and its owner. Typical of the illogic employed by the self-righteous harassers was this tweet:

Woman: Steve Bannon, you’re a piece of trash!

Bookstore Owner: We are a bookstore! We tolerate different ideas!

Also Bookstore Owner: *calls police on woman to have her removed because she expressed her different ideas*

No, you lying moron, the owner called the police because the woman was harassing his customers.  Presumably Nick would have called the police on Bannon if the former Trump aide had been harassing her.

Black Swan Books  is the anti-Old Town Sport&Health Club, which I wrote about as an Ethics Dunce here.

In that 2017 fiasco, a Georgetown professor named Fair, ironically enough, harassed white nationalist Richard Spencer while he was quietly working out, no Heil! gestures or anything, and the club revoked his membership.

(Remember: awful people. Do NOT let them get power.)

I wrote—and I’m sorry for such a long self-quote, but I think I wrote it well the first time:

I’m so weary of reading about restaurants that give discounts to diners who pray, and bar owners who declare that no Democrats are welcome and Maine propane dealers who tell their customers that they can freeze to death if they voted for Donald Trump. I’m tired of pointing out what should be obvious to everyone in a pluralistic society, but suddenly isn’t, particularly, it seems, to proto-totalitarians like the Georgetown professor, who is doubtless hard at work indoctrinating her young charges into believing that those with non-conforming views should have their rights taken away for the greater good. I detest Spencer’s views, but I consider Fair and her kind the far greater threat to the nation, in part because there are so many of them.

Why? She is a greater threat because her version of society doesn’t work, and soon devolves into armed camps. As I wrote in a post called, “Americans: End This Slippery Slope Now, Before It’s Too Late,” about a Washington, D.C. restaurant that publicly apologized for letting an alt-right group to eat there,

I know, I know: Neo-Nazis are really bad. Yet I don’t want my freedom to participate in life and society to be limited by someone else’s judgments about my beliefs or politics. Listen to the rhetoric from angry Clinton supporters since the election. If you want to enforce immigration laws, you hate Latinos. If you think the unborn deserve rights, you are a misogynist. If you voted for Trump, you are a blight on humanity. Thanks to the rhetoric of Black Lives Matters and the tacit approval of some well-placed politicians, police officers have been refused service in various establishments… The argument that this group or that group is special and doesn’t deserve the same courtesy and service as other groups is simply a rationalization born of bias, like… the position that the Vice President Elect, alone among all the millions of audience members who are allowed to attend theatrical performances as part of the community, ought to be subjected to personal harassment based on his political beliefs.

If we, as a culture,  approve of this abusive treatment of the alt-right, then we are approving similar treatment when the group being discriminated against is the Democratic Party, the ACLU, a mosque, the Shriners, the Boy Scouts, NARAL, or a newspaper editorial board. Rights mean nothing if the most unpopular, most controversial, most offensive individuals and organizations cannot exercise them….This is a slippery slope that leads right to the end of the principles and liberties that make the United States an ethical nation, and perhaps a nation at all.

Well, since I wrote that, self-righteous, proto-totalitarian progressives and “the resistance” have been greasing that slippery slope.

The Richmond bookstore owner’s effort isn’t enough by itself, but at least he demonstrated how to throw sand on it.

 

 

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/6/2018: I See Unethical People…

Good morning, everyone!

1. Good, but better if it had happened six months ago. Ethically-challenged EPA chief Scott Pruitt finally “resigned” yesterday.  He was actually fired, and President Trump should have fired him as soon as it became clear that his pal couldn’t break himself of the bad habits he developed as a lawyer and a politician, including taking advantage of his position for personal gain. There were 14 separate investigations of Pruitt’s conduct, and his continued presence with Trump’s leave undermined the President’s pledge to “drain the swamp.” As several wags said with utter accuracy, Pruitt personified the swamp, but Trump does not place ethics or avoiding the appearance of impropriety high on his list of priorities, and never has. Pruitt’s conduct was also as stupid as it was wrong. He was a villain of the environmental Left, and had bullseyes and laser targets metaphorically covering his body. In such a situation, a prudent individual knows that he or she must be otherwise beyond reproach. Not Pruitt!

The National Review neatly summed up his demise:

“EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had enemies who were out to get him because he is a Republican, a conservative, a high-ranking member of the Trump administration, and an environmental deregulator. But it wasn’t liberals, the media, or deep staters who made him get large raises for his top aides, deny that he knew about it, and then admit that he did. It wasn’t they who made him have an aide find him a discount mattress, or run sirens so he could get to a French restaurant on time. The aides who told journalists, or congressional investigators, or both about Pruitt’s misbehavior weren’t all or even mostly liberals or deep staters. Several of them were conservative Trump supporters who were disturbed by Pruitt’s behavior and thought he was serving both the president and taxpayers poorly. Some of them had come with Pruitt from Oklahoma because they believed in him. The more they saw him in action in D.C., the less they did. Today it caught up with him.”

Good riddance.

2. Wait, haven’t we seen this movie before? Many commenters here expressed skepticism at the accusation that GOP Congressman Jim Jordan had turned a blind eye to sexual abuse  of student wrestlers when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State almost 40 years ago. Indeed the timing of the story looked like a political hit job, and it may be one whether the allegations are true or not. But now, as I noted in the first post about the controversy, the issue is Jordan’s denials. They rang false to my trained ear, and now there are four former wrestlers who say Jordan knew a team doctor was abusing the students.

It’s still their word against his, but it doesn’t matter. My position, as in the Harvey Weinstein mess, as in cases where fathers are molesting daughters, and in the Penn State scandal and so, so many others, is that those close to the situation either knew or should have known, and often deliberately avoid “knowing.”  Even if Jordan didn’t know, he should have and could have, and if he immediately accepted responsibility when the issue arose, he might have preserved some level of trustworthiness. He didn’t. They never do.

And we know how this movie ends. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/3/2018: Remember Pickett’s Charge! Edition [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. “General, I have no division!” At about 2:00 pm, , July 3, 1863, by the little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee launched his last, desperate and audacious stratagem to win the pivotal battle of the American Civil War, a massed Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetary Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center. The doomed march into artillery and rifle fire, across an open field and over fences, lasted less than an hour. The Union forces suffered 1,500 casualties,, while at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield, 4,019 were wounded, and nearly 4000 Rebel soldiers were captured. Lee’s bold stroke had failed spectacularly, and would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time.

That verdict is debatable, but this is not: Pickett’s Charge, as the attack came to be called, holds as many fascinating ethics lessons as any event in American history, and this blog has returned to it for enlightenment time and time again.

There is the matter of the duty to prevent a disaster that you know is going to occur, the whistleblower’s duty, and the theme of Barbara Tuchman’s work, “The March of Folly.” There was Robert E. Lee’s noble and unequivocal acceptance of accountability for the disaster, telling the returning and defeated warriors that “It is all my fault.” The defeat also turned on moral luck, with many unpredictable factors, such as the intervention of a brave and intrepid Union cavalry officer named George Armstrong Custer, who also teaches that our greatest strengths and most deadly flaws are often the same thing, and that the Seven Enabling Virtues can be employed for both good and wrongful objectives.  Pickett’s Charge shows how, as Bill James explained, nature conspires to make us unethical.

Pickett’s Charge also teaches that leadership requires pro-active decision-making, and the willingness to fail, to be excoriated, to be blamed, as an essential element of succeeding. Most of all, perhaps, it illustrates the peril’s of hindsight bias, for without a few random turns of fate, Robert E. Lee’s gamble might have worked.

2. Funny how if you continually denigrate someone based on his color and gender, he will eventually stop respecting you. Stanford University has established a Men and Masculinities Project  that aims to help men develop “healthy and inclusive male identities”—because they obviously don’t have those now.  “We acknowledge that male identity is a social privilege, and the aim for this project is to provide the education and support needed to better the actions of the male community rather than marginalize others,” anti-man-splains Stanford’s gurus. Stanford, of course, is not alone in pushing the ubiquitous progressive narrative that men are toxic, along with whites, making white men the worst of all. Perhaps this might explain why support for Democrats among young white men is falling fast.

Nah, it must be because they are sexist and racist…

3. But..but…settled science! The Economist estimates that as many as 400,000 papers published in supposedly peer-reviewed journals were not peer-reviewed at all. Scientists, scholars and academics are no more trustworthy or alien to unethical conduct than anyone else, but because most of the public (and journalists) don’t  understand what they write about and have to accept what they claim on faith, they are presumed to be trustworthy.

Think of them as the equivalent of auto mechanics. Continue reading

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