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.

Friday, May 3, 2019

THE "I'M NOT HIM" CANDIDATE

Image result for joe biden ageJoe Biden has just announced his candidacy for president, and he has immediately moved to the front of the pack of the twenty Democrats running.  Alike Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren, the former vice president has not proposed any big policy ideas, and he has not publicly embraced recent progressive policy ideas like The Green New Deal or Medicare for all.
So why has he moved to the front?  Part of it is just simple name recognition: as a former vice president,  he's obviously been in the media a lot more than his opponents (with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, who's running second), and there's also a nostalgia factor, with Biden reminding Democrats of the good ol' days of Barack Obama's reign.
Another reason may be simple pragmatism: Biden looks like he has the best chance of winning.  While most registered Democrats may support Medicare for all and The Green New Deal, they also realize that these progressive issues may alienate moderate voters who dislike Trump's personal behavior  but don't want the big changes those issues could bring.  Biden, who has made no sweeping policy proposals,  is a moderate old white man who can perhaps bring back those voters who voted for Obama in 2012 and then turned to Trump in 2016.  And Donald Trump seems to know it, as he has already started attacking Biden (calling him, in typically immature fashion, "Sleepy Joe") and bizarrely bragging about how young he feels, even though he is only four years younger than Biden, and currently the oldest president ever.  Biden seems to playing up to the idea that a vote for him will be a return to dignity in the White House, openly criticizing Trump's muted reaction to the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, wisely reminding voters of what was probably the low point of his presidency.  Biden candidacy seems to be less about big ideas and more about not saying and doing things that hurt the image of the country, which is a fair point, even if it's not exactly inspiring.
So, is this is the choice that the Democrats face?  Ignore the younger, more diverse and policy oriented candidates in favor of the old white guy just because he has the best chance?  As someone who voted for Ralph Nader back in 2000 and has regretted it ever since, I'm sympathetic to the simple desire to win. And while I don't completely buy into the notion that age and race are so important to beating Trump, (remember Obama won handily twice, and he was not only the first African American president, he was also the second youngest) and even though my personal favorite candidates are Harris, Warren and Mayor Pete, I'll still gladly pull the lever for uncle Joe.  But then, I would literally vote for every political figure in America (other than David Duke) before I'd vote for Trump.  He has set the bar so low, and seems to get more immature, dishonest and egotistical with every passing day. So if saying Joe Biden is better than one of the worst people to ever be involved in American politics is not much of a ringing endorsement, I'll still make it.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

THE MUELLER REPORT RELEASE

Image result for william barrActing Attorney General William Barr held a press conference last Thursday in which he did the same thing that every member of the Trump administration is forced to do routinely: praise his boss repeatedly.  Sounding just like Trump himself, Barr  used the words "no collusion" several times to describe the findings of the report.  Then he released the full  four hundred plus page report of Bob Mueller's two year investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election, and even his spin couldn't shake the stink off of Trump's behavior.
While it is true that the report does not reveal outright conspiracy with Russia on the part of the Trump campaign, it does show a campaign that was aware of Russian interference and openly welcomed it.  (The New York Times documented in the report 140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries, which may not have been part of a conspiracy, but they certainly look bad.) One thing is sure, Russian influence is now an undeniable fact, despite the reluctance of the president to admit that fact.  It's amazing to think that, after decades of the confrontations of the cold war between the US and Russia, Russia's greatest victory over us may have been its disruption of an American presidential election and the victory of their chosen candidate.  While we  can't know for sure just how much of an influence Russia had on the election, the Washington Post has pointed out their campaign of fake Facebook news feeds reached over a hundred million people in this country.  Add to that the hacking and leaking of the Democratic National Committee's emails, and the importance of the timing of those leaks (thousands were released as a distraction less than an hour after the infamous tape of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women went public), not to mention the closeness of the election itself, and it's safe to say that Russia played a hand in Trump's victory.

As to the report itself, it gives further insight into a president that has always been wildly unqualified for the job, lacking the patience, intellect and temperament to run a country.   He is reported to be a egotistical, tantrum throwing brat that is extremely difficult to work for.  Furthermore, there are reports of him ordering the outright firing of Mueller, causing White House council Don McGahn to threaten to quit while telling other members that the president was asking him to "do crazy shit".

Yes,  the report shows us that the president clearly wanted no investigation at all, and may have obstructed justice in order to stop it.  But is that truly an impeachable offense?  Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, thinks so.  She recently tweeted "The Mueller report lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help. Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack."  While I agree with her that the president acted terribly, I don't see any advantage to the House of Representatives pursuing an impeachment process that will inevitably die in the Senate, where Republican support is both crucial and almost impossible.   Furthermore, such a partisan exercise could wind up helping Trump in the election by firing up his base.  Although I'm a fan of Warren and her policies, I can't help but thinking that she is saying this as a way to stand out from the many other Democrats currently running for the presidential nomination.
So do we just let the president get away with possible criminal behavior?  Sadly, the answer seems to be yes, just like we let the Reagan administration get away with selling arms to Iran, Bill Clinton get away with lying under oath, and George W Bush wiretap Americans without a warrant.  In America, we give our president so much power, and make it so hard to remove him from office, that only overwhelming evidence and strong public disapproval (like Nixon had with Watergate) can successfully impeach him.  And while I agree with the idea that impeachment shouldn't be easy, it's allowed Trump to skate into potential criminal territory without any serious penalty.  Sadly, he may even win reelection in 2020, much to our nation's deep disgrace.

Friday, April 5, 2019

REPARATIONS? A MODEST PROPOSAL


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Ta-Nehisi Coates

Around five years ago, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled “The Case for Reparations”,  promoting the idea that the legacy of slavery in America has been so destructive and long lasting that only some kind of reparations given to African Americans can truly end that legacy.  It's an idea that has been kicked around on the left for years, but has never really entered the mainstream of American political debate.
But the notion has never completely gone away, and lately, some Democrats in the running for the presidency are discussing some form of reparations.   Most Americans oppose the idea overall (according to a recent Marist Poll, around 70% of Americans do), but it is popular in the African American community, where the voters are a  crucial part of any Democrat's road to the nomination. 
It is clear that discrimination against African Americans still exists, with our judicial and educational systems heavily slanted against them.  But should every black American just get a check from the government?  Why kind of reparations are really needed, if any?
I think the answer to that lies in our past: look at the 1950's, when the income tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was a whopping 90%.  Flush with cash, the government spent large amounts of money on education and infrastructure, and the result was the largest increase in the middle class in our nation's history.
So what does that have to do with race?  Sadly, a lot: with all that government money pouring in, city planners would draw lines on maps to designate where the money went.  (A process literally called redlining) And guess who lived in the parts of the city that got little to no funding?  That's right, African American communities were held behind while white communities got better infrastructure and schools, leading to superior opportunities for the families living there.   The long term effects of this have been devastating to inner city communities, where little education and job opportunities have led to high crime rates and poorer education.
So, I think what the country should do is raise taxes on the rich (not back to 90%, but certainly higher than they are now) and use that money on infrastructure and education where ever it is needed, especially  in every poor neighborhood in the country.  Hire people in the neighborhoods to rebuild them or work in the improved public schools.  Make sure that no child is ever exposed to lead fumes, or any other serious environmental dangers.  The improvement in the neighborhoods will lead to more businesses opening there, which will lead to better job opportunities and increased quality of life, not to mention better relationships with the police. 
Not only is improving our inner cities the right thing to do morally, it's also economically sound in the long run: remember that less people going to jail results in less tax dollars being spent on them.  Add to that the fact that improving public school education results in more people getting good jobs and putting money in the economy, making things better for the country as a whole in the long run.  This plan shouldn't be seen as  radical; in fact, as I just pointed out, it's already happened!  We just need to have the same economic priorities that we did in the 1950's, without the evil redlining.
If you look at the great modern entrepreneurs in this country, they almost always tell stories about how they were nurtured and encouraged in their childhoods not only by friends and family members, but also by their teachers and  community; right now, the next potential Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos could be living in a poor inner city neighborhood, not being given the proper support to reach his or her dreams.  What a waste.

Monday, March 25, 2019

A BIG BOOST FOR THE BAD MAN

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Donald Trump has lead a charmed life: Born into a wealthy family, when he was a child, his father found ways to avoid taxes and divert funds making his son a  millionaire by age eight.  After mysteriously avoiding the draft with a supposed bone spur, Trump entered the family business, and his father found ways to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars more to him, even as he wound up declaring bankruptcy five times.  Despite his reliance on  his father's money, due to his enormous ego and love of media attention, Trump was able to cultivate an image as a self made tycoon.  Eventually this image led to an entire reality show built around him appearing as an almost god like figure deciding the fate of others.  All while he put his name on dishonest money making con jobs, like Trump University, or subpar products like Trump Steaks.   And then, somehow, he managed to win the presidency, despite his lack of experience and while running a chaotic campaign based on bigotry, lies, childish boasts, and misogyny. Not even the release of his repulsive comments about sexually assaulting women on the leaked public access tape couldn't stop him.   His victory itself was a fluke, as he got just the right number of votes in the right states to win the electoral college while losing the popular vote by millions.
Which takes us to the recently released Robert Mueller report on whether or not his campaign conspired with Russia to give him an electoral advantage.    For two years now progressives have been hoping that this report will deliver a knock out blow to Trump, outlining outright criminal behavior on his part.  Instead, it states that no one in the Trump administration openly worked with the Russians.  Somewhat amazingly, it even let Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr off the hook for their infamous meeting with a Russian operative in Trump tower.  As an article in Slate magazine so aptly put it, "It sure looked like at least Trump Jr. and perhaps others at that meeting committed a crime. Federal law makes it a potential crime for any person to 'solicit' (that is, expressly or impliedly ask for) the contribution of 'anything of value' from a foreign citizen."  Sadly, this seemingly obvious crime committed by Donald Trump's son and son in law will go unpunished.
Even though the report does not expressly say that Trump did not engage in criminal obstruction of the investigation itself, it's been mostly seen as a vindication, something that he has, of course, trumpeted to the hills.  And this perception of  innocence leads to a truly depressing fact:  he now has a better than even chance of winning reelection.  I know, I know, Trump has never had an approval rating over 50%, and there's a huge swath of Democrats ready to run against him, but the power of incumbency is very strong.
Remember that in 2004, George W Bush was running for reelection while the Iraq war that he started was crumbling into a disaster, and the economy was not doing well.  Yet he not only won, he did better in 2004, than he did in the previous election, winning the popular vote after losing it in 2000.  Trump will probably have more advantages than Bush did: the economy has been strong for the past three years, and while it appears that there are signs of a slow down, it probably won't turn into an outright recession.   Trump's other advantage is the thing that so many many Americans have feared the most: normalization.  The country has just gotten used to having a president who lies, attacks and brags constantly.  Every time Trump says something that seems outrageous even by his standards, (like say, defending people at a Klan rally or attacking Senator John McCain months after his death), his approval ratings hardly ever budge.  He has set the bar so low that he can't sink any lower before the election, which means nothing he says will really hurt him by then. 
Oh sure, the Democratic base hate Trump just as much as the Republican base loves him,  but those two groups of voters will mostly cancel each other out in 2020, leaving things up the people who always have decided presidential elections in this century: swing voters in swing states.  A lot of these people are the kind of voters who mostly ignore political media coverage until right before the election, and then make their decision based on how the economy is doing and whether they feel a big need for change.  While I sincerely hope that the reluctant Trump voters that put him in office will turn on him, they certainly can't be counted on.
So is Trump's victory in 2020 a  lock?  Of course not.  Remember that there are other investigations of his potential criminal actions going on in congress, not to mention that the Democrats haven't even picked their candidate yet.  A lot can happen in a year.  But right now, to the deep abiding shame of this nation, Trump has the advantage.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

OLD WHITE GUYS


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With the 2020 election approaching and Donald Trump's approval rating stubbornly stuck in the fortieth percentile, there has been a veritable stampede of Democratic candidates who are eager to run against a man who's administration has been chaotic and corrupt since day one.  The two top contenders right now are Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden (who hasn't officially entered the race, but appears to be leaning that way).   Although political issues are an important factor to Democratic voters, the ability to beat Trump is understandably their number one priority.   And to many people, electibility means nominating an old white guy, like Sanders (age 77), or Biden (age 76) to match the old white guy (Trump is 72) in the White House.
Personally, I don't get this: Firstly, I do think that both Biden and Sanders are bit too old to be president.  Is that ageist?  I should mention that my mother, who's 79, agrees with me.  The fact of the matter is that  being president and  making decisions that often affect the entire planet is extremely stressful.  Just look at these pictures of Barack Obama at his two inaugurations in  2008 and 2012:

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It's really hard to believe that that's only four years later!  Even Donald Trump has complained about the difficulty of the job, and this is a president who spends most of his time watching TV, playing golf, holding rallies and ignoring cabinet meetings.  Is it wrong for me to think that being leader of the free world is something that should be left to people under 70?  I don't think so, I just think it's common sense (although if Biden or Sanders get the nomination, I'll certainly vote for either of them over Trump).
Part of the prevailing wisdom is that the Democrats must run a white male to attempt to lure some 2016 Trump voters over to their side.  Again, I don't quite get this; white people in this country have been voting majority Republican for decades now, blatantly playing  the race card with a candidate is probably not going to change that.  A quick Google search reveals that Bill Clinton did not win a majority of the white vote in either of his victories.  Neither did Obama, although his  44.2% of the white vote  in 2008 bested both of Clinton's elections.
My point is, why should the Democrats chase after a demographic that has rejected them for years?  Bill Clinton and Obama's victories show that Democrats can win with different coalitions of voters.  Remember this, Hillary Clinton lost because of a number of reasons: from Trump being given enormous amounts of free media coverage right from the start, to her overblown email scandal, to Russian hacking, to Green Party candidate Jill Stein siphoning off votes,  and, perhaps most importantly,  James Comey's memo to congress ten days before the election.  And even with all that working against her, she still got three million more votes, with Trump winning because of a crazy Electoral College bank shot accumulation of votes in just the right states.
At the end of the day, while I personally like Biden and Sanders (I particularly admire Sanders), I still think that the future of the party lies with younger candidates who can bring the same energy and appeal to younger voters that Obama did back in 2008.  And I really think that someone who isn't an old white guy, like Cory Booker or Kamala Harris, can win.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

OUR SINGLE MINDED PRESIDENT



Recently, the Trump administration has been defunding Planned Parenthood while the president himself has been repeating (and tweeting) the lie that Democrats now support abortions that will kill newborn babies.  This is all coming from a man who once described himself as "very pro choice".  He also once refused to give a straight answer to columnist Maureen Dowd when she asked him if he had ever paid for a woman's abortion.
Also, a recent New York Times article revealed that Trump's boasts of building a wall on the border during the campaign was really just a simple mnemonic device developed by his campaign team to keep him on track during his rambling speeches.  Now the president has declared a state of emergency after shutting down the government in an attempt to build that mnemonic device.  This is happening even as some of his own properties are being exposed for hiring undocumented immigrants.
Trump's recent conversions on these two beliefs are not the result of a carefully examined reimagining of his moral ideas, because it appears that the president does not have any.  He does, however, have one simple guiding principle that appears to have formed at his birth: that he, Donald Trump is a epic, near godlike figure who must be given constant adulation and loyalty.  And he is perfectly willing to abandon any previous feelings he may have had to get that adulation.  This single minded desire to be worshipped has changed the modern Republican party to the cult of Trump, in which fealty to him no matter what is the only requirement.
There is no better example of this than in his upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; after initially criticizing Jong-un, Trump has now decided that they fell in love, because, of course, Jong-un started showing Trump the respect he thinks he deserves.  No matter how the talks go, Trump will come away bragging of a major breakthrough and taking credit for making the world safer.  Because now it's not enough for him to be president, he also thinks that he deserves to win a Nobel Peace Prize.  This is mainly because Barack Obama was given one when he was president, and Trump's childish game of one upmanship demands that he be given one too.  Yes, it's not enough for Trump to have promoted the lie that Obama was Kenyan for years, and then attempt to counteract everything Obama did as president, he thinks that he also deserves the same award too.  He wants the award so much  that he even recently boasted that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrote a letter promoting him for the prize, which Abe is now refusing to comment on.
The sad part of this all is that Trump's single minded desire to be worshipped and awarded means that he will probably except any concession from Jong-un no matter how token or meaningless it will be, so long as Trump can claim a victory.  Meanwhile, North Korea will almost certainly hang on to all of its nuclear and chemical weapons and continue to be a horribly repressive government.  Ironically, Trump's desire for a peace prize may actually make the world less safe.
This is the danger that America has lived with for almost three years now; that a messianic egotistical leader who only cares about himself is running the country with no concern for anything other than his own self promotion.   How scary is this?  A recent CNN headline asked a serious question:  "What if Trump refuses to accept defeat in 2020?', the fact that we are wondering about this in a democracy illustrates just how much trouble we're in.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

FOOTBALL IS WRONG

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By now nearly everyone in America knows that the National Football League has lied for decades about how dangerous their sport is.   Cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condition caused by concussions that can result in memory loss, erratic behavior and even suicidal depression,  runs rampart through the ranks of the players.  While the league has finally admitted the danger and taken a few steps  towards trying to make the game safer, at the end of the day, bone crushing, body and brain damaging tackles are such an intrinsic part of the sport that there's really no way to disentangle them from it.
Now banning the most popular sport in the nation  is an impossibility, but I certainly think that it's perfectly reasonable to say that tackle football should be banned for all children below the age of 18.  The fact that there are boys as young as 12 engaging in a violent contact sport is appalling.  As a recent Vox magazine article pointed out, a 2015 study found that former NFL players who began football before age 12 fared worse on cognitive assessments than those who started later in their teens. And this held true even controlling for number of years played.  Putting it plainly, young boys with brains still  far from developed, should not play a game that runs the risk of concussions.  Let them learn the basics of the game through touch or flag play, and then switch to tackle when they are old enough to vote or join the military.
And it's not just CTE, recent articles in The New York Times have illustrated that NFL players run a much higher risk of being addicted to pain killing opioids than the general public, and line men are encouraged to beef up by having incredibly unhealthy eating habits that can lead to serious health issues.

Another problem is the stadiums that teams play in.  Today's modern teams expect huge stadiums with multiple instant replay screens and luxury lounges.  The problem is that they usually expect the taxplayers to help foot the bill for all these features.  In a despicable move, the owners of NFL teams, who are often themselves billionaires, will threaten to leave a city unless taxpayer funds are used to help build a stadium, essentially holding the team hostage.  So, cities that are often strapped for cash will waste precious taxpayer dollars to "save" the team. Yet nearly all then money that the team generates in those stadiums goes to them and not to the city.   The argument that teams draw in fans who spend money in the local economy ignores the fact that there are only eight regular season games played in the stadiums, which means they draw no one for the vast majority of the year.  And with seating, parking and concession prices rising constantly, they drain money away from spending fans might have done elsewhere.  As a 2017 article in The Washington Times pointed out, according to economist Michael Farren, the $750 million in public funds Nevada will use to build a new stadium for the Raiders could have provided a year’s worth of education to nearly 100,000 public school students or funded all state highway rehabilitation costs for the next 6.5 years.
In many ways, the NFL is a perfect example of everything wrong with American capitalism: it's wealthy owners push the players to be more and more successful, ignoring the health risks, and then demand taxpayers help pay for their modern stadiums, which often have ticket prices so high that the average fan can't afford to go.  Yes. the owners sit in their luxury boxes and watch the game while literally looking down at the people seated below them, who's taxes helped fund their overpriced lounges.  The rich just keep getting richer in America, and the NFL is just another example of it.