HELLO

Whether you're a fan of my OSCARBLOGGER site, or if you're just casting your way 'round the web, I hope you enjoy my new blog: WHISPERING IN A WIND TUNNEL. Here I will discuss issues of politics, religion, race, gay rights, gender, you know, the big stuff.

Monday, June 19, 2017

OUR VIOLENT, DIVIDED COUNTRY

FBI Agents look over the crime scene

Last Wednesday a lone gunman opened fire on a congressional softball game, hitting four people and seriously wounding Representative Steve Scalise.  The shooter, James Hodgkenson, was a big supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, and was reported to have been distraught over the election of Donald Trump.  Hodgkenson is a sad reminder that there are dangerous, crazy people on either side of the political fence, and that in a deeply divided country with easy access to guns (even for a man with a history of domestic abuse like he had), violence seems inevitable.  And with social media spreading thoughts at light speed, over the top rhetoric and outright fury can be dispensed almost too quickly.  Add to that pundits who foment hatred of the other side, from Cathy Griffith posing with a decapitated Trump head on the left, to Rush Limbaugh calling Hodgkenson a "mainstream Democratic voter" on the right, our divided nation becomes even more polarized.
While I can never condone what Hodkenson did in any shape or form, his actions reflect the sense of anger and loss that around half of the country feels due to Trump's election.  Part of the problem is that feeling of anger and loss on the left was the exact same way that the right felt when Barack Obama was president, anger which also sometimes boiled over into violence, like the shooting of Representative Gaby Giffords in 2011.  Many studies have been done in recent years on the differences between conservatives and progressives, and it would appear that there is a definite difference in brain chemistry, with conservatives having larger fear and revulsion centers.  (Putting it simply, conservatives are from Mars, progressives are from Venus).  This raises a simple question: can this union be saved?  If half the country is completely set in one way, and the other half is diametrically opposed to the first, how can we really survive as a nation?  We really do seem to live in two separate worlds; I'll be the first to admit that I can't even understand the mentality of a Trump voter, even if I have some sympathy for the coal miners and factory workers who believed his promise to bring their jobs back.
Many progressives like to point to Trump's low approval ratings as proof of how terrible he is, and while I take some cold comfort in those numbers, he still won, he probably won't be impeached any time soon, and he may even serve two terms.  That's how divided this country is, that, really no matter what, Trump will always get a significant part of the country's vote.
Years from now, historians  are really going to look back on this time with wonder; under Barack Obama, there were no great catastrophes in the country: there were no large scale terrorist attacks on our shores, no economic crashes, and job growth was slow but steady.  And yet somehow  in 2016 America turned to a man who ran a campaign in which he promised to reverse everything that Obama had been doing as president.  He repeatedly called Obama's presidency a disaster and a nightmare, and openly lied about the country's low unemployment and violent crime rates.  In essence, he wanted to erase Obama from the history books altogether implying that white male supremacy must be restored.  And somehow the country bought it, or to put it more precisely, fifty three million voters bought it.
So our country seems to wildly swaying from one direction to another, with neither side ever completely gaining the upper hand, while other countries watch in amazement.  I used to be optimistic about America's future, with demographic changes and the move to more people living in cities pointing towards a more progressive direction, but after this brutal, ugly campaign and presidency, I have to wonder.  Is there really any way that a country made up of two such different groups of people survive the way it is?  I just don't know anymore.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM?


America is unique in a number of ways: for one thing, for good or for bad, our media dominates the world's media; that is, although every large country has its own film industry, Hollywood earns the lion's share of the world's box office.  And the same goes for our TV shows and music industry; The whole world watches and listens to things made in the US. Even in North Korea there is an enormous market for black market Hollywood movie DVDs.
There are other things that make America unique that we shouldn't be so proud of, like the fact that we have the world's highest prison population, and that we're the only country to have those horrid baby beauty pageants.  Another thing to add to that list is that America is the only country in which political money spent equals free speech, meaning that individuals, corporations and unions can legally make the kind of massive campaign donations that would be considered outright bribery in other countries. Although there are some limits to campaign contributions in America, there are easy ways to get around them, especially after the 2010 Citizen's United ruling by the Supreme Court relaxed limits on spending into Political Action Committees, opening up the floodgates to even more of what is essentially legalized bribery in our political system.
Which leads us to the subject of climate change.  It is the overwhelming belief of the global scientific community that climate change is real and man made, and that the negative effects of it, ranging from crop failure to droughts, are already with us and will continue to escalate.  But in America, people who doubt climate change or down play it's effects hold prominent places in congress and the White House.  How did America wind up on the wrong side of this issue?  Because of that legal political bribery that  I mentioned.  For decades now, oil and gas companies, led by the billionaire Koke brothers, have poured billions of dollars into political campaigns and think tanks to muddy the waters of  scientific research on climate change.  Like the tobacco companies of old that buried reports on the dangers of smoking, the coal and oil interests have put their own short term financial gains over the good of the general public.
And yesterday, they saw the fruits of all that spending, with President Trump officially pulling America out of the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement that President Obama had signed onto in 2015.  While it looked like there was no way under Trump that the country could possibly have met the goals of the accord anyway, by yanking the country out the president sent a strong message to the other 190(!) countries that signed on: don't look to the US to be a leader on this issue despite the fact that our country pollutes the earth more per capita than any other.  Or to put it another way, in Trump's America first era, the profits of our companies must be put ahead of any concern for the world's environment.  Not only is this policy wrong headed, it's economically foolish; the renewable energy job market is rapidly growing while jobs in the coal industry have been shrinking for years.  Trump's action has put us on the wrong side of history and plunged us backward into a time when coal and oil were the energy kings of this country.  Now we will lose ground in the rising green energy market to countries like India and China, who are both moving forward on solar power and other renewable energy sources.

While it remains to be seen just how much damage Trump's disastrous decision will have on the world, one thing seems clear: the country's experiment in having a president with no political experience is leading us down a darker and darker hole with no easy end in sight.  If America is doomed to fracture or  fall like Ancient Rome did, or to have some kind of civil war again, its breaking point will begin with the Trump election, and the damage he has caused the country and the world.  I hate to be so bleak, but we do seem to be standing on the precipice as a country, with a egotistical psychopath about to lead us in.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

FROM THE TOP DOWN



During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump became famous at his rallies for his belligerent attitude towards protesters:  Some times he would talk about the "old days" when protesters would be "taken out on a stretcher."  Another time, after fearing that protesters might throw tomatoes at him,  he said, "So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of 'em, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise."  And his angry, brutish statements somewhat inevitably led to many verbal altercations, and a few actually violent ones, (most infamously an African American man was elbowed in the head while being taken out of a rally) none of which Trump ever apologized for.

Pictured above: America, sadly enough

Yes, on the campaign trail Trump proved himself to not only be a bigot, a liar, an egotist and a misogynist, but also an outright bully, one who seemed to openly implore his minions into violent behavior.  The fact that his rallies never turned into full blown riots seems to be a combination of luck and good security.  Not surprisingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center noticed a marked an increase in hate crimes across the nation the more Trump campaigned.
To be fair, Trump has not made as many hateful statements in office as he did on the campaign trail, but that seems to be more because he has other things to do than hold ego bloating rallies, like, say, running the country.  Still, his bullying manner still manifests itself in his late night tweets and ranting interviews.   Even more disturbing is his seeming admiration for authoritative leaders, like Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, whom Trump has praised despite  the fact that  Duterte's government has used death squads to kill thousands of suspected drug dealers.
Now, once elected, a president becomes not only the leader of the country, but also the leader of his party, who then sets the tone for that party.  And Trump's influence on other Republicans seems to be appearing in several recent cases: in Montana,  congressional candidate Greg Gianforte physically assaulted a reporter who had the audacity to ask him a question about the Trumpcare bill.   Sadly, that didn't stop Gianforte from winning.  Just two days later, while doing a photo op at a gun range, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott joked that “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.”  Continuing the combative nature of Republican press relations in the Trump era.  And in Mississippi, State Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona posted on Facebook that people removing Confederate monuments in Louisiana should be "lynched".  Although he later apologized, the fact that he would post such a thing while representing a state that has a truly horrid history of lynching is stunning.  While I'm not obviously blaming Trump directly for these actions, I think it's fair to say that when a bully runs the White House, it emboldens other bullies.
 
Not surprisingly, there has been no comment on any of this behavior by the White House; except that, concerning the Montana election, Trump tweeted: “Does anyone notice how the Montana Congressional race was such a big deal to Dems & Fake News until the Republican won?”. Obviously to him, a win is a win, and a bully on his side is a hero.
These are some really dark times for this country; when a  major political party gets its cues from a president who ran a campaign full of anger and hatred; the only silver lining is that Trump has been extremely unpopular from the moment he took office, with his approval ratings sinking lower in a few months than Barack Obama's did in eight years.  This combined with the ongoing investigation of Trump's campaign ties to Russian influence could mean that Trump's effectiveness as a president will be negligible, and his impeachment possible.  Although some people on the left point out that Vice President Mike Pence replacing an impeached Trump as president would not be an improvement, and may actually be worse, I believe that Trump's humiliation if he were impeached would at the very least reduce the energy that various hate groups have with him in office, leading to a reduction in hate crimes overall in this country.  For that reason alone, I would prefer President Pence.

Friday, May 12, 2017

THE COMEY MESS


The stereotype has been around for years: Republicans are the daddy party, Democrats are the mommy party.  The daddy party will keep the country safe by spending more money on defense, making sure you can buy any kind of gun you want and acting tough.  And it dispenses tough love by saying that you have to earn what you have, sink or swim.  The mommy party wants the country to more fair by making sure that schools are well payed for, and that the poor and middle class should be given some help.  While both of these stereotypes are often untrue, (although Republicans like to paint Democrats as weak on defense, the US's defense budgets under Barack Obama were still much larger than any other country's)  they still seem to define both parties in the modern world.   This is especially true in right wing media, where accusations of Democrats "feminizing" our country are common place.
One of the realities of these seemingly different world views, is just how much more aggressive the Republican party is grabbing onto and holding power; put simply, they always seem to want to lead more than the Democrats do.  Back in the presidential election debacle of 2000, they very effectively pushed the narrative that Al Gore was trying to "steal" the election with recounts.  And then when George W Bush won with out winning a majority of the popular vote, he swaggered into office as if he had a sweeping mandate from the people instead of a narrow victory in a deeply divided country.  And the Democrats in congress, for the most part, went along with it; some of them even voted for his tax cut plan.
 
Conversely, when Barack Obama won a far more sweeping victory in 2008, the Republican party acted as if his win was not legitimate, from spreading false rumors about Obama's birthplace to filibustering his every move in the senate, they showed none of the acceptance that the Democrats had in 2000.  And in 2016, the Democratic party got more overall votes, but hold no majorities in congress, thanks to Republican drawn congressional districts,  while Democrats saw another presidential candidate go down to defeat while winning the popular vote.  Somehow, in a divided country, the Republicans have gamed the system, giving them more power than they proportionally should have.
This lust for raw power has now lead the Republican party into supporting and defending both a
candidate and president that may be threatening American democracy itself.  They fell in line with Donald Trump as a candidate, despite his lack of experience, and racist and misogynistic comments, and now that his actions as president are becoming less and less easy to defend, the vast majority still stand with him. Just a few days ago, he  fired James Comey, the head of the FBI, in a completely unprecedented move; although the firing is within presidential power, and he's not the first to do it, the firing came while the FBI was still investigating Trump's campaign ties to Russia.  While Trump's people have given a flurry of answers as to why he did this, from Comey mishandling the Clinton email investigation (which Trump actually praised on the campaign trail), to workers at the FBI losing confidence in him (which was contradicted by testimony from actual FBI members), to Trump himself in an interview dismissing  Comey  as "a grand stander" and "a showboat." (Projecting a little there, Donald?).    The most convincing reason to me is that POLITICO magazine reports that Trump would watch TV reports on the continuing Russian investigation and scream and yell at the screen like a psychopathic toddler, leading to him inevitably lashing out at Comey, foolishly assuming that this would somehow end the Russian investigation.
The good news is that the Comey firing has had the opposite effect, drawing even more attention to the possible treasonous collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  The bad news is that the Republican party is still almost entirely standing behind him, with Mitch McConnell and others rejecting a call for an independent investigation.  Worst of all, as an apparent distraction, Trump has appointed a panel to investigate so called voter fraud, a panel that includes Kris Kobach, a proponent of tough voter laws that inevitably target minority voters.  (In yet another example of their raw quest for power, the Republican party has no problem with suppressing the rights of minority voters to gain a political advantage.)
Yes, just as they ignored Trump's  use of the White House to expand his and his family's wallets, while appointing unqualified  family members into important positions (the president's son in law Jared Kushner, has been given many different governmental duties, including negotiations in the middle east, not bad for a real estate business inheritor with no political experience!).  And they ignored or tried to defend  his absurd accusations of millions of illegal voters going to the polls, or that Barack Obama had him wire tapped.  And now here they are, going along with Trump as he tries to distract and move the country along from what could be the biggest presidential scandal in our nation's history.  In the past few days, there have been numerous comparisons made between Trump and Richard Nixon, and while many of these are apt (Nixon fired a special prosecutor instead of the head of the FBI, but the nature of the firing was very similar), the sad fact of the matter is that in Nixon's time, there were enough Republicans of principle willing to stand up to him in the face of obvious wrong doing.  Do such Republicans even exist today?  Perhaps a handful, but for the most part it appears that the Republican party is just fine with Trump acting more and more like a corrupt third world dictator than a president as long as he can bring them the tax cuts for the rich, rollback of environmental regulations  and the removal of Obamacare that they so crave for.  It's getting really hard to feel any kind of patriotism for this country and its leader these days.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

WHEN WAS AMERICA GREAT?



In the many, many analytical articles that have been written about the still shocking result of the 2016 presidential election, one theme is often repeated: among  Clinton's problems was a lack of a compelling message, a strong reason as to why she should be president.  The slogan her campaign came up with was the vaguely feminist "I'm With Her",  which obviously failed to break through. *

On the other hand, Donald Trump's campaign slogan was, I must admit, simple, catchy and memorable, even if it made me cringe every time I saw it.  Part of the success of "Make America Great Again" was that it echoed the slogan of Ronald Reagan's popular 1980 campaign slogan, "Let's Make America Great Again", giving older, Reagan loving voters a nostalgic connection.  More importantly, it implied that once upon a time there was a glorious time in America in which all was wonderful, and somehow Trump was going to take us back there.  But back where?  When exactly was this glorious time?
Well, many people look at the 1950's , as a time when America appeared to be prosperous and happy.  The both ridiculed and loved TV shows of that era, like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET portrayed a peaceful, suburban view of the country, with parents in traditional family roles and children that were respectful of them.  In stark contrast to the tumultuous times of the 60's,  the 50's are seen as a time of wholesome values.
But were the 50's such a perfect time?  Well, as with many things in life, the truth lies in the middle.  Culturally, the 1950's was certainly a conservative time, with segregation still the law in Southern states, women treated as second class citizens, and gay people all closeted, it certainly was a good time for heterosexual white men.  But here's the odd part of the 50's: it was also a time of progressive economic policies.  The top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was around ninety percent(!).

Image Take from Business Insider

Even with all the various write offs and deductions rich people could make, it's safe to say that they were paying a much higher rate than the current rate of thirty nine percent.  So the government, led  Republican war hero Dwight Eisenhower, had money to spend, and it was mainly spent on three things: education, infrastructure, and scientific research, and the result was the largest growth of the middle class in our nation's history, as better schools, roads, highways and bridges, along with advances in science, made for a happier populace.  This is the part of the 1950's that conservatives seems to forget, they just revere the traditional values  and forget the part about how government investment in the country made our nation more, well, swell.
Looked at historically, the notion that high taxes  on the wealthiest Americans can't  lead to economic growth simply doesn't hold up, and yet  the Republican mantra of tax cuts for the wealthy is still one that holds sway in modern America.  To me it  seems to be more about rewarding wealthy campaign donors than spurring the economy.  Hopefully, someday the government will come to its senses and realize that government spending, done properly, can result in more of the kind of widespread prosperity that Trump promised but will probably fail to deliver.  Interestingly, the one thing I do agree with him on is his proposed plan to increase infrastructure spending by a trillion dollars, which is sorely needed.  But, considering his budget and tax proposals don't allow for that kind of spending, it seems that that promise from him is just another one of his many lies.


*And really, this just plays up to the fact that she has often been a hard luck candidate: back in 2008, while running against Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, she decided not to play up her gender, and she lost.  In 2016 she played up her gender more, (which seemed logical while running against a man with multiple sexual assault charges!), and yet she still lost.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

THE WHIMS OF THE SENATE



Well, when it comes to the passage of a disastrous health care bill in the House of Representatives, it would appear that the third time's the charm.  When the first health care bill was with held from a vote in March, it looked like the majority Republicans couldn't even compromise with each other.  After another attempt failed attempt, it looked like the party might give up entirely.  But today, by a final vote of 217 to 213, it squeaked through.  One of the lessons they learned from before was to push the bill through before the non partisan Congressional Budge Office could give a full report as to its expected full effect.  But such analysis is not needed when it's clear to see effect of a  bill that cuts a stunning eight hundred and eighty billion dollars from Medicaid over the next ten years, ends most protections for people with pre existing conditions, and guts Planned Parenthood while also handing a huge tax cut to the rich, will have.  Healthcare premiums will rise, and tens of millions of Americans will be unable to afford it.  The fact that the American Medical Association, the American Association of Retired People and several other prominent health groups oppose the bill means nothing to them.
As with each version of the bill, President Trump has supported it without seeming to know what's in it.  Although it comes nowhere near the healthcare plan he claimed to support on the campaign trail, he will, of course, ignore what he said earlier, and his promise of cheaper coverage for all will go down as  just another one of the many lies he told in order to win.  He obviously cares more about his own personal goal of destroying Barack Obama's legacy than he does about the millions of people who will lose healthcare if he signs the bill.  His own glory is his only concern.
So all we have left to stop a bill that will prove horrible to most Americans is the Senate.  The good news is that the Republicans have only a slim majority (52-48), and even if they use a rule that avoids the filibuster, there are some moderate Republicans  who may see the light.  Even better, not only does this bill stand a chance of going down to defeat, all of the Republican house members who voted for it are going to have to somehow defend a bill that is wildly unpopular in the polls in 2018 when they run for reelection. So, it's possible that  the House Republicans cheering today may be sealing their own doom.  I certainly hope so.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

AN UNDUE INFLUENCE



Every time there is a horrific mass shooting in America, members of the National Rifle Association give media interviews decrying even the slightest attempt to pass gun control legislation.  This phenomenon reached a peak in 2012, when, after the horrific shooting of elementary school children in Sandy Hook Connecticut, then president Barack Obama tried to pass an extended back ground gun check law that would have included gun shows.  Despite polls showing a staggering ninety percent of the American public agreed with what was only a mild piece of legislation, the law went down to defeat in congress.  Why?  Because the NRA has an absolute stranglehold over many members of congress; they give letter grades to each congressperson  and campaign heavily against any one of them that does not toe their line of  opposition to virtually any kind of gun control.
The amazing thing  about this is that the NRA's membership , according to their own website, hovers around five million people.  In a country with three hundred and twenty million people, why does a group representing such a small part of the population have such influence?  Part of the reason is that those five million members can be mobilized to vote and they can help sway an election in many states.  Also, the NRA is extremely well funded: although they claim to speak for just  gun owners, much of their money comes from gun manufacturers, who of course want their products to sold to as many people as possible.  And given the fact that the Citizen's United ruling by the Supreme Court in 2010 put very few limits on campaign donations, the undue influence of the NRA is probably going to continue for years to come.
This leads to another group of people in this country who seem to have an undue influence today: coal miners.  During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly talked up the importance of keeping coal mining jobs in America. And as president he has passed legislation allowing coal mines to dump waste into streams under the belief that restricting such dumping costs jobs.  All of this cow towing to coal miners would seem to imply that they are a large part of the American work force, but a recent article in the New York Times told another story: in energy jobs today, coal employs around one hundred and sixteen thousand people (about eighty three thousand of whom are miners), while natural gas employs a whopping three hundred and ninety eight thousand.  Even the solar industry, often dismissed as a pipe dream by Republicans, now employs around three hundred and seventy three thousand people, more than double the number of coal workers.  While conservatives have blamed the loss of coal jobs on government regulations, in reality more jobs have been lost due to either mechanization or the free market; energy from natural gas is now cheaper to mine and sell than coal.  Put simply, hanging on to coal jobs in 2017 is like hanging on to  horse and buggy wagons in 1917.

So why is Trump doing this?  Why hang on to an outdated energy source?  While part of it may be Trump's support from blue collar workers like coal miners, another part of the answer is, once again,  money.  According to Vice News, the Murray Company, the country's biggest coal company, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump's campaign, and other coal companies made similar donations.  And so we have a president who ignores the science of global warming and pretends to care about blue collar workers while letting companies pollute our air and water while hanging onto an energy source that is slowly dying off no matter how many regulations he removes, all so that the wealthy corporate CEO's that donated money to him can squeeze every last penny out of their dwindling business as they can.  It's hard no to be disillusioned by the state of the country today, but  despite our president's best efforts, the world continues to move forward, and someday soon solar, wind and water energy will be an important part of the world's energy.  Even the president cannot turn back the clock.