Saturday, March 30, 2024

Trump grift Bible: Holy Week offer by wholly weak former president and Christofascist tool


The Trumpwood Bible, aka The God Bless The USA Bible, is not new; it has actually been around for a few years. But it has found a new and happy home in the Donald Trump grift machine, much to the delight of the Christofascists who are propping up Trump for their own benefit, and the outrage of pretty much everyone who is actually trying to follow the teachings of Christ.

By now you have surely heard of the so-called Trump Bible: a $60.00 tome endorsed and promoted by Cheeto Jeezus himself in conjunction with his close buddy and ally Lee Greenwood. Greenwood, of course, is best known for what to many folks is one of the world's worst songs, the performative-patriot anthem, "God Bless The USA." This Bible is not actually new -- see below, under, "A bad book finally finds a home" -- but the Trumpy promo campaign is new, and was strategically timed to coincide with Holy Week. (Well, technically, it's only Holy Week for non-Orthodox Christians; Orthodox Christians are going to be celebrating Easter on Cinco de Mayo this year.)

As ludicrous as the Trumpwood Bible itself is, even more ludicrous is the robotic promo vid by Mango Mussolini, who hilariously claims to be fighting hard for the Constitution every day. (Maybe he's fighting for the Constitution of
Trumpistan, but not of the United States of America.) Here's a link where you can watch the Trump Bible video if you haven't already; I did have a YouTube link but it seems to be no longer valid.

I had a few thoughts when I first saw the social media posts and the promo vid about this grift Bible.

  1. Compulsory prayer? Orange Overlord's Truth Social post said, "Let's Make America Pray Again." Does that mean that he thinks that prayer should be compulsory?

    Believe me, nobody needs to make Americans pray. Millions of Americans who do pray, and even many who don't normally do so, are sending heartfelt pleas to the Almighty that Trump is never anywhere near the Oval Office again.

  2. Christofascist dog whistle, anyone? In the video Cheeto Jeezus repeatedly says that the country needs to bring back religion, but in the same breath he says that we need to bring back CHRISTIANITY. He does mention "Judaeo-Christian values" one time in passing, but then again, this is the same guy who declared that the 2017 tiki-torch loons, who were marching in Charlottesville and shouting "Jews will not replace us!", were "very fine people."

  3. Book design and readability questions. Even though I am an agnostic, I love books, and I actually do have "many Bibles" in my home, as Trump claims that he does. But I wonder about the "slim design" product that Cheeto Jeezus is holding in his little paws in the promo pics and video. I have Bibles of all sizes and formats, including ones that are even smaller than the book Trump is promoting, and that contain the entire text of the Old and New Testaments. They're printed on onionskin paper, as are many Bibles, and the font is teeny-tiny. So the fact that the Trumpwood Bible is advertised as being "large print" for easy reading seems a little odd, even if it is formatted in two columns as advertised.

    It's especially puzzling when you consider that the Trump/Greenwood tome also contains extras: the text of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights (which actually is a part of the Constitution, being the first 10 amendments), the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a "handwritten" version of the chorus to "God Bless The USA."

    How can it be so comprehensive in such a slender package, even with onionskin paper -- and yet still be "large print" and "easy to read?" I think they should show previews of some of the interior pages, a "search inside this book" feature like Amazon has, but that seems to be missing from the web site. (See below under "Dueling editions...")

  4. The "Trusted King James Version edition." Given the profound dumbing-down and marginal literacy of so much of the American public, particularly the Trump base, I'm thinking that the KJV, "trusted" though it may be, is a poor choice if you're actually trying to reach people who may not be familiar with the Bible. Even much more literate folks have challenges with the archaic English in KJV. Do the sellers really hope to introduce new generations to the word-o-God with this version? Granted, the KJV is in the public domain, whereas many later translations are not. But there are more modern translations that are in the public domain, so more than likely the book's creators and promoters are banking on the probability that the ignoranti will embrace the outmoded language as being sacred and holy, even if they don't understand a word of it.

  5. Yet another bald-faced lie about affiliations. No big shocker here. This is from the Q & A page on the GodBlessTheUSABible dot com web site.
    Q. Is any of the money from this Bible going to the Donald J. Trump campaign for President?
    A. No, GodBlessTheUSABible dot com is not political and has nothing to do with any political campaign. GodBlessTheUSABible dot com is not owned, managed or controlled by Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization, CIC Ventures LLC or any of their respective principals or affiliates.GodBlessTheUSABible dot com uses Donald J. Trump’s name, likeness and image under paid license from CIC Ventures LLC, which license may be terminated or revoked according to its terms.

    But CIC Ventures is clearly a Trump company (Trumpany?). It's one of the players behind
    the gaudy gold sneakers, the low-tops, and the Trump golden toilet water. And it's also pretty clear that all proceeds will go, if not to Trump's political campaign, then to his legal fund. Anyone who genuinely believes this grift is totally apolitical is willfully blind or just not very bright, or both -- in other words, if I may state the painfully obvious, a member of Trump's base.

Many Christians are offended
There is, I must add, slightly reassuring evidence that the world hasn't turned totally upside down. Many Christians actually are offended by Trump's "blasphemous grift," as religious scholar and self-described "sane conservative" Tara Setmayer put it in a Xitter post.

Tara Setmayer @TaraSetmayer There’s NOTHING “holy” about selling Bibles “endorsed by Trump.” More blasphemous grift. Beware: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Matthew 24:24

Hmm. Matthew 24, verse 24. And this is 2024. Maybe that's a sign.

A March 29, 2924 piece in the Daily Kos has more about the blowback from the saner Christian world. And while there are legitimate reasons to criticize the Reverend Al Sharpton for some of his rhetoric and his personality, he does seem to speak for many mainstream Christians regarding the Trumpwood Bible.

Speaking to MSNBC, the Rev. Al Sharpton said that Trump’s scheme brought to mind the word “blasphemy.”

“I think that people ought to realize how offensive this is to those of us that really believe in the Bible,” said Sharpton. “He’s doing this during Holy Week. Tomorrow is Good Friday. Sunday is Easter. Of all of the times you want to hustle using the Bible, why would you do it during Holy Week, which is really a spit in the face of people that really believe in the Bible from a Christian point of view?”

Nevertheless, Lee Greenwood is all over the reich-wing media, staunchly defending his crass decision to partner with Trump. For instance, check out the Newsmax video embedded in a post by journalist Aaron Rupar.

A bad book finally finds a home
As you may also know by now, this Bible, though new to the Trumpian grift mill, is not actually new. Lee Greenwood had been struggling for years to launch his project, which was rejected by major Bible publishers. From USA Today, March 27, 2024:

A petition emerged in 2021 calling Greenwood’s Bible “a toxic mix that will exacerbate the challenges to American evangelicalism.” From there, a broader conversation ensued about the standards by which publishers print Bibles.

Gatekeeping in Bible publishing
Greenwood’s early business partner on the project, a Hermitage-based marketing firm called Elite Source Pro, initially reached a manufacturing agreement with the Nashville-based HarperCollins Christian Publishing to print the “God Bless The USA Bible.”

As part of that agreement, HarperCollins would publish the book but not sell or endorse it. But then
HarperCollins reversed course, a major setback for Greenwood’s Bible.

The reversal by HarperCollins followed a decision by Zondervan — a publishing group under HarperCollins Christian Publishing and an official North American licensor for Bibles printed in the New International Version translation — to pass on the project. HarperCollins said the decision was unrelated to the petition or other public denunciations against Greenwood’s Bible...

A September 2021 piece in Slate has much more about the Greenwood Bible's struggles to get published, and the article also contains insightful info about some even more radical "patriotic" Bibles and their place in American politics and culture wars. Some of those Bibles, such as The American Patriot's Bible, published by Southern Baptist pastor Richard G. Lee in 2009, make Greenwood's project look remarkably subtle by comparison.

In any case, for decades evangelicals in general have been quite comfortable with the idea of marrying the Bible to American patriotism and the country's founding values -- but Trump caused some of them to rethink that notion, particularly after the deadly January 6, 2021 Trump-fueled insurrection.

Trump’s election changed how many more progressive evangelicals saw the idea, particularly after the researchers Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead published research highlighting the influence of Christian nationalism and connecting it to support for Trump. According to Whitehead, around half of all American adults are broadly in favor of thinking of America as a Christian nation, and a smaller segment of those Christians—about 20 percent of Americans overall—strongly advocate for the idea. Many faith leaders who noticed the ideology in their churches really began to worry after the Jan. 6 insurrection, when the rioters waved crosses and Christian protest signs. “We can’t unsee the Jesus signs next to Trump signs, the Confederate flag paraded, the broken windows, injured bodies and officers assaulted,” the Zondervan authors wrote in their public letter protesting the God Bless the USA Bible.

Publishing struggles and controversies aside, though, it looks like a happy ending now for Greenwood and Trump as they stroke each other off in public and proudly promote their Very Special Bible. Praise the Lard.

Dueling editions (spoiler: there WAS a cheaper version available, for a while)
NOTE: This section was updated on April 2, 2024 to reflect the fact that the cheaper edition of this Bible no longer seems to be available. ~ CC]

On a whim I decided to pay a visit to Amazon a few days ago to see if the Trumpwood Bible was listed there, and if so, if it might have a "search inside this book" option. What I found was what seemed to be
a print-on-demand "paperback" version for a mere $24.95, with a pub date of March 29, 2024, "available to ship within 1-2 days."

Notably, this edition was listed as being in the "patriotic" American Standard Version translation (which is also in the public domain), as opposed to the "trusted King James Version." On the Trumpwood $60.00 Bible sale site, however, there's this little bit in the FAQ

What translations are available?
The God Bless The USA Bible is produced in the trusted King James (KJV) translation. 

Please Note:
We do not offer additional translations at this time.

At the time I saw this listing, there had been no customer reviews yet for the $24.95 "paperback," but I promised to update this when I began seeing reviews. The point seems moot now, however, because this particular edition no longer seems to be listed on Amazon.

The author of this version of the Greenwood Bible was listed as
American Bible Ministries (you'll just have to take my word on it, since the listing is no longer on Amazon). The link still works, but clicking it can be confusing because there are several other editions of Bible listed, none of which seem to indicate American Bible Ministries either as an author or a publisher.

This was the product description on Amazon:

The God Bless The USA Bible is the ONLY Bible inspired by America’s most recognized patriotic anthem, God Bless The USA.

This American Bible invites you to explore God's word anywhere, at any time with easy-to-read clear print and a slim design. This Bible will deliver an inspiring experience in the patriotic American Standard Version translation. This Bible is perfect to take with you to church, or to Bible study, and to your work and on your travels. Let the world know you by your acts. As a true American Bible it also features:

  • Lyrics to “God Bless The USA” by Lee Greenwood
  • The US Constitution
  • The Bill of Rights
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • The Pledge of Allegiance

This Bible has a high quality cover made of imitation leather graphics achieving our discounted price.

Product details indicated that the book was a standard trade book size and was 418 pages long.

  • Publisher: Independently published (March 29, 2024)
  • Language:English
  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • ISBN-13: 979-8321139240
  • Item Weight: 1.55 pounds
  • Dimensions: 6 x 0.95 x 9 inches

But there was no "search inside" feature available, only a flat image of the front cover, which looked just like the front cover for the $60.00 edition. You could zoom over that image but you could not search inside the book.

My original comment about the above was this: 'But hey, it's cheaper than $60.00. Even if the cover is fake leather, and this is not THE edition specifically endorsed by the Mango Messiah, and even if it apparently doesn't have a "handwritten" version of the chorus to "God Bless The USA"... hey, it's got all of those important patriotic Murican documents in it along with the word-o-god, and it's got the flag on the cover, so really, what's not to love?'

I guess the fact that it doesn't exist any more (if it ever did) is what's not to love.

So what happened? A hack? An AI-generated listing? Or did the book actually exist, but the greedy sellers and promoters of the $60 version discovered it and had the listing removed?

Your guess is as good as mine. All I can tell you is that currently, if you type the ISBN or ASIN (which I listed in the product details above) in your search engine, the top result is a link to the Amazon page -- but when you click that link you get a cute picture of a doggy (presumably one of the "dogs of Amazon") and the message, "SORRY, we couldn't find that page." If you type the ASIN or ISBN into Amazon's search engine, you'll get a message that says, "No results... Try checking your spelling or use more general terms."

So I guess you're stuck with the $60 version for now.

If only it were just funny.
On one level, the tawdry Trump tome is just another in a long line of comical Trump grifts like the tacky gold high-tops, overpriced low-tops, and Trump toilet water that caused a deluge of well-deserved ridicule just last month. In fact, the Bible is being marketed and sold by the same folks who are selling the footwear and eau d'ouche. (I should also note that as of this posting on March 30, 2024, the Trump GoFundMe grift that's run by a billionaire Scientologist couple, and that I cited in the shoe-and-stinkum post and in a previous one, has exceeded $2 million sucker bucks.)

Not surprisingly the Internet has been working overtime to entertain itself with snarks and snipes about the God Bless The USA Bible. Among zillions of other offerings, an author at Religion News Service named
Tyler Huckabee wrote on March 27, 2024 that the Trump Bible is the Bible that America deserves.

America, alas, does not deserve the Gideon Bible. A free gift just sitting there for anybody who might want to read it? Well, that just seems like a slap in the face to all the hard-working Americans who had to pay good money to buy their own Bibles! Maybe the Americans who want to read the Bible should have thought of that sooner and planned ahead instead of sitting around waiting for the Gideons to bail them out. 

No, the Gideon Bible may be ubiquitous but it does not capture the true spirit of the United States. For that, we must turn to a new kind of Bible, and a very different kind of salesman. We must turn to Lee Greenwood. We must turn to the God Bless the USA Bible. We must turn to America’s favorite Christian, former/future(?) President, convicted criminal and attempted insurrectionist Donald Trump...

...It’s the literary adaptation of “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill. It is the perfect encapsulation of American Christianity. It is the inevitable climax of white evangelicalism.

And that brings us directly to the part that isn't so funny. For even though it's comic relief on one level, on another level the Trump Bible is part of a much larger and seriously menacing Christofascist movement. Trump himself is basically a Christofascist tool in ways he probably doesn't realize (even as the fictional Cersei Lannister in Game Of Thrones didn't realize until too late that she was a tool of very powerful religious zealots, the Faith Militant).

The fact that so many folks who consider themselves “Christians” are apparently not the least bit outraged by
Cheeto Jeezus embracing comparisons of his struggles to those of Original Jeezus shows that Trumpism really is a cult.

As for the evangelical “leaders” who are giving Trump a pass, their true motives have been apparent for decades: for them it’s all about power and ego and money rather than the teachings of Christ. In their (unholy) book, the end -- creating an American theocracy/plutocracy -- justifies the means, and at the moment, Trump is one of their most powerful means.

The fact that conservative Christians share Trump's sense of persecution reinforces the alliance. In an
October 2022 article on The New Republic site, author Brynn Tannehill wrote, 'Conservative Christians have a deep sense of victimhood and fear about a secular America and are willing to end democracy to prevent it. As [political commentator] David Frum noted, “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism, they will abandon democracy.”'

And we have all seen that Trump is an expert at playing the victim, and that he is all too willing to abandon democracy to achieve his own goals of remaining in power/getting back in power/staying in power indefinitely.

Looked at in this light it's not at all difficult to figure out why, despite their veneer of godliness and their willingness to judge almost anyone else who doesn't live up to their standards, the Christian reich leadership is more than willing to overlook Trump's "flaws." Rather than sanction him for his sins, they work overtime portraying him as an instrument of God who was sent to save America and the world from a host of imaginary enemies. They shamelessly stroke his ego and bask in his orange glow as they continually
fuel, and and are fueled by, his messianic messaging.

We have to outvote the MAGAts and the Christofascists this November. It's going to be a long, hard campaign season, but American democracy and even world democracy depend upon the outcome in November.

In the meantime, we can expect more tacky Trump products -- not to mention more performative piety from Trump himself, whose lifelong creed, clearly, is, "Let us prey."

This post has been updated and amended since its original publication on March 30, 2024. ~ CC

Donald Isn't the Only Trump Shilling Bibles: On the The Bulwark site, April 2, 2024, Bulwark political reporter Joe Perticone shared that Donald Trump Junior, aka DJTJ, aka Traitor Tot, has thrown his coke-addled support behind the We the People Bible. This Bible is considerably more pricey than Daddy's, retailing for $90. For the truly patriotic and/or faithful there are bundle options such as the "Liberty bundle" ($145) and the "Faith bundle" ($170).

Turns out this isn't new news;
Traitor Tot has actually been touting this Bible since at least late 2022. But it's worth noting anyway.

Perticone's Bulwark article also offers an interesting history of other politically controversial Bibles in American public life, dating back to Thomas Jefferson's redacted Gospels, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. In more recent history, politically controversial Bibles have been various flavors of "patriotic" scripture that are closely tied to right-wing politics, so in this context, the Trump-endorsed Bibles aren't an aberration in and of themselves. And they wouldn't even be newsworthy but for the deeply amoral father and son's ludicrous posturing about embracing the values, religious or secular, upon which the United States of America was founded.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Cryin' and bitchin' from her upscale kitchen, Katie Britt was not a hit

 Katie Britt, psycho mom and rising star in the reich-wing whineosphere, delivered a melodramatic and menacing rebuttal to President Biden's powerful SOTU... and it earned her more jeers than cheers.

Hide the knives, kids, psycho mom is in the kitchen!

As you must surely be aware by now if you follow American politix at all, Alabama republican senator Katie Britt's histrionic, painfully hyper-enunciated, and alternately quavering/menacing State Of The Union rebuttal (aka
the "Kitchen Ransom Video") has been ruthlessly mocked all over the media. It even caused shudders and cringes among a significant portion of the MAGAverse, according to, among numerous other sources, Ron Filipkowski, writing on Meidas

Britt's speech...weirdly alternated between bubbly cheerfulness, then concern, then fake anger, then fake outrage, sometimes all within the span of five seconds, leading many to compare her performance to someone auditioning for a high school play for the first time. Naturally, people on the Left were going to criticize her speech. But most surprising was right-wing reaction, where they simply couldn't hide their disappointment.

But to Katie Britt, the critics probably don't matter, since The Mango Monarch of MAGA, His Royal Majesty Donald John Trump, loved the speech.

It has been common practice for years to employ a "rising star" in the opposition party to deliver the counter-SOTU. But this year's choice raised eyebrows for more than one reason.

The rationale for Katie in the kitchen (and Katie at all, for that matter)
Many critics of Katie Britt's SOTU rebuttal focused on the setting of the dramatic diatribe -- her own kitchen -- noting that it was yet another example of not-so-subtle republican/Christofascist messaging that a woman's place is in the kitchen. Critics also noted that Britt is the quintessential young (or relatively young)
Stepford Wife or Handmaid's Tale pick to convey the overarching message that Being A Mom and A Wife are by far the most important roles any woman can ever take on, and that Katie's mom-hood status makes her uniquely qualified to expound on how terrifyingly out-of-touch Joe "Bless his heart" Biden allegedly is, and how dangerous he is because his policies are ENDANGERING OUR CHILDREN.

All of those critical speculations are valid. But to me it seems clear that, apart from Kitchen Katie having earned
the Mango Mussolini's all-important stamp of approval, the primary (though seriously misguided) intentions for choosing her in particular -- and for choosing her kitchen as the setting for her high-school drama tryout -- include the following:

1. "Kitchen table issues." This one should be pretty obvious. Katie declared right out of the chute that her speech was going to focus on the proverbial "kitchen table issues" -- those matters that are supposedly of utmost concern to ordinary struggling American families, and that they supposedly discuss around their humble kitchen tables during their humble family dinners. Accordingly, some genius(es) decided that the perfect way to convey Britt's supposed empathy with these struggling Americans would be for her to perch at what presumably was a table (it wasn't entirely clear to me) in her clearly upscale (not humble) kitchen. As Jake Johnson, in a March 8, 2024 piece on Common Dreams, put it:

Speaking in hushed tones and intermittently flashing a menacing smile, Britt—the former CEO of an Alabama corporate lobbying organization and the wife of a lobbyist—said from the comfort of her posh kitchen inside her 6,000-square-foot mansion that she understands and sympathizes with "what real families are facing.

Johnson also wrote:

Britt, who has been floated as a possible 2024 running mate for former President Donald Trump, characterized the GOP as the "party of hardworking parents and families"—neglecting to mention the trillions of dollars in tax breaks the party has funneled to the rich and large corporations in recent years while opposing programs such as the expanded child tax credit, which briefly slashed U.S. child poverty in half.

So... major misfire on the whole "kitchen table"/struggling families thing.

2. An appeal to the educated suburban woman/mom demos who currently oppose Trump. Some of Trump's allies caught on to this point right away and defended Britt's disastrous speech.

It would be so much easier for MAGA if we could just go back to the daze when women couldn't vote, but here we are. Although some analysts said that educated (white) suburban women helped deliver the White House to Trump in 2016, those demographics changed their minds during the course of his presidency, and
by 2020 had largely turned against him. During the 2020 campaign Trump unsuccessfully begged them for their support, claiming to have "saved their suburbs," but overall they weren't buying it, and ultimately went for Biden.

For the 2024 campaign, Biden's lead over Trump among these demos has narrowed considerably,
particularly among white suburban women, but clearly the Trump campaign is still laboring to win their support. And that seems to be a challenge. Consider the state of play in the swing state of Wisconsin, for instance. This is from a December 21, 2023 opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Suburban women still hold some conservative views, especially when it comes to finances. They are more likely to agree with Republicans on tax and economic policy. But on all other issues the study explored, Democrats do a better job of matching the values of suburban women, especially on abortion, an issue which is currently consuming the political landscape in Wisconsin and which these women say will be a key deciding factor in 2024 and the state’s 2026 gubernatorial election.

But a major opening exists for kitchen table issues. Suburban women hear very little on Republican-proposed solutions to issues that are particularly relevant to their daily lives, like health care, mental health, and affordable child care, which leads them to trust Democrats more even if they have issues with the liberal approach. 

Yup, there's that mention of "kitchen table issues" again. Given all of these challenges to a total takeover of the hearts, minds, and souls of suburban mommies by Voldemoron, what better Trumpistan ambassador to Normal Momville could there be than a white suburban mommy?

Trouble is,
it appears that the mommies aren't buying Kitchen Katie's message.

The idea is that Republicans are desperately trying to sell Republicans as pro-women or pro-mom, [Washington Post columnist Monica] Hesse wrote.

"The trouble," Hesse continued, "is that they are trying to sell it that way once a year, via a televised State of the Union rebuttal, rather than by selling it via policies and legislation. So much of the rest of the night revealed a contrast between what Britt’s party had done for women, and how women and mothers were actually living their lives."

Biden, by contrast, has actually worked to improve the lives of women and their families. So, repubs, good luck with peddling Kitchen Katie as "America's mom."

3. The image of youth/vitality/a new generation of leadership. Ahead of the president's SOTU and Kitchen Katie's rebuttal, Katie was relentlessly promoted (and didn't hesitate to brag about it during her speech) as the youngest woman ever to win a republican Senate seat. This seems to be a subtle but clear message about Joe Biden's advanced age allegedly being a disqualifying factor for the presidency. Never mind the advanced age -- not to mention the clearly abysmal physical condition and mental health -- of the only alternative to Biden in this election: Katie's Cheeto Jeezus Trump.

In the time since I first wrote the above, I've read numerous other comments that are congruent with my initial impressions; in fact Katie herself has since said that the kitchen setting was intended to hammer home that whole "kitchen table" message. But I'm leaving the list above intact even though after so many millions of words have been slung about the matter, it may seem that I am way behind the curve and am simply restating the painfully obvious.

Rising star, or just another red giant?
If the choice of Katie Britt as the "rising star" -- the one most qualified to rebut the SOTU -- was motivated in any way by an attempt to sweeten the horror that the Party Of Trump (aka the American Fascist Party) has become... or to make the republican party appear to be in tune with the needs of ordinary Americans as opposed to the super-rich... or even to foster that "big tent" image for which they've been striving for years (Katie isn't a person of color but she is a woman)... then, sorry, guys, it was a wash on all counts. And as discussed in Item number 2 above, the appeal to that all-important suburban women/mommies crowd was also a flop.

(By the way, in answer to the favored Trump-campaign question this election cycle, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" -- similar to the question that Katie asked as well at the end of her speech --
here's some perspective that contradicts the grim picture being peddled by MAGA.)

There's one point I want to make regarding republicans' largely tone-deaf approach to wooing the commoners: I absolutely do not wish to imply that being affluent or rich, even super-rich, is incompatible with compassion for those much less fortunate, or with a desire for equality and inclusiveness, or with a genuine wish to do good in the world. As I've said on this blog before, in my life I have known several "haves" who actually tried to make things better for the "have-nots" and the marginalized -- one example being right here in the Great State of Texas, the late
Marvin Zindler.

But actions do still speak louder than words, even in these days of inordinately loud words, and while Katie and her republican colleagues, hot and heavy on the campaign trail, may talk a good game of genuine concern for the have-nots, their voting records speak much more loudly and clearly than their empty rhetoric.

Red whine goes so well with cheesiness
I will concede that at the moment it appears that Katie is a true rising star in
the reich-wing whineopshere, though in this particular speech she labored to make it appear that she was whining on behalf of all Americans (at least the good, patriotic, godly ones) instead of whining about how she has been oppressed and repressed. Don't be fooled by that apparent altruism: remember that she is in lock-step now with the long-time Whiner In Chief, Trump himself, and is poised to become one of his proxies and possibly even his VP pick. And more than likely, at some point during the long campaign months ahead, she will not hesitate to break out a bottle of acidic red whine and raise a toast to her own brave suffering at the hands of the "fake news" and the "liberal media" and the Democrats and the commies and socialists and whatnot.

And speaking of whining, that insufferable quavery voice that dominated Britt's speech has been another topic of widespread speculation and mockery. Some have said it's totally
tradwife, deliberately childlike and intended to convey a message of proper womanly submissiveness. That is not beyond the realm of possibility, of course, and it's likely that the delivery did appeal to tradwives and their manly-man husbands, but I have a different take on Katie's motives.

My impression wasn't that she was attempting to communicate submissiveness or weakness at all; rather, the whiny voice was simply part of her over-the-top histrionic attempt to tug on the heartstrings: authentic faux-emotion (fauxmotion?) at its cheesiest. To me her delivery called to mind those endless late-night mini-infomercials (animal rescue, child rescue, etc.) featuring a tremulous, constantly on-the-verge-of-tears female voiceover. I swear, I half-expected to hear Sarah McLachlan's 90s hit
"Angel" in the background while Katie Britt quavered on (even though the song itself is probably far too heathen for Katie and her ilk).

It's not just the bad acting and Christofascist messaging; it's also the gaslighting and the hypocrisy
Apart from the delivery and location, there were other serious problems with Katie Britt's kitchen-table theatrics. To begin with, it was framed around a deep fear for the safety and well-being and indeed the future of "our children." This of course is a typical republican rhetorical tactic; they love to use children as political pawns. As many commentators have pointed out, however, if repubs were truly concerned for our children, they wouldn't be voting against legislation to help children and their families, or for legislation that sacrifices the welfare of kids and families to the endless demands of the ultra-wealthy. I mentioned that point myself
toward the end of this July 2023 post about a schlocky hit summer movie, a highly fictionalized tale of child sex trafficking called Sound Of Freedom:

,,,a few folks on Twitter have pointed out the glaring hypocrisy of reich-wingers' sudden deep concern, inspired solely by Sound Of Freedom, about innocent little children -- brown children, at that!-- who are being so ruthlessly trafficked, a concern that seems incongruent with the general indifference of republicans/reich-wingers to the plight of children in general, particularly brown ones. Consider, for example:

I won't deny that Democrats use children and family issues as talking points too. But overall, they're the party that is actually trying to do something to help kids and parents.

Equally as glaring as the hypocrisy about her grave concern for children is Katie Britt's gaslighting and hypocrisy about the whole border/immigration issue. Her kitchen audition was a flagrant demonstration of
Border Derangement Syndrome, the hysterical narrative that immigrants are "invading" the US from the Southern border and that they pose a serious existential threat to America.

It should come as no big shocker that several of Britt's statements about President Biden's border policies were exaggerations, misrepresentations, or distortions. In fact her most dramatic tale by far was downright deceitful, as discovered by journalist Jonathan M. Katz when he did a little bit of digging. (And here it may seem that I am burying the lede, given the huge amount of attention that this story has received since I first published this post, but I'll be damned if I'm going to rearrange this entire long screed just to seem more relevant.)

Katie tearfully told a tale about talking with a young woman who, beginning at the age of 12, had been "sex trafficked by the cartels." She'd been repeatedly raped over a period of years, sometimes many times a day. Katie said the woman told her that she had been put on "a mattress in a shoebox of a room, and they sent men through that door, over and over again, for hours and hours on-end." She immediately followed that by saying, "We wouldn't be OK with this happening in a third-world country. This is the United States of America, and it's past time we started acting like it. President Biden's border crisis is a disgrace. It's despicable. And it's almost entirely preventable."

Context is everything, though. And what Psycho Mom neglected to mention was that even though the woman’s story is true, it all took place in Mexico, not the US, and it actually happened 20 years ago, when Biden wasn’t even VP, much less president. (And no, it wasn’t Obama’s fault either. George W Bush was in the White House at that time, not that it was his fault either.)

Accordingly, the entire narrative as presented by Katie was disingenuous at best, though it was most likely swallowed whole by the same crowd who embraced the aforementioned movie Sound Of Freedom as virtually a documentary.

When I initially amended this post to add this twist in the saga, I speculated, facetiously, that it was possible that Katie intended to say that the abduction and years of captivity and repeated rapes took place two decades ago in Mexico, but that her eyes were so filled with fake Tammy-Faye tears at that particular point in her diatribe that she couldn’t read the TelePrompter or the cue cards or whatever. In a more serious vein I wrote that it was even possible that she would claim that she was talking about a totally different sex trafficking/rape vic than the one named in Jonathan Katz's expose (a woman named Karla Jacinto Romero). But there have been developments since my initial speculations.

At the time I first wrote this, it appeared that up to that point Britt had not addressed the matter directly at all, choosing instead to let a spokesperson do the dirty work of dodging the question. And at first, that spokesperson, Sean Ross, refused to directly answer the question about the identity of the rape victim, and insisted that the story was not deceptive, basically because bad stuff is happening at the border and it's Biden's fault. (Here's a direct link to a Xitter post with screenshots of communications between journalist Kyle Whitmire and Katie's spokesdodger Sean Ross.)

Later, however, after Katz's Tik Tok about the issue went viral and other media jumped on it,
the Washington Post apparently cornered Ross, and ultimately he admitted that the victim in Katie's story was in fact Karla Jacinto Romero. But he continued to insist, as he had done in initial responses to queries, that the story was not deceptive because bad stuff really is happening at the border, and it's Biden's fault.

After much more coverage about the matter, our stalwart kitchen queen finally spoke up in her own defense. From ABC News, March 10, 2024:

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Britt...said she didn't bring up Romero to intentionally blame Biden for what happened to her -- but rather to point to it as an example of the trafficking that is still going on.

"I very clearly said I spoke to a woman who told me about when she was trafficked when she was 12, so I didn't say a teenager, I didn't say a young woman, a grown woman, a woman -- when she was trafficked when she was 12. And so listening to her story, she is a victim's right advocate who is telling this is what drug cartels are doing, this is how they're profiting off of women," Britt said. "And it is disgusting. And so I am hopeful that it brings some light to -- to it, and we can actually do something about human trafficking and that that's what the media actually decides to cover."

Oh, Katie. You know damn well that this was an attempted slam at Biden. You just got caught. And as for that garbled bit about the vic's age, that hasn't been the matter of controversy. The controversy is your deceptive use of the story itself.

Karla Romero has spoken up as well, and apparently she resents being used as a political pawn, either by United States or Mexican pols. From CNN, March 11, 2024:

[Jacinto] told CNN she was trafficked before Biden’s presidency and said legislators lack empathy when using the issue of human trafficking for political purposes.

“I hardly ever cooperate with politicians, because it seems to me that they only want an image. They only want a photo — and that to me is not fair,” Karla Jacinto told CNN on Sunday...

...Jacinto told CNN that Mexican politicians took advantage of her by using her story for political purposes and that it’s happened again in the United States.

From the perspective of Katie’s political standing, however, it’s probably all moot, since as noted above, her personal savior, Lard Cheeto Jeezus, was quite pleased with her audition.

Apart from Katie's shaky and altogether Trumpian relationship with the truth, there's her hypocrisy regarding the border. She was actually one of the republicans who helped negotiate a bipartisan border security deal -- and then, like most of her rethuglican colleagues,
she voted against the bipartisan bill resulting from the negotiations because the Orange Overlord commanded it.

And while we're at it, let's not ignore Katie Britt's hypocrisy regarding women's health issues. From Ariel Messman-Rucker
on, March 8, 2024:

[Britt] also spent part of her excruciatingly long speech recounting the story of a woman who she claimed was raped at the border because of Biden's "senseless border policies" but failed to see the blatant hypocrisy in her statements considering she is vehemently pro-life and would deny a woman in that position the right to get an abortion.

Exactly. (Do read Ariel Messman-Rucker's entire piece, because it lists some of the most hilarious responses to Britt's performance.)

Finally and most egregiously, Katie Britt's speech was, obviously, a clear endorsement of Donald Trump, even though she never mentioned his name. Apparently
the impending death of American democracy, and the rise of fascism within US borders, are of absolutely zero concern to her.

Is "republicunt" too strong a word to use here?

This post has been revised and expanded since initial publication on March 8, 2024.
~ CC

Saturday, March 02, 2024

My wild loves


When Daniel Boone goes by, at night,
The phantom deer arise
And all lost, wild America
Is burning in their eyes.
~ Stephen Vincent Benét

* * * * *

I don't know what happens when people die
Can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It's like a song I can hear playing right in my ear

But I can't sing, I can't help listening
~ Jackson Browne,
For a Dancer

Long ago I had a pet wolf, which, as I’ve often said, is an oxymoron if there ever was one. There really is no excuse for this, and I would never dream of doing it again. I learned the hard way, as others have, that even if a wolf is not in the wild, the wild will always be in the wolf. And as I have also said more than once, the cry of a captive wolf is one of the saddest songs there is. If a Robin Redbreast in a Cage puts all Heaven in a Rage, as Blake's poem would have it, what reaction must Heaven have to a caged wolf?

I didn't adopt the wolf, whom I named Maya, by myself; my partner in this ultimately unfortunate experiment was an incredibly gifted artist and photographer and musician named Rick Hartman, who always possessed a bit of wildness himself. I do not mean wildness in the decadent party-animal sense in which it is most often applied to humans. What I mean is that Rick had a lifelong passion for nature and wildlife, and always seemed happier outdoors than in, and probably would have been content to live his entire life in a cave or at most a yurt in the middle of a vast wilderness.

Though I love nature and animals too, my own material requirements have always been a little more fussy. This was an underlying conflict throughout my relationship with Rick, who for an extended period in my younger daze I considered to be the love of my life -- and once, when we were discussing our basic incompatibility, he said, "The thing is, I'm a wolf, and you're a dog." It was not an insult and he didn't mean it as one; it was just a comment on our different natures. Besides, dogs are some of my favorite people, so if you want to insult me, calling me a dog is definitely not going to do the trick.

* * * * *

Both Rick and I had significantly underestimated the problems that would come with adopting a wolf. This may have been in part because Rick himself was accustomed to having unusual pets from a young age; over the years he'd had a raccoon, an owl, shrews, a duck, an alligator, and an assortment of other furred, feathered, and scaled beings. And he and I were, I suppose, also lulled by the fact that a couple of years prior to bringing Maya home, Rick had adopted a wolf dog, whom we had named Kaliska (pronounced kuh-LEES-kuh). I found the name in a book called The New Age Baby Name Book; according to the authors, "Kaliska" was a Miwok Indian name meaning "coyote chasing deer."

The man who sold Kaliska to Rick -- and who happened to be the same one who sold Maya to us later -- had said that she was half wolf and half white German Shepherd, but that she had been a runt. Indeed, she was smaller than either a wolf or a German Shepherd; she was more the size of a coyote. And as it turned out, she also liked to chase deer. So her Miwok name was quite appropriate.

At any rate, Kaliska was profoundly sweet and sociable, and everyone who met her fell in love with her. "Kaliska was everybody's dog," Rick often said after a tragic accident took her from us a few months following our adoption of Maya.

My point is that in deciding to bring a wolf into our lives, Rick and I both reasoned, if you can call it reasoning, that since a half-wolf was so sweet and easy to manage, a full-blooded wolf couldn't be that much more difficult if adopted at a very young age and brought up with love and care.

But we were in for a surprise. A dog is a dog and a wolf is a wolf, and notwithstanding their common ancestry, they are not the same. Moreover, even wolf hybrids can be highly unpredictable, and some are dangerous. We had simply lucked out with Kaliska.

* * * * *

For my part, I really cannot say that I wasn't forewarned about the folly of trying to make a wolf into a pet. Years before Maya came into our lives, I had read a book called Of Wolves and Men by one of my favorite nature essayists, Barry Lopez. In the epilogue to the book he wrote:

Wolves don’t belong living with people. It’s as simple as that. Having done it once, naively, I would never do it again. Most people I know who have raised wolves feel the same way. All too often the wolf’s life ends tragically and its potential for growth while it lives is smothered. I am grateful for the knowledge I have gained but if I’d known what it would cost I don’t think I would have asked.

Although I remembered that passage very well, I was naively confident that Lopez's warning could not possibly apply to a wolf born in captivity and adopted when barely past weaning, as was the case with Maya. It surely couldn’t apply to one so coddled as Maya was. And she was indeed coddled. I remember staying up with her night after night after night in those early days, carrying her around like a human infant, jostling her gently, talking to her, singing to her, trying to calm her night cries. From the beginning, though, there was something about her that was so restless, so unsettled, so profoundly unhappy, but I was all too willing to overlook these things, telling myself, She’ll get over it, once she really gets used to us.

She never really got over it.

I'm sure there are those who would smugly say that she never "got over it" because she was coddled, and that we should have established ourselves as Alphas from the very beginning. But I am convinced that the problem went much deeper than that.

* * * * *

But this post is really more about Rick than about Maya. I have been thinking about him a lot today, March 2, because it is the tenth anniversary of the day that, after a brave and grueling battle with cancer, he left the planet, as his brother John expressed it when he told me the news. Rick and I never married, but we were together for seven years, and remained friends for the rest of his life. To say that I was deeply saddened by his loss would be the lamest of understatements.

I have had this post whirling around in my head for more than the ten years that Rick has been gone; I actually began it a couple of years before he passed away. Originally it was simply going to be a rumination on wildness -- in nature at large as well as in humans -- framed around my experiences of living with a full-blooded timber wolf (and a man who identified with that wolf).

I had planned to also work in some content reflective of this blog's original and primary beat of New-Wage/McSpirituality/selfish-help culture, which in this context would have involved snarky commentary on the way those overlapping factions have idealized wolves and have co-opted them as a self-serving symbol of their own noble, and largely imaginary, wildness. My personal and hard-earned perspectives on the uncomfortable realities of human and wolf interactions would be just another way of raining on the pseudo-mystics' parade.

At its core, however, the post would be a tribute to my own past wild loves, Rick and Maya.

But there were always other posts to write, and the months and years went by, and here we are.

And I find that even now, ten years to the day that Rick left, I'm having trouble collecting all of my thoughts into a cohesive whole. So for now, this post is just a "stub," my intention being to add to it over time. I just wanted to post something to observe this sad anniversary.

The "wolf man" picture at the head of this post is a photocomposition by Rick -- created the laborious old-fashioned way, years before Photoshop or AI -- consisting of a self-portrait and a portrait of Maya. It's one of my very favorite works of his. (Years before he passed, Rick had given me permission to share this image publicly as long as I attributed it.)

Another one of my favorites, of which I have a mounted print but not a scan at the moment, is a photocomp that Rick called "Traveler," in which he once again used himself as a model. The piece shows a man of indeterminate age, dressed in rugged clothes and an old hat, and holding on to a walking stick (or is it a wizard's staff?). He stands on a lovely grid pathway that is actually a perspective shot of one of Houston's glass skyscrapers, with a brilliant blue sky reflected in the glass.

What makes it so intriguing is that the figure of the man is in shadow, so the viewer cannot really tell if it is a frontal or a back view. It's somewhat like one of those
optical-illusion pictures that can be interpreted in one of two ways: is it two faces, or a vase? And to me, the ambiguity has always been the point of "Traveler," for it is impossible to determine whether this is a departure or an arrival: is the traveler just setting out on a long journey, or just returning home from one?

Or both?

* * * * *

As for Maya, who unhappily shared a home with Rick and me (and who never learned anything remotely resembling manners, and who always tried to grab our food off of the table when we were eating, and who ate one of our couches, and who was constantly escaping from our yard and running amok in the streets of our quiet suburban neighborhood, and who tried to eat the next-door neighbor's French poodle)... well, Rick got custody of her when we split up. I loved her, but there was no way I could take care of her.

Besides, Rick and I had since adopted yet another wolf-dog hybrid, a gorgeous half-wolf, half-husky boy whom I named Xen (pronounced "Zen"). We had bought him from the same man who'd sold us Kaliska and Maya; it had become a habit. And in case you're wondering, our split-up was a mutual decision and was amicable throughout, though there were, understandably, moments of sadness. Xen and I moved up to Colorado, while Rick and Maya remained in Houston.

Unfortunately, however, Maya became more of a problem for Rick over the years, and she even attacked him once. Ultimately he found a home for her at a wolf haven in the Texas Hill Country.
She was still a captive -- releasing her into the wild would have been a death sentence for her -- but at least she had the company of other captive wolves.

But Rick never lost his love for the wildness that Maya represented, and he never lost his love for creating art that was often inspired not just by wildness and nature but also by worlds beyond the easily visible. In the artist's statement for one of his art shows years ago, he wrote: “The greatest art one can master is the art of mastering oneself. The highest form of creative expression must come from the depths of the soul in order to touch and awaken that sense in others. I wish to illustrate the freedom of spirit and the eternality of life that I might in some way bring the invisible into the visible.”

Rick always seemed to have one eye on that invisible world, though he clearly relished the visible world as well. His art, like his life, was a joyous celebration of both.

A few days after he passed away, I wrote this in the guest book on his Legacy page:

My heart hurts for the entire Hartman family – a big, beautiful family that I felt I was a part of for seven years. New generations have grown up since I left the scene, and it is gratifying to see how he has enriched their lives, as he did mine. After our split Rick and I remained friends throughout the years. While we were together, he opened my eyes to so many things, and actually helped to set me on my writing career. I will always remember him as an amazingly talented, funny-yet-serious artist and man who always seemed to have his eye on something that the rest of us could never quite see. (In fact that was what caught my own eye when I first met him at a long-ago party: his faraway expression. He was probably busy planning a new art piece or composition, even while we were conversing.)

My thoughts are with all who feel his loss.

In retrospect, Rick was not the love of my life, but a station on the way to Ron, who is the love of my life. Don't get me wrong: Rick's role in my life was so much more than a way station; I valued his love and his friendship, and I appreciate the gifts he possessed and the gift that he was and is, not only in my life but in the lives of so many other people.

I miss him.

And come to think of it, I miss Maya too, as much of a pain in the ass as she was, and as tragic a figure as a captive wolf truly is.

Most of all, on this saddest of anniversaries, I am deeply grateful for all of the people -- human and otherwise -- who have been and are in my life.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Billionaire "real estate moguls" like Donald Trump and Grant Cardone have made the US housing crisis worse

There's a rich man sleeping on a golden bed
There's a skeleton choking on a crust of bread
~ The Police ("
King of Pain")

There is a housing affordability crisis in the United States, and even though it has been exacerbated in some ways by the surge in migrants, the true villains in this story, if you're inclined to think in terms of heroes and villains, aren't desperate brown people (or blue-city mayors or the Biden administration); rather, the bad guys are members of the billionaire class -- people such as "real estate moguls" Donald Trump and Grant Cardone.

Huge faceless corporate landlords such as Blackstone are also playing a big part, of course,
although there is disagreement about how much (or even if) they're really to blame for the crisis. In any case it would be a mistake to discount the culpability of blustering egomaniacs such as Donald Trump and wealthy Florida Scientologist Grant Cardone, both of whom have a gift for attracting a large and passionately loyal following.

It's worthy of note that
the Stand With Trump sucker fund that Grant and his wife Elena set up to cover Donald Trump's New York civil fraud fine has now passed the $1 million milestone, a mere seven days after it was launched. And the money just keeps pouring in, with no sign of stopping any time soon.

It is quite clear, not only from Elena's overly dramatic missive on the
GoFundMe page but also from scads of other information widely available online, that Grant Cardone feels a special bond with Trump. In his eyes, the two are both highly successful real estate tycoons who are only trying to do good things, but are constantly being oppressed by the government and the legal system and critics and whatnot. Somebody call the waaaaahmbulance!

I think it's far more accurate to say that what Trump and Cardone actually have in common, besides ostentatious wealth, outsized egos, and a gift for the grift, is that they are completely indifferent to the widespread misery that the US housing crisis has created, and it could be argued that they are major contributors to that crisis.

The landlord from hell
Consider Trump, for example. As The New Republic's Kenny Stancil wrote in a piece appearing on Yahoo! News on February 21, 2024,
the very real potential for a return to Trump's housing policies would be a disaster.

In 2017, ProPublica described the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, under Ben Carson as “the perfect distillation of the right’s antipathy to governing.” It was an apt characterization given that Carson repeatedly advocated for harmful budget cuts, sought to triple rents and foist onerous work requirements on the country’s poorest tenants, and impeded fair housing enforcement. Everything he did ran counter to HUD’s mission.

It’s taken years for President Joe Biden's administration to clean up the mess left by Carson, and the 2024 election threatens to undo all of that hard work. But a return to Trumpism threatens more than a mere reversion: The truth is that his wayward administration did not accomplish all the destruction it intended. It’s frightening to contemplate how much more Carson—or someone who shares his
reactionary worldview—might pull off if would-be dictator Donald Trump wins a second term...

It's a good article, and hammers home yet another reason that a second Trump term would be a disater for America.

Trump also has a long history of being indifferent to the plights of tenants -- or, to put it more bluntly and honestly, of being a landlord from hell -- as this March 2016 piece on describes.

There's an episode in Donald Trump's past that shows just how far this billionaire businessman will go to get his way.

It began in 1981. Trump bought a 14-story building on prime real estate facing New York City's Central Park.

His plan was to tear down the building and replace it with luxury condos. But first he needed a small band of rent-stabilized tenants out of there.

To succeed, Trump played rough, according to lawsuits filed by the tenants. Renters said he cut heat and hot water, and he imposed tough building rules. Trump even proposed sheltering homeless people in the building...

...The next move in his real life game of Monopoly came in July 1981, when he bought a hotel and its neighbor, a rent-stabilized building at 100 Central Park South.

Two months later, he applied for a demolition permit to blow it up. Trump fired the building manager and replaced him with Citadel Management. In his book,
The Art of the Deal, Trump himself said he chose a company that "specialized in relocating tenants."

Just a few months later, on New Year's Eve, several tenants received identical "lease violation" warning letters. The previous building owner had given renters permission to knock down walls and renovate their apartment units. But Trump was reversing that exception, and renters had only 12 days to rebuild the walls -- or face eviction.

This October 2018 opinion piece in The New York Times. written by tenant lawyer and law professor John Whitlow, describes Trump as "just another crooked New York City landlord."

...Donald Trump is a homegrown creature, a species well known and justifiably loathed by most New Yorkers — the unscrupulous landlord. The rest of the country may be in a constant state of shock when confronted with the tornado of news that whirls around the Trump administration. But tenant advocates know what he is doing. More than a stooge for Vladimir Putin or the embodiment of a disgruntled — and mythical — white working class, Mr. Trump is at his core a landlord, turning a handsome profit while the rest of us live in increasingly precarious conditions.

As a tenant lawyer, I regularly interact with landlords in the city’s housing courts. They make a killing by taking advantage of a rigged system. They extract as much wealth as possible from hard-working people trying to hang on to the places they call home, with little regard for the common good or the social fabric of our city. They take advantage of tax subsidies to renovate old buildings and construct new ones, and they engage in a range of practices, lawful and unlawful, to raise rents above the threshold beyond which tenants lose the protections of rent stabilization. And they regularly
discriminate against tenants on the basis of race, language, national origin and immigration status.

The rich man sleeps in his golden bed and tweets on his golden toilet and peddles his garish gold grift-shoes, while the skeletons fight for crusts and crumbs.

Grant Cardone's contributions to the misery index
Grant Cardone's multibillion-dollar empire is also based on being a less-than-stellar landlord, as well as on teaching others how they can do the same by pouring money into his multifamily residential property investment funds. The more I read about Grant and his real estate ventures, the more convinced I am that he and his ilk are very much a part of the problem of soaring rents and other factors that are lowering the overall standard of living for too many Americans, and are contributing to
a record increase in the number of homeless/unhoused people in "the richest country in the world."

An August 29, 2023 article on the New Republic site, headlined, "The Real Estate Hustle-Culture Con That's Exploiting Investors and Wrecking the Housing Market," lays it out starkly, focusing on Grant Cardone's significant contribution to the problem of housing insecurity.

An ostentatious Louisiana-born salesman with a penchant for down-home relationship advice, Cardone is a practicing Scientologist who casts himself as a plucky opponent to mainstream financial institutions. He rose to fame as a cold-calling guru, building a large online following with videos and courses that promised to reveal the secrets of salesmanship. He subsequently became a fixture on reality TV shows such as Turnaround King and Undercover Billionaire. He now operates a conference circuit that straddles the line between dumbed-down business school and a clumsy revival meeting (Donald Trump was a recent guest speaker). In Cardone’s videos on YouTube and Instagram, he champions a swaggering, somewhat cruel form of hustle culture aimed at a generation struggling to make sense of its economic misfortune.

Over the past few years, Cardone has directed much of his energy toward real estate investment, making use of his raspy charisma and endlessly rising house prices to preach the gospel of passive income. His focus has been on buying up multifamily apartment rental properties to generate sustained rental income and eventual appreciation on the property value. 

Crucially, Cardone has been able to make money not just by imparting financial advice but by exploiting his fan base to build a $4 billion residential real estate portfolio. “We are becoming a renter nation,” Cardone explains in a
video from 2020. He’s not wrong. But Cardone’s business model relies on increasing rents and squeezing tenants to maintain his debt-laden portfolio...

...The funds that Cardone promotes online are a type of syndicated investment. He asks his followers to invest, pools the capital, uses these proceeds to secure large loans, and then buys up undervalued rental properties on the premise that he can quickly increase the rents. He produces steady returns with the rents (the passive income), and by increasing the amount the building can earn, he’s also able to increase the value of the property itself. Along the way, Cardone takes management fees, acquisition fees, and up to 20 percent of the profits. Cardone has also been
accused of quietly buying the properties in advance and then selling them back to the fund at an inflated price.

Of note, the class-action lawsuit against Cardone that was cited in the New Republic article was dismissed in October 2023, for the second time in two years. (It had previously been dismissed, then reinstated by an appeals court.) The plaintiff had disclaimed fraud on Cardone's part, and ultimately couldn't prove that Cardone deliberately deceived his investors. Cardone went on YouTube to crow about the dismissal, slamming media outlets that had had the gall to report negative news about him and his ventures. He said that of 14,000 investors in his scheme, the plaintiff was the only one to complain.

Cardone has been busy spreading his own (blatantly self-serving) take on the real reason for the housing crisis in America. In his alternate reality, it's not at all because of inflated house prices fueled in large part by greedy corporate investors (renters who for various reasons are not in the market to buy a house apparently don't enter into his equation). Instead, he says, the problem exists mainly because the majority of the homes on the market are places that buyers simply are not interested in. From a February 21, 2024 piece on the site:

“You don’t want to buy most of the homes in America because they’re old,” he said. “It’s your grandmother’s home. It needs new carpet, new kitchen, new air conditioning, heaters.”

Cardone said that many buyers would prefer to buy a smaller home with amenities than an older home that needs to be completely renovated.

“You’re going to be more likely to move into a smaller condo or an apartment and get all the new amenities and a swimming pool and a gym and electronics and smart TVs, and all the cool stuff that people want today,” he said. “Not only do we have a shortage of inventory, we have a shortage of desirable inventory by 10 times.”

Cardone says we mustn't confuse a housing supply crisis with an actual housing crisis.

Cardone explained that while we are in the midst of a housing supply crisis, a possible housing crisis — an overall failure of the housing market — is decades away.

“I don’t think we’re headed for a housing crisis,” he said. “Seventy percent of the loans in America are either paid or they’re below 4%. You have 40% of Americans that have a loan under 3% for the next 28 years. So we don’t have a crisis until the year 2051.”

Oh, well, then, that's okay. Never mind the folks, both renters and owners, who are steadily being squeezed out of even marginally acceptable housing, and being pushed closer to homelessness, due to soaring costs. Never mind the growing numbers of people for whom that longtime cornerstone of the American dream, homeownership, is now an impossible dream. And never mind the glaringly obvious role that corporate landlordism is playing in the problem. Apparently none of that can be considered a "housing crisis" by Grant's definition. So, no worries.

To advance his own business interests, Cardone actively preaches against homeownership for most Americans (
even though he owns several premium properties himself, including his primary residence in Florida, which he bought for $25 million, and a vacation beach house in Malibu for which he paid $40 mil). He encourages other people to rent and to put the money that they would be throwing away on home maintenance into (his) real estate investments, which just happen to be multifamily residential properties. Of course this means that he and his "investors" benefit when rents keep rising on those rental units. Screw the folks who actually have to live in those units. From the New Republic article cited above:

Scooping up undervalued middle-class properties has its own impact. Cynthia Laurent, housing coordinator for Florida Rising, a social justice group based out of Orlando, says that the Sun Belt is already dealing with knock-on effects of investment in mid-tier real estate in peripheral urban enclaves and leafy suburbs. “It’s a chain effect. If folks can’t afford to buy homes, then they become renters. If more middle-class folks are now paying rents, the lower-class folks are being priced out of what is already a short-supplied and underdeveloped housing stock.”

Despite Cardone’s insistence that he stays away from depressed areas, Cardone Capital notes the Covid-19 eviction moratorium as an investment risk in its mandatory earnings report for the fund filed during the pandemic. Eviction has become part of how Cardone operates: Cardone Capital finalized the purchase of 10X Las Olas Walk in downtown Fort Lauderdale in December 2021 and got to work quickly, beginning eviction proceedings against seven tenants in the building the following month. Since then, there have been dozens of evictions filed against tenants in the building.

Cardone has tried to evict more than 50 tenants at 10X Riverwalk, another building in Fort Lauderdale, since he purchased it in 2021. Twenty evictions were filed at 10X Boca Raton, and nearly 100 have been lodged at 10X Delray Beach. This dovetails with extensive studies showing how investor-owned rental properties tend to have much
higher rates of eviction.

A recent investigation by
The Tampa Bay Post also charged that Cardone had been abusing a “workforce housing” scheme and overcharging tenants who are meant to receive affordable, subsidized housing in his building. Instead of passing on the subsidies to the tenants, 10X Wellington Club pocketed the public money provided by the county and claimed subsidies for vacant properties in the building as well.

All things considered, Cardone appears to be the landlord from hell, kinda like Donald Trump.

Residents who live at Cardone’s properties often struggle to get repairs done while suffering steep rent increases. But that seems to be of little concern to Cardone, who insists over and over again that his funds are raising up the video-watching masses by letting them in on the hidden world of real estate profits. “The real estate we are buying has traditionally been available only to the large institutions (such as Blackstone, Vanguard, Fidelity, Fairfield) and out of reach to everyday investors,” Cardone said as part of a promotion effort for one of his latest real estate funds. “I am making extraordinary investments available to the everyday person.”

As indicated in the quote above, a major part of Cardone's shtick has been positioning his real estate fund as an Everyperson's investment opportunity -- a chance to compete with the big guys like Blackstone and Vanguard. But in practice, there's little difference between him and those faceless and soulless giants.

Blackstone, Vanguard, Fidelity, and Fairfield are the lumbering giants of asset management and among the largest private owners of real estate in the U.S. Their size enables them to make incredible returns, swinging property prices, benefiting from economies of scale, tax advantages, lending rates, and complex financial engineering. Cardone benefits from many of these advantages as well. And while many commentators have pointed to the issues that emerge when ownership is concentrated among a few large institutional investors, Cardone’s smaller pooled funds contribute to the same affordability issues that have come out of the decline of affordable housing as rents increase. Housing as an investment category is the issue. And just like the powerful corporate investors, Cardone is intent on raising rents as much as he can and evicting those who can’t pay. For all his posturing, Cardone has spoken openly about his hopes that Blackstone will eventually acquire his real estate portfolio.

Hear that, Grant and Elena? "Housing as an investment category is the issue." So please, you two, in the name of all that is decent and good (look those words up if you're not sure of the meaning), STFU about how oppressed you and Trump and other predatory real estate moguls are. Rational folks aren't buying it.

Housing insecurity in the US is a complex and nuanced issue, and I'm not pretending there are any easy answers. What does seem clear is that career hucksters like Donald Trump and Grant Cardone, who are mainly out for themselves and their bottom lines, aren't doing anything to solve the problem and in fact are making it worse.