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Trump 93: For it before he was against it

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During the Democratic presidential primary, Senator Bernie Sanders fashioned a recurrent criticism - one of the few to last through most of the campaign - of Hillary Clinton, that while he (Sanders) had seen around the bend far enough to determine that invading Iraq in 2003 was a bad idea, and voted against it, Clinton voted in favor. She never developed a strong comeback to that critique.

For anyone seeking to criticize Clinton, who like Sanders (and, as it happens, like this writer) thought in advance that the invasion was a bad idea, the appeal of that line argument as a blast on Clinton's judgement has some appeal.

From that standpoint, you can understand Donald Trump's desire to do what Sanders did. (The fact that Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, also supported the war, is inconvenient but, well, maybe somewhat disposable. On the other hand, the fact that Trump has scaled down his use of the Clinton-Iraq argument since picking Pence as running mate may suggest it's more than just a little problematic. On at least one televised interview, he proceeded to say "I don't care" about Pence's relative foresight on Iraq.)

On repeated occasions, Trump said he was against it from early on; on a 60 Minutes interview, for example, he said he "was against the war in Iraq from the beginning."

But there's a problem: Trump was not opposed to the war before it was undertaken. As the Atlantic reported:

"JF Trump repeats his claim that he was against the Iraq war from the start. This is not true, and every time he says it he needs to be called out on its falsity. To Trump’s credit, he turned against the war faster than some others, once it started going bad. Before it started, he was not among those — those like Barack Obama, like Al Gore, like a handful of Republicans in Congress, like Brent Scowcroft and other conservatives and realists — who warned that it would be a grievous mistake."

The Los Angeles Times cited an audio recording of a Trump interview with radio host Howard Stern on September 11, 2002, half a year before President George W. Bush ordered the invasion, on th question of whether invading was a good idea. Trump: “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

Searching for evidence he had opposed the war before it began, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks went to an interview of Trump with Neil Cavuto of Fox News in January 2003 saying perhaps Bush “shouldn't be doing it yet, and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations.” according to Politifact. But Politifact also said Trump nowhere said he "was totally against the war in Iraq” and cautioned that the area could be destabilized as a result.

He doesn't get to take the high ground he apparently wants to occupy here. - rs

Trump 94: A serious medical report

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In some ways, the president of the United States is one of the most pampered people in the country, to the point of never having to worry or even think about most personal activities. Transportation, meals, basic needs - pocket change is unnecessary. Most things that most people think about as a matter of daily getting-around simply aren't considerations for the president. All taken care of.

The other side of it is that the job of president is unremittingly stressful. The cares of the world are on the shoulders of the president, and they never can be escaped. At 3 a.m or in the middle of a family vacation, the presidency remains an unavoidable part of life for the four or eight years it is undertaken (maybe less in the case of resignation). If a person is making life and death decisions impacting millions of people, you want that person at their best - and in solid health.

Not all of our presidents have been in great health, and some have functioned remarkably well despite serious problems - Franklin Rosevelt's polio, for example. But the Oval occupant's health can also impair a presidency and do damage to the country, as witness an extended stretch in Woodrow Wilson's presidency. Presidential health is a consideration in all cases, but it becomes greater when the person has packed in more years. As in the case of both major party nominees this year.

Some health questions have arisen concerning Hillary Clinton, especially concerning a 2012 concussion and blood clot incident. Her doctor said "Clinton was diagnosed with a “transverse sinus venous thrombosis,” a type of blood clot in the brain, and was given anticoagulants to dissolve the clot. After the concussion, Clinton experienced double-vision and wore glasses with a Fresnel Prism." A year later, the medical condition was gone, as were the glasses. None of this was trivial, but it all apparently has been treated appropriately.

Her doctor's recent conclusion was, "“In summary, Mrs. Clinton is a healthy female with hypothyroidism and seasonal allergies, on longterm anticoagulation,” Bardack concludes. “She participates in a healthy lifestyle and has had a full medical evaluation, which reveals no evidence of additional medical issues or cardiovascular disease. Her cancer screening evaluations are all negative. She is in excellent physical condition and fit to serve as President of the United States.”

Donald Trump, who would be the oldest person ever sworn in as president, is another matter. From outward appearances (as with Mrs. Clinton) he is in good health, and that may be the case. He does not seem to lack for energy.

We haven't heard much by way of a professional report about Trump's health. One report was attributed in a tweet to Dr. Jacob Bornstein of Lenox Hill Hospital; Trump later deleted the tweet, probably because Jacob Bornstein is dead. Harold Bornstein, however, is very much alive and says Donald Trump is the picture of health.

He wrote that “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

A simple statement that Trump is a healthy 70-year-old man physically capable of serving as president (assuming that he is) would do; this presumption of comparing Trump's health to James Madison's, Andrew Jackson's and Theodore Roosevelt's is ridiculous. (One news report said that "Reached for comment regarding this, a spokesperson at the American Medical Association just giggled.")

We don't have a serious medical report on the man. What we have, as several commentators noted, is something that reads like a medical report on the strongman of North Korea.

And that's physical health. We'll return to the subject of Trump's mental health.

Trump 95: Funded by foreign nationals

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High up on the lines of Donald Trump appeal for many of his supporters, last year at least, was this: He's rich, he's paying for his campaign himself, so no one else can buy him.

It was never true; Trump accepted campaign money during the primary season as well as during the general. The deception - many Trump backers probably still think he's self-funding - is more significant than the contributions, which all the other candidates for president, of all parties, have been accepting and using this cycle like the many before it. No blame from here on Trump for accepting contributions ...

... except ...

He's seeking a kind of contribution other candidates of all parties, who mostly at least have been trying to conform to federal law on the subject, have not been seeking:

Money from foreign nationals.

On June 29 the watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission said that fundraising emails from Trump this year have been going not just to Americans but to politicians in Britain, Australia, Scotland and Iceland.

FEC guidance sheets say federal campaigns cannot accept donations from foreign nationals, and "It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them."

An email from Trump's son drew this from a British member of Parliament: "Quite why you think it appropriate to write emails to UK parliamentarians with a begging bowl for your father’s repugnant campaign is completely beyond me. ... Given his rhetoric on migrants, refugees and immigration, it seems quite extraordinary that he would be asking for money; especially people who view his dangerous divisiveness with horror."

Others called it "pathetic."

The Associated Press, in a show of wit, said, "Call it ‘Trexit.’ Members of the British Parliament and other foreign politicians want off Donald Trump’s email list, and are seeking to block the presidential candidate from asking them for campaign donations."

There are some gray areas in the law, and Trump's legal counsel may be able to keep him out of the penalty box here. But really: You're running for president of the United States and you want people from foreign countries to underwrite that? What sort of message is this? (Oh wait. We're talking about Donald Trump here.)

Trump 96: No sense of the politics

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The incident centering disqualifer 96 is admittedly small and harmless - a small embarrassment for Donald Trump and a chuckle at his expense for the opposition. But for people who understand how government works, as a practical matter, the point is not small at all.

On July 27, Trump held a press conference at which he had in mind hashing on Democrat Hillary Clinton's running mate (for vice president, Tim Kaine. Like most politicians, Kaine left behind over the years some grist for the opposition, but Trump didn't use it.

"Her running mate Tim Kaine, who by the way did a terrible job in New Jersey - first act he did in New Jersey was ask for a $4 billion tax increase and he was not very popular in New Jersey and he still isn't."

Kane is a senator from Virginia; he is a former governor there, but never proposed legislation like that attributed to him by Trump. (Kane had fun with the mistake, admitting that he'd been a poor governor of New Jersey.) Reporters quickly figured that Trump had meant to refer to former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean (1982-90), who was a Republican. The $4 billion tax increase was proposed by a Democratic governor of New Jersey, Jim Florio; Trump was correct that it was unpopular, though Kean remains a popular figure in New Jersey. Kaine did propose a number of tax increases in Virginia, but no single piece that amounted to $4 billion.

Called on this at the event, Trump said, "What? I mean Virginia."

People make mistakes, and if you're talking about details and personnel outside your area of specialty, it'll happen. But just as Trump probably could without error run through a list of, say, the major developers in New York, so could nearly any of his opponents for president this year - in either party - run through a list of who served where and when, with special attention to which party was involved. Hillary Clinton obviously would not have mistaken Kean for Kaine, but neither would Bernie Sanders or - to put a finer point on it - would Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush. Those people are all immersed enough in the finer points of what they're doing to not make that kind of mistake. They have learned about American politics the way a person might learn a foreign language.

Donald Trump never has bothered to learn. He doesn't know this stuff. And in politics, what you don't know most certainly will come back to bite you. - rs

Trump 96: Bad business

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When Donald Trump entered the presidential stakes, one positive thought I had about him was this: "Well, he is a good businessman." He had,that at least. Or so I figured.

Turns out, when you look closer, even that assumption is a con.

The problem is that not a lot of people have a comprehensive view of Trump's business history. Most of us have heard - and Trump often has recounted - this building or project or business venture or that. But how do they fit into place? How were they accomplished? Did they succeed? What was Trump's role in these efforts; what did he do, exactly?

Short of reading the whole of an unauthorized biography, you can now get the clear answers to those questions in a half-hour or less thanks to a fine and clear piece of work just released about Newsweek, by Kurt Eichenwald. It is called, as if warning about what's ahead, "Donald Trump's many business failures, explained."

"Lost contracts, bankruptcies, defaults, deceptions and indifference to investors—Trump’s business career is a long, long list of such troubles, according to regulatory, corporate and court records, as well as sworn testimony and government investigative reports. Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion," he writes.

From time to time Trump has mentioned a $1 million stake his father Fred Trump, who had a generally consistently successful business track record over in Brooklyn, gave him early in his building development activities (the value of which might be about ten times as large now). But it turns out that was only one small example of the payments he got from dad - one of the smaller payments. Donald Trump was bailed out by his father repeatedly through the years, sometimes via direct payments and sometimes through political and financial contacts his father had developed over the decades (and which Donald, generally, proceeded to trash).

"To sum it all up," Newsweek said, "Trump is rich because he was born rich—and without his father repeatedly bailing him out, he would have likely filed for personal bankruptcy before he was 35."

But what about his basic business instincts, the kind of thing for which he was so celebrated on Celebrity Apprentice?

Best example here is his adventures in Atlantic City casinos. In the 80s he had the thought that money could be made through creating and running casinos. Not a bad thought; there are people who have made lots of money that way. Banks were skeptical of Trump, since he hadn't run a casino before. Talking big, he persuaded Harrah's to join with him in creating a new casino at Atlantic City. Once the money was committed, he pressured Harrah's to promote it not under its own well-known name but under his.

Next? "Harrah’s quickly learned the price—now, with Trump able to argue he knew casinos, financing opportunities that did not exist before opened up, and he was able to use Harrah’s promotion of him as a lever against the entertainment company. Soon after that first casino opened, Trump took advantage of his new credibility with financial backers interested in the gaming business to purchase the nearly completed Hilton Atlantic City Hotel for just $320 million; he renamed it Trump Castle. The business plan was ludicrous: Trump had not only doubled down his bet on Atlantic City casinos but was now operating two businesses in direct competition with each other." (Harrah's soon let its interest be bought out by Trump.)

Then, in spite of being deeply in debt and already having two casinos competing with each other, he opened a third, more expensive still, called the Taj Mahal. You don't have to be an MBA to see a business catastrophe in the making, and it arrived in short order. The only thing that saved Trump was this: The banks lending him money had too much on the line to settle for pennies on the dollar. Trump had become, like the investment banks of 2008, too big to fail. So, amid the eventual closure of the casinos, the winding down of the whole deal made for a long and unpleasant story in New York business circles.

This summary doesn't do justice to the story of Trump and his businesses, and it's only s few pieces in a long, ugly, tawdry story. His level and scope of business failure is astounding; the most amazing thing about Trump, in the end, is that he's managed to retain as much of of his reputation as he has.

But the more people find out, the less of that reputation will remain.

Trump 97: No concept of sacrifice

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The intersection of Donald Trump and the concept of sacrifice has dominated news coverage in the last few days. But the significance of it goes far beyond the fact of a candidate with a tin ear.

The aggravating facts are presently well known (and may they stay so into November). At the Democratic National Convention, a couple from Charlottesville, Virginia, Kizr and Ghazala Khan, spoke about how in 2004 their son U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq by a car bomb. Their story had circulated for some years, and early in convention planning organizers asked if they would be willing to have pictures of they and their son shown at the convention, in the context of criticizing Trump's proposal to limit or ban immigration by Muslims. The Khans, who themselves are Muslim immigrants, agreed. They also agreed when asked if they would like to appear on stage themselves, to express their thoughts; they agreed again. They turned down only an offer of help from a party speech writer; Kizr Khan, an attorney, said he knew exactly what he wanted to say. On stage, standing next to Ghazala, he delivered it all without a teleprompter or any notes. He challenged Trump's knowledge of the constitution, holding up a copy and offering to lend it to the candidate. Then, noting the loss his family had incurred, he addressed Trump: "You have sacrificed nothing and no one."

Trump could have responded simply with a statement of condolence for their loss and thanks and respect for his son's service, possibly with an added note that they did simply disagree on national security policy. Or something similar.

Instead, in an interview on ABC, he launched into attack. “Who wrote that? Did Hillary's script writers write it?” he asked of Khan's talk. He questioned why his wife did not speak. (She explained in an op-ed that she was afraid she would break down crying on stage seeing her son's picture there.)

Then, asked if Khan was right - that he had made no sacrifices - Trump might have acknowledged that the Khan family's was far greater than any in his own life. But no: “I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've had tremendous success. I think I've done a lot.” That was the nature of his sacrifice.

On August 1, a surrogate was asked: Was "success" and "creating jobs" really a sacrifice? Apparently stuck for a reply, she suggested that his hard work had led to the collapse of two marriages, and that was a sacrifice. (A Democratic operative jumped in to note that his infidelities, which he often bragged about, might also have had quite a bit to do with the two divorces.)

Trump would be hard pressed after all this - and other campaign words and actions reach this area as well - to convince most people that he even understands the concept of sacrifice. A basic piece of civilized behavior ordinarily easily managed by elected officials coast to coast, from Congress to mayors of the smallest towns, seems entirely beyond him.

That would make him a lousy greeter or comforter of, for example, wounded combat troops. But the problem is much broader than that. A president fundamentally unable to grasp what the sense of loss may mean for other people, and how to cope with it both emotionally and practically, is a president unable to communicate with and lead the American people. He will have no understanding of what the American people are trying to tell him, or why it is important, and he will have no sense that there's anything he can or should do to help. He may speak, but he cannot hear - or understand what those sounds mean.

This is a fundamental disqualifer.

Trump 98: No tax returns

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You can understand why some of Donald Trump's supporters might not see his withholding of tax returns as a big deal. They're supposed to be confidential - at least, not to be released by government officials - right? What difference does it make? Would they just be fodder for gotcha questions?

The point of releasing tax returns deserves an answer. In the end, the answer is enough to disqualify Trump from a vote for presidential - all by itself.

The answer isn't simply that it has become common practice; that in itself doesn't make it important. What does are the reasons it became common practice. And it has been common practice for a long time. Ronald Reagan in 1980, and every Republican nominee since, has released his returns - except for Trump. (Before him, Gerald Ford released summaries.) Democrats have done likewise.

This year, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have released their returns, as have Republicans Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and John Kasich.

But not Trump. His one excuse, that he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, holds no water: The IRS has confirmed that being under audit is not bar to a voluntary release (by the taxpayer) of a return.

But what might a return tell us that we don't already know?

Quite a bit, actually. It would demonstrate what Trump's effective tax rate is: How much he's paying. What sort of deductions he takes. Because he doubtless has submitted long forms with attachments, we likely could learn who he is in business with. Russians? Unsavory characters? Where does he owe money, and who owes him?

The Russian connection, whatever it may be, might be the most significant of these. Pundit George Will said on July 26 "it’s the sort of thing we might learn if we saw the candidates’ tax returns. Perhaps one more reason why we’re not seeing his tax returns because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russia oligarchs and others. Whether that’s good, bad or indifferent, it’s probably the reasonable surmise."

Trump has made his very richness a centerpiece of his campaign, and many of his supporters have cited it as a reason for support, saying it means he can't be bought. So, just how rich is he? Trump has thrown around figures like $10 billion, but a tax return is different from loose talk because lies there translate to felonies. And Trump must know his returns would be scoured for any discrepancies with what other people know to be true. Released tax returns would likely show us just how honest Trump has been. It would give us an effective way of assessing him better than just about anything else.

"It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters," former candidate Mitt Romney wrote in a post on Facebook. No argument here.

Until such time as he does release them, the question has to persist: What's he hiding? - rs

Trump 99: Convenient ignorance

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How ignorant would an American have to be to not know what the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK, is? More even, surely, than is Donald Trump, which would mean he's simply not telling the truth about a substantial piece of American, and American political, history.

Interviewed on CNN, he said, "Just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists."

He also pleaded ignorance on the subject of David Duke, a one-time Klan leader now running for the Senate in Louisiana. This is the same David Duke whose participation in the now-defunct Reform Party (on whose line he then was considering a presidential bid) led Trump to abandon that effort in part because the party “now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke.”

Maybe he forgot . . .

Although Duke's supportive statement to his fellow travelers that a vote for anyone other than Trump would be "treason to your heritage" ought to have jogged his memory at least.

The probability is that Trump wasn't telling the truth. Or was he joking? Or was this sarcasm? You can never be sure. Regardless, the plain statement drew plenty of attention.

Joe Scarborough - a Republican - of MSNC's Morning Joe, said that "It’s breathtaking. That is disqualifying right there. To say you don’t know about the Ku Klux Klan? You don’t know about David Duke?"

He went on: “I mean is he really so stupid that he thinks Southerners aren’t offended by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke? Is he really so ignorant of Southern voters that he thinks this is the way to their heart — to go neutral, to play Switzerland when you’re talking about the Klan? And to say he doesn’t know enough information about the Klan to condemn them — exactly what does Donald Trump expect to learn in the next 24 hours about the Klan?”

In an op-ed, highlighting this comment from Trump, he asked if "this how the party of Abraham Lincoln dies?"

The Occam's Razor explanation for Trump's comment was that any question about the Klan and Duke put him in a pressure spot between some of his white supremacist supporters and, well, almost everyone else. And he didn't know how to handle the pressure.

But it also suggests that his response to almost any such uncomfortable topic may be to pretend that it simply doesn't exist.

Trump 100: Dissing the ‘losers’

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A little over a year ago, July 19, 2015, Donald Trump spoke of one of his fellow Republicans, Senator and former presidential candidate, and former five-year prisoner of war John McCain: “He’s not a war hero." Later, responding to a ferocious counter-blast, he backed off to the point of saying, "He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain, remember, became a prisoner of the North Vietnamese in 1967 after his plane was shot down; he was not freed until 1973. He was terribly injured in the plane crash and was tortured by his captors, but refused an offer to return home, insisting that he would not go home if his comrades did not.

Trump's comments deserved all the heavy criticism they got at the time, which many people speculated would end Trump's career. (The fact that Trump dodged service in Vietnam, although having attended a military school, by using a series of deferments, does not help.) On its own it speaks to a lack of concern and loyalty to the troops he is hoping to lead.

McCain himself seemed to shrug it off, but his granddaughter responded this way: “Trump’s statement, in my view, is unforgivable, and speaks to the kind of man he is: a coward who has never faced danger in his life, an insecure brat who shirked duty for comfort, and a man who is wholly unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.”

All of that is true, but a close look suggests it still represents only part of a problem even larger: Trump appears to express no concern or regard for anyone he doesn't class among life's "winners."

Anyone in trouble, anyone who has had a reversal, anyone needing the help of the government - or of the president - is easily dismissed as a loser who deserves what they get. In the quote "I like people who weren't captured," substitute the words "weren't captured" for almost anything else unfortunate that could happen to a person. Those - most of us - are life's "losers," in Trump's book, and unworthy of serious consideration, much less help.

Imagine how much help a prisoner of war would get under President Trump. Now extend that point out to most of the rest of us. -rs

100 days, 100 reasons

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For the next 100 days, beginning today with the next post here, this site will provide 100 reasons Donald Trump never should become president of the United States.

This is an unusual break for this site, but this is an unusual situation.

In delivering last week the first major newspaper presidential endorsement this year, the Houston Chronicle said, “the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not merely political. It is something much more basic than party preference. ... Any one of Trump's less-than-sterling qualities - his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance - is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, "I alone can fix it," should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.”

In my lifetime, 15 presidential contests have been held, featuring 30 major party nominees for the high office. They have been a widely varied group, and some have been better than others. Until now, until this year, none of those candidates has struck me as so dangerous to this country that our national future, the America we have known and celebrated for a quarter-millennium, was at actual risk. I believe it will be now, if the voters of the United States make the terrible mistake of electing Donald Trump.

Through four decades of writing about politics I have avoided flatly recommending for or against candidates. But: As Edward Murrow said of Joseph McCarthy – a true precursor to Donald Trump - “This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent - or for those who approve. We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” If men like Trump, or McCarthy, ultimately prevail, there will one day be no independent journalism to practice.

I do not argue that the candidate on the other side of the ledger arrives without problems of her own. But the nature of Donald Trump is so broadly and deeply flawed, so very dangerous, that the specific risks he poses to the country numbers into the dozens, into the scores. Those various risks have been noted in many places by many people, by Republicans not much less than by others. Those risks should not be forgotten as people begin to consider their voting options. I hope that in its small way this list will serve as a reminder of what we have seen that may hang around just a little bit longer, after one day’s Trump outrage has been replaced by the next.

This is not intended as a list of statements or actions or incidents that I consider disqualifying; most such events taken in isolation could be considered not so terribly serious. This is intended to be a list of aspects of Trump, his character and persona and projection, as illustrated by those incidents, that would lead to a disastrous presidency and a very bad stretch for the United States.

What kind of human being is Donald Trump is the question animating this list.

These 100 disqualifications (not legal disqualifications, of course, but rather what should be voter disqualifications) are numbered, but they aren’t placed in a strict rank order – how could they be? While I have reserved some of what I consider the most overwhelmingly worst of them for the later entries, the serious problems he would evoke start right from the beginning with number 100.

One further note: If you have suggestions, comments, questions, or just want to get in touch, write me at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

- Randy Stapilus