Inverse DOMA

Now that the Republicans have full control of the federal government and managed to steal a supreme court nomination from Obama I think that DOMA, or a slightly tweaked version of it, may well rear it’s ugly head again.

What is interesting is that there is at least one government agency with regulations similar to DOMA, but with important differences.

My first job after I got out of the Army was with what was then the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs, as a claims examiner at the VA Chicago regional office. I started with education cases and was later given disability and pension cases. Most people are aware of the VA disability program and most are also aware of the education program, but I would guess that most people are not aware off the VA pension program. That is a means tested program which pays a modest monthly benefit to indigent elderly veterans. If a veteran died and was married his widow could receive a widow’s pension.

By the early part of the twentieth century a problem had developed with the widows pension program. Single young women were having death bed marriages to elderly civil war vets. When the vet died shortly thereafter the widow could receive widows pension for the rest of her life or until she remarried. To solve this problem the VA implemented a regulation such that the VA would not recognize a marriage unless at least a year elapsed before the veteran died or that the widow had a child as a result of the marriage.

Superficially this is just like DOMA but there are large differences between the two. DOMA prohibited all Federal agencies from recognizing a gay marriage. In addition DOMA allowed states to refuse to recognize a gay marriage performed in another state. The VA regulation, on the other hand, was narrowly written to solve a specific problem in a specific program. Also, while DOMA showed animus towards gays, the VA showed no such animus towards the young women other than preventing them from gaming the system.

Another problem that came up in the widow’s pension program was related to provision mentioned above that if a widow remarried her widow’s pension would be terminated. What some widows started doing was to do things to convince her friends and neighbors that she had remarried without actually getting married. To illustrate the problem consider a widow named Mary Smith who gets romantically involved with a man named John Jones. She would change her legal name to Mary Jones. She would get a new driver’s license in the name of Mary Jones. They would put Mr. & Mrs. Jones on the mailbox. They would tell everyone, except for the VA, that they had gotten married but they would never actually be married. This would allow them to avoid the stigma of an unmarried couple living together while allowing her to continue to receive widow’s pension. As a result of this type of conduct the VA implemented a regulation stipulating that if a widow ‘held herself out as being married’ then the VA would treat her as if she had actually remarried and terminate her widow’s pension. This is the inverse of DOMA and the previous situation where the VA would refuse to recognize a marriage unless certain conditions were met even though the state in which the marriage was performed recognized the marriage without those conditions. Here the VA would treat a widow as if she had remarried even though she was not legally married in any state.

I actually processed a case like this towards the end of my time at the regional office. I wrote up a decision terminating a widow’s pension retroactive five years. Any decision generating a large repayment was automatically sent to the VA central office in D.C. for review. Shortly after making that determination I transferred to the VA data processing center at Hines, Illinois so I never found out the result of the review. Since the evidence was solid, plus the fact that my boss had to cosign the decision, I firmly believe that central office held up the basic decision to terminate the benefits. On the other hand I would not be surprised to find out that they adjusted the retroactive date of the termination. The VA would probably never get back the full amount due in the first place, plus, the widow in question was not exactly flush with money. I suspect that they adjusted the retroactive termination to be a few months instead of five years. That would be enough to make repayment hurt a bit without actually bankrupting the couple. That would be fine with me since I doubt whether widows receiving pension were terribly well informed of the prohibition against ‘holding yourself out as being married’. If anything it was probably buried in a two or three page document filled with legal jargon which the widow received when she first started getting widows pension. Such documents are like the terms and conditions you agree to when you access a website, rarely actually read by anyone.

 

Living in a Remote Area

Living in a remote area is not nearly as much of a problem as it was twenty or thirty years ago. Vehicles are much better and more reliable that they used to be, although rough roads will still beat up the suspension. Communications have improved even more. The cell network in that part of Mozambique was well developed to the point that there were three cellphone providers in Massinger, the nearest town. In addition, I had satellite internet, so I could also communicate via email. Finally, I had a solar power supply consisting of solar panels, a set of batteries, and an inverter. The net result is that I was living quite comfortably.

What all of that means is that these days living in an area like it is more of a hassle than anything else. So, how much hassle would you be willing to put up with to have the experience of driving around a curve on a single lane dirt road and coming to a stop fifteen meters in front of a giraffe standing in the middle of the road looking right at you. So you sit there in the vehicle for 30 seconds to a minute watching the giraffe watch you and then you get out of the vehicle and stand behind the open door. Now that is a very different experience than sitting in the vehicle. You are no longer surrounded by the vehicle and you are no longer looking thru the windshield and across the hood at the giraffe. So you and the giraffe watch each other for another thirty seconds to a minute until finally the giraffe turns and walks off into the bush.

One thing you must understand is that an experience like this was not an everyday occurrence. You would see wildlife practically every day, but not as close as this. But the inside of the curve had some dense foliage, so the giraffe could hear me coming but not see me coming. That is why he was looking my direction when I came around the curve. Plus, I managed to stop quickly enough to avoid spooking him. Even the, most of the time the giraffe would have run away immediately, but this one stood his ground. So this was an unusual set of circumstances.

Earlier I asked how much hassle you would be willing to put up with to have such an experience. It should be obvious that I was willing to tolerate quite a bit of hassle and, in retrospect, I think it was well worth it.

The Racism of Donald Trump

I have an unusual background to comment on the racism of Donald Trump. I worked in Mexico City for a year and a half as a database consultant. I came away from that experience with the knowledge that Mexicans are, on the whole, honest, hard-working, intelligent people. Later, when I first retired, I moved to live in Xonghile Game Park, a private game park in Mozambique. I came away from that experience with the knowledge that Africans are, on the whole, honest, hard-working, intelligent people.

Note that I say ‘on the whole’ because any country or ethnic group will contain people who are dishonest, lazy, or unintelligent. Which is the same thing as saying they are comprised of human beings in all their glorious, and inglorious, variations.

What the racists do is to point out that some blacks are unintelligent and proclaim that all blacks are dumb, or that some Mexicans are violent and say that all Mexicans are violent, all the while ignoring the unintelligent, lazy, violent whites in their midst.

Will Donald Trump’s wealth decrease because he is president?

When he was president elect Donald Trump used that status to promote his hotel business. Since the inauguration he has done the same, albeit at a lower level or more behind the scenes. So it is obvious that he thinks that being president will make him even richer than he already is. I think he may be mistaken about that, seriously mistaken.

Numerous people other than me have said that Donald Trump is ISIL’s¹ best recruiting tool. This is even more true after his ban on (some) Muslim immigration. His status as President also makes him a prime target of terrorists and a lot of other people, but the President is probably the best protected person in the world. But what about Trump’s properties? He has hotels in Washington DC, Miami, Waikiki, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York (2), Albermarle Virginia (at a winery) and that is just in the United States. There are also Trump hotels in Panama and Rio de Janiero. This is a list of some of the other hotels and such which are outside of the United States and have Trump’s name on them.

Now, what happens if there is an attack by ISIL/Al Qaeda/whoever on a Trump branded property?  If it’s a minor attack (one or two people killed²), probably not much, especially if it happens in a Muslim country. If it is a situation where Trump made a deal with the hotel owner to put the Trump name on the building then Trump has no money at stake. The hotel owner may talk to his lawyers to see if he can get out of the deal and it would certainly discourage any future deals of that type, but it can’t create an actual loss for Trump like it could for the building owner. But what if there are multiple attacks and one such attack is on a Trump owned and operated hotel in the U.S.? That might get potential guests thinking ‘Do I really want to stay at a Trump hotel if that makes me a potential target for a terrorist?’. This is especially true since most people greatly over estimate the risk of being killed or injured in a terrorist attack. This means that an attack on one Trump hotel in the U.S. would discourage people from staying at any Trump hotel in the U.S. or the world.

A complicating factor for Trump in this situation is that a hotel is a tough building to protect. The security personnel would expect to see a lot of people whom they have never seen before walking into the building throughout the day and evening. In addition, there will be numerous vehicles, again which the security people have never seen before, pulling right up to the front entrance throughout the day and evening. The kind of security necessary to protect the hotel would almost certainly be annoying to the typical person who would stay at a Trump hotel and would also remind those people that the hotel was a potential terrorist target.

So, what are the chances that something like I described above actually happening? I have no idea. The information I would need to make such an assessment is in the hands of either ISIL or the intelligence community, neither of which is going to make that information public unless it is to their benefit in some way. As such I am not sure I would trust the information released to be all that accurate or truthful. The only things I am fairly certain of is that ISIL would love to strike back at Trump and that the Trump properties are an obvious target.

  1. There are three names I have seen used to refer to the would-be caliphate, ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh. I don’t use the term ISIS because that is also the name of an ancient Egyptian goddess and there are numerous businesses around the world that use that name in their title. I don’t use Daesh because the members of that organization consider that name to be an insult. I don’t have a problem at all with insulting those bozos, but that creates a side issue that is irrelevant to the point I am trying to make in this post.
  2. Obviously not minor to the one or two people killed or their loved ones, but I am trying to look at the bigger picture.

Con-Artists

trumpprayer550

I have seen this photograph, or another of the same gathering, on a number off websites. It was always described as a number of prosperity gospel preachers blessing Donald Trump. My question about this photograph is this: has there ever been a photograph with more con-artists in it than this one? Because that is all prosperity gospel preachers are, con-artists.¹

It was only recently that I realized that there was something about this photo that wasn’t right. The posture is wrong. In every other photo/painting/sculpture that I have seen of one person blessing another the person giving the blessing has been in the superior, upright position while the person receiving the blessing has been in an inferior or obeisant position such as bowing or kneeling. So I don’t think that this is a group of prosperity gospel preachers blessing Donald Trump, as it is a group of con-artists paying homage to the greatest con-artist of our time. After all, Donald Trump just conned millions of Americans into believing that he cares about working class people.

  1. I had an aunt and uncle who gave so much money to a prosperity gospel preacher that they lost their house and had to move into a double-wide. If you had told their preacher about it he would probably have stroked his chin and thought ‘Hmm, they could still afford a double-wide and not just a single-wide. Where did I go wrong?’

Religious leaders supporting Donald Trump.

In my opinion any religious leader who endorses Donal Trump forfeits the right in the future to criticize anyone concerning any ethical or moral issue. I am thinking specifically of Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, but there are many others.I say this because Donald Trump is the most unethical and immoral person ever to run for the presidency as the candidate of a major political party.

Now that is a tough standard considering how many of the early political candidates and presidents were either pro-slavery or slave owners or both. But Donald Trump has the fervent support of every white supremacist¹ and neo-nazi organization out there. In addition he has been married three time and has bragged about cheating on all three wives. He is a sexual predator. He deliberately walked into the dressing room of the Miss Teenage America specifically so that he could see under aged girls in various stage of undress including complete nudity, thus he is also a child predator. Trump University was a complete fraud from the very beginning. The Trump Foundation has almost certainly committed fraud. He has stiffed hundreds of contractors on his various building projects². And the list goes on.

So why would all of those religious leaders support him? Well, he a racist, as are most of those religious leaders. He is also misogynistic, ditto the religious leaders. He would rule as an autocrat, which would be fine with those religious leaders as long as he allowed them to impose a Christian theocracy form of rule, which he might do, as long as it did not apply to him or his fellow billionaires.

After Trump crashes and burns in the election all of those religious leaders will go right back to emphasizing the importance of marriage, family values and insisting on a puritanical attitude toward sex while pretending that they were never really all that supportive of Donald Trump. But when they do that I will feel free to ridicule them for their ongoing hypocrisy and simply ignore their rantings. I would ignore them anyway, but without the ridicule part.

  1. I will not use the terms alt-right or white nationalist. They are white supremacists. These are just attempts by the white supremacists to create new code words for groups that the white supremacists will recognize as kindred spirits but that the public will think are something less objectionable and less obnoxious.
  2. Donald Trump likes to say that he only hires the best people. But the reason he gives for stiffing all of those contractors is that they all did bad work. If he always hires the best people then why does he almost always hire contractors who do bad work. Also, to the best of my knowledge, he never can actually point out any bad work that those contractors did.