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, August 6, 2018

A SINGLE LIE CAN SAY A LOT



America's president lies almost every time he addresses the American public.  This is not an opinion.  It's a statement of fact that every sane, rational person should know. 

But the really amazing thing is not just that he lies, it's that he is getting worse.  A recent article in The Washington Post  newspaper reported that he publicly lied  2,140 times in his first year as president.  In the last six months, that number has increased to 4,229 times!  Yes, as he first stumbled his way into office almost two years ago, Donald Trump  at first seemed slightly tentative as president; clearly he never expected to win and he certainly never expected to have to live up the promises he made on the campaign trail (surely even he always knew that Mexico would never pay for his border wall).  When he met for a briefing with departing president Barack Obama, he had the stunned look of a deer in headlights, realizing that he was in over his head.
But now, as he settles into being president, he has clearly relaxed; he has either  fired or forced out everyone on his staff that might temper some of his more absurd misstatements(a whopping 61% of his staff were gone by last June) and has surrounded himself with sycophants who keep their jobs by continually massaging his bloated ego. 
One of his lies that I find the most telling about him came way back in July of last year: after giving a crazed, rambling, boastful and often wildly inappropriate speech at the annual Boy Scout Jamboree, Trump claimed in a follow up interview with the New York Times that the leader of the Boy Scouts called him afterwards personally and told him that it was the greatest speech ever given to the scouts.  Not surprisingly, the leader never made such a call.  What I find so interesting about this specific lie is that in the moment he told it, Trump must have known that the Times reporter would contact the scout leader to check its authenticity, as any decent reporter would.  But he told the lie anyway, without a thought.
I think this reveals something about his character and his innate dishonesty: one possibility is that Trump lied because, in the moment of talking to that Times reporter, he so wanted to impress him and encourage him to think as highly of the president as he does of himself that honesty was irrelevant.  The fact that his lie would eventually be found out wouldn't matter, he'd have moved on by then.  People who know him well describe Trump as having the attention span of a two year old, and just like a toddler, he lives entirely in the moment, and in that moment impressing a reporter was all that mattered to him.  This would explain why in sit down negotiations with Democrats, Trump will sometimes say things about immigration and gun control that he knows they want to hear to try and win them over, only to completely reverse himself days later when there are no Democrats around him.  Deception and inconsistency are his bread and  butter.
Another possibility that this lie may reveal  is that Trump is outright delusional; that is,  he said he received a call from the leader of the scouts because in his mind it really happened.  For him, what he thinks should have happened is what actually happened.  This would explain just why he will repeat a lie over and over again (recently he has asserted more than once  that he received a majority of the women's vote in the election, another blatant falsehood).  It would appear that he has created his own reality, in which everything he has said and done as president has been perfect and wonderful because that is what he believes, and what almost all the people he surrounds himself with believe.
I don't call myself a psychiatrist giving any kind of professional opinion,  but my conclusion that Trump either lives in the moment in which lies are irrelevant or has created an alternate fantasy world in which he is the perfect god like being he believes himself to be (or a combination of both) is simply based on observations I have made along with factual reporting I have read and interviews given by people who know Trump personally.  It doesn't take any great insight to see that Trump is an utter embarrassment to our country and has always been completely unqualified and temperamentally unsound for being the leader of the free world.  One has to wonder just how much damage he will wreak on the country before he finally leaves office.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

TRUMP AND PUTIN: TWO OF A KIND

“Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are - a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”- John McCain

Donald Trump is not a subtle man.  He never has been in his whole life: as a six year old child he once punched his music teacher because he thought she didn't know enough about music and was later sent to military school because he was out of control, where he soon gained a reputation for falsely bragging about girls he dated and sporting events that he had won.
In many ways his entire life is an embodiment of one of the main things wrong with this country: that the system is rigged in favor of the rich and the powerful.  That a man  born into a family of enormous wealth and privilege, who was given a "small loan of a million dollars" from his father when he graduated from college, could hold himself up as a self made successful  businessman,  even as he declared bankruptcy five separate times, is a perfect example of how the wealthy in this country do not have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.  His bragging and bluster are classic symptoms of a rich white male who sees the country as his playground to indulge whatever desires he has.
He has led a life in which he has not even tried to hide his misdeeds, from his bragging about cheating on his first two wives to his refusal to release his tax returns without explanation, to the continuance of his corporate businesses as president, he clearly has never cared about things like the appearance of corruption or impropriety.  He  never had to before in his life, so why change now?

But has his misbehavior finally reached a breaking point? Last Friday, the Justice Department indicted 12 members of Russia’s military intelligence service for a criminal conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election and hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.   This follows reports by every branch of the government clearly stating that Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin clearly interfered in the 2016 election in favor of Trump.  The following Monday, during a joint press conference with Putin, Trump disparaged his own intelligence agencies and claimed that he believed Putin's denials of interference.  In other words, we have a president who believes the corrupt leader of hostile foreign power over his own intelligence agencies!   Although Trump has always denied that Putin had some kind of incriminating evidence against him (from possible financial links to Russia mob members to the infamous pee tape), it seems hard to believe that he ever could have been more toadying to Putin than he is now.  Even his attempts to walk back his comments the next day by claiming he misstated a  single word feel like a pathetic joke, a dodge put up his advisors after his comments were met with almost universal derision.
Even if we take Trump at his word and accept that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government, it's obvious that he knows that Putin helped put him in office and he doesn't care.  The fact that Russia helping him was a criminal act by a foreign country means as little to him as the fact that as president he owns a hotel in Washington DC that visiting foreign leaders can stay in and essentially bribe him through hotel bills is an obvious conflict of interest.  All his life he has advanced by never following the rules, why should he start now?  The only good news here is that, as he stumbles from one reckless decision or offensive statement to another, at some point the Republican party will put country over partisanship and help the Democrats impeach him or at least replace him with another candidate in 2020.  It's the only decent moral thing to do.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

THE END OF ROE



Recently, the country of Ireland voted to make abortion legal.  This vote, along with one legalizing gay marriage a few years ago, showed that the country once held underneath the puritanical boot of the Catholic church (divorce was illegal there until 1996!) was entering the modern world.  Sadly, the US now seems to be about to take a big step backward.
On Wednesday July 27th., Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced that he would be resigning, giving Donald Trump another Supreme Court justice appointment.  More importantly, this means that court will soon be moving rightward, given that Kennedy was often a moderate swing vote on many big issues, including Roe Vs. Wade.  There has probably been no time in its 45 year history that the Roe Vs Wade ruling has been in more jeopardy.  The religious right have been supporting Republicans since 1980, just waiting for this very moment.  The second the new judge is sworn in, conservative state legislatures will start passing challenges to abortion rights.  Lawyers have been waiting their whole lives to argue against Roe at the Supreme Court.
Yes, the man who once said he was "very pro choice" is now about to be the president who will almost definitely appoint a conservative judge that will allow abortion to be outlawed in multiple states.  Is there anything that the Democrats can do?  Not really.  The Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, and plan to fast track whatever judge Trump picks to make sure he (it'll probably be a he) is appointed before the November election.
Is there any silver lining here for pro choice progressives?  Perhaps: the most recent Pew research poll done on the issue in 2016 revealed that 59% of Americans overall think that abortion should be legal in most cases, the highest it had been in twenty years.  And an even higher amount, (69%) believe that Roe Vs Wade should not be completely over turned.   And when it comes to women, the support is even higher:  79% of Democratic women and 60% of independents are pro choice.  Even 32% of Republican women support abortion rights, which is quite high given the party's stance.
Put simply, there have now been entire generations of women who have always assumed that getting an abortion was a viable option for them, who may wake up someday soon to find that option taken away.  This may have the effect of radicalizing and mobilizing women into voting more.  Polls show around only 50% of citizens between 18-29 years old voted in the 2016 presidential election, compared to 58% of all eligible citizens.  And while they often reject terms like pro life and pro choice, millennials generally oppose outlawing abortion completely. 
Will this issue be the one that pushes more young voters into the voting booth?  I think it's entirely possible that this and other issues that will soon be ruled on by a conservative court will backlash against the Republican party, who have wanted to over turn Roe Vs Wade since 1980, but have avoided making it  a primary issue in national elections.  In other words, the Republicans may win the battle here, but still lose the war in the long run.  I certainly hope so.

Monday, June 18, 2018

WE SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING


 "This is as bad as I’ve ever seen in 25 years of doing this work,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The little kids are literally being terrorized.”'

We should have seen this coming.  When Donald Trump kicked off his presidential campaign with racist comments about Mexican immigrants ("they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists"), when he encouraged chants of "build the wall", or when last month he gave a speech describing undocumented immigrant children by saying “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”

And so now here we are; in the past six weeks almost two thousand children have been taken from their parents and put into custody.  Horror stories abound: one father killed himself after his three old son was taken from him.  One mother had her baby snatched away while she was breast feeding.  While the difficulty of dealing with parents with children asking for political asylum or trying to cross the border has existed for years, no administration has ever resorted to such outright cruelty.  It's all due to a change in policy that treats all undocumented immigrants as criminals, and therefore subject to separation  from their children.  Sadly, the administration seems to see this as having a double benefit; not only does it discourage further immigrants with children from trying to enter the country, it allows give them a bargaining chip to use when negotiating with congress to get the funding for that wall Trump's followers want so much.  The fact that innocent children are in the crossfire of this negotiation hardly seems to concern anyone working for Trump.  As John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told NPR so brusquely, “The children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever.”
Not surprisingly, this horrific policy has proven unpopular, with  even the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, passing a resolution on Tuesday calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.”  So Trump has done his usual thing by brazenly lying about it, stating more than once his administration is just following a law passed by Democrats.  He never specifically stated what law he was talking about, because there is no such law.  This policy has been carried out by Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General, who has promoted and defended it, even going so far as to quote the bible in doing so!  And now the president's usually silent wife Melania has joined the fray, condemning the policy and then somehow claiming it is the responsibility of "both sides", putting a softer tone on her husband's lies.
All of this reveals just what a coward Trump truly is, despite all of his tough talk and bluster.   He ran a presidential campaign steeped in xenophobia and bigotry, promising to bring the full force of the government down on immigrants both legal and undocumented.  And now that his minions are doing just that, resulting in terrifying images of children being taken away from their parents, he lies and points at Democrats, somehow forgetting that congress is now controlled by his own party.  I don't think that Trump truly cares about the children (Tony Schwartz, the co author of Trump's ART OF THE DEAL book, who spent more time with Trump than any human ever should, once stated that  "There is no one Trump cares about in any deep enduring way—no one, not even his children.”) he's just afraid to own up to his own policy, a policy that Senator Lindsay Graham has so rightly pointed out, could be ended with a single phone call.  Hopefully, the outcry coming from even his supporters will eventually push him into making that phone call.  But don't think for a minute he'll be  doing it out of compassion for anyone but himself.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

GRABBING SMOKE



During the  2016 presidential campaign, one of the problems that the media had in covering candidate Donald Trump was that there were so many potential issues in his past that could reveal him as being a poor candidate for president: from the fact that he and his father were found guilty by the federal government of discriminating against black applicants at one of their properties back in the 1970's, to his multiple bankruptcies, to the blatant chicanery of Trump University, there was too much to cover properly, and emphasizing just one of them was difficult.  This stood in stark contrast to candidate Hillary Clinton, who had to field numerous questions about her emails time and time again; the effect of this was that to the casual news media consumer, the email scandal was far worse than anything in Trump's past because of the media's emphasis on it.  Add to that Trump's  image as a super successful billionaire that he had carefully cultivated over his years as a reality TV show figure, and its sadly easy to see why Trump was able to skate over his many past transgressions, without even the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape stopping him.
Now that he's president, the media is having the same problem of overload; here are some recent examples of Trump's potential scandals:

- He recently tweeted that he wanted to help out Chinese telecom company ZTE, saying that were “Too many jobs in China lost."  This came after a Trump backed company was pledged with a five hundred million dollar loan from the Chinese government, which Paul Krugman in the New York Times said may be an outright bribe.

- He also reportedly pushed the postmaster general, Megan Brennan, to double the rates that the Postal Service charges the online company Amazon for shipping.  It appears that the main reason he's doing this is because Amazon owner Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, a newspaper that has the temerity to print the truth about him.  In other words, since he can't directly attack freedom of the press, he will work around it to punish anyone who prints anything negative about him.

-At the gathering in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the opening prayer was given by Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor,  who once said that "Islam, Judaism,  and Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.” The closing benediction was given by John Hagee, who once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland.

Given that none of these scandals have risen to the level of coverage that the Russia investigation and the Stormy Daniels affair have, it is highly likely that once again Trump has  gotten away with corrupt and possibly criminal behavior that no other president has come close to getting away with. (It's depressing to consider just how much of a media storm it would have caused if Barack Obama had tweeted about protecting jobs in China while president!) Sadly, Trump has never had to pay for all the corruption and lies he was involved in before he became president, and he may never as president.  I still often feel that this country may not survive this presidency intact.

Friday, May 11, 2018

THE PATH TO WAR



Well, that was quick.  John Bolton has been Donald Trump's national security advisor for less than a month, and already his odious influence has been seen.  After threatening it for months, last Tuesday president Trump officially pulled America out of the nuclear arms deal  with Iran.  This is despite the fact that Iran has complied with the tenants of the treaty, and that the American allies that were also part of the treaty like the UK and France practically begged him not to do it.   Trump's stated problems with the deal was that Iran was still promoting terrorist groups in other parts of the world, and that the deal would end in ten years.  A call for renegotiating the plan to deal with these issues might have been a reasonable thing, but, because Trump doesn't want to admit that parts of the plan were working, he childishly killed it entirely.
The Iran deal now winds up in the waste basket along with the other deals that Trump has destroyed since taking office: the Paris climate change accord, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All three of them were treaties signed after years of careful negotiations with foreign leaders that he tore to shreds with little thought beyond the fact they were all forged by Barack Obama, and therefore must be bad.  (Somewhat absurdly, he has openly considered jumping back into the TPP agreement almost a year after leaving it, despite the fact that it has been completely renegotiated).  In typical fashion, his abandonment of each was not followed by any real alternate proposal beyond vague assurances that he wanted a "better deal".
While I disagree with his destroying all three deals, this latest move may very well prove to be the worst.  The collapse of the deal means that onerous sanctions against Iran have been put back in place, and as the New York Times pointed out yesterday "For the working class and for low-income people, new sanctions and renewed isolation will mean fewer jobs, less security and more poverty", which may also result in less time for the people of Iran to protest against their oppressive government, a government, the Times also noted, that will not really be effected by these sanctions.  And what reason does Iran have for returning to negotiations now, given that Trump has shown that any agreement reached by one president can just be thrown out by the next one?
The sad fact of the matter is that Bolton really wants Iran to start rebuilding its weapons  program, because it would  be the best pretext for attacking the country by Israel and America.  Bolton has publicly stated that he supports "regime change" in Iran, and we all know what that means.  As a candidate, Trump  ran as an isolationist, who blasted the 2004 Iraq invasion, but now he's listening to advice from Bolton, one of the few political figures in this country who thinks that that invasion was a smashing success.  One he wants to repeat  in Iran.  And when you add to that the fact that Trump often seems to base his views on any given subject on whomever he just last spoke to, and we have a recipe for disaster.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

GOODBYE PAUL, TAKE AYN WITH YOU


On April 11th., Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan announced that he will be resigning from political office, saying "I like to think I've done my part, my little part in history to set us on a better course."  The translation for this is that he foresees, like many others, a huge wave election for the Democrats coming in November  that would strip him of his status as majority speaker, and he'd rather avoid that humiliation.  Ryan has been a frustrating figure in the past two years:  during the 2016 presidential campaign, Ryan said Trump's statement that  Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel shouldn't be able to rule on a case involving Trump because of his Mexican heritage, was "the textbook definition of a racist comment", and he was reluctant to endorse Trump.  But once Trump was in office, Ryan's criticisms have grown more and more tepid, even as Trump has defended Klan and Nazi protestors and referred to African countries as "shit holes."  Ryan even called out Trump's "exquisite presidential leadership"(!) before the president signed the recent tax cut bill.
That tax bill says so much about Ryan; it's really his crowning achievement, a one and half trillion dollar change in the tax code that he feverishly worked on to get to the president's desk.  But it also shows his greatest flaws: it's heavily skewed towards the rich and increases the same national deficit that he used to be so worried about when Barack Obama was president.  It also continues his unshakeable belief in his Ayn Rand influenced world view that the federal government is always too big and intrusive in our country. Ever since he first entered politics, Ryan has expressed his admiration for twentieth century author Rand's books like THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED. (Although the fact that Rand was a pro choice atheist has caused him to tone down his admiration recently.) 
The Russian  born, virulently anti Communist Rand has become the patron saint of the libertarianism movement, that outspoken fringe of people who  worship the free market, see taxes as theft and perceive every stop sign and streetlight as an affront to their freedom.  Although libertarians have some progressive views (they support gay marriage and drug legalization), their message of no big government and lower taxes has mostly found favor with people on the right like Ryan.
To me the individualistic beliefs of Libertarianism are the flip side of the collectivist beliefs of Karl Marx and his followers.  Look at what they have  in common: they both are based on strongly written, popular books written by charismatic authors.  They both have ideas that sound good on paper, or  when being discussed in dorm rooms or coffee shops, (everyone is equal!  everyone is completely free!) but that fail when tried on any large scale.  From the repressive Communist regimes of Russia and China, to the absurd, aborted attempts of billionaire libertarians like Peter Theil  to create some libertarian island utopia, they just aren't a realistic way to run a country.
When you think about it, the extreme individualistic beliefs of Ann Rand and the extreme collective beliefs of Karl Marx both fall short when you look at human evolution: human beings have clearly evolved to be tribal, not solitary animals.  And in a tribal situation, there are inevitably times when you do things out of your own self interest, and other times that you must make sacrifices for the good of the tribe overall.  Or to put it another way, the money I earn I should be able to keep most of  to spend on what I want, but any working society needs things like roads, bridges, schools, and so on, which can only be paid for by taxes.  A middle ground is essential, which is why extreme ideas like Marx's and Rand's are doomed to failure.
It would appear that the rise of Trump  and the resignation of Ryan, even though they agree on some issues, is closing down the libertarian wing of the Republican party for now, to be replaced by one that pushes for non libertarian ideas like   protectionist tariffs and hardline anti-immigration policies.   And while I certainly don't agree with Trump's positions, I am glad that Ayn Rand's beliefs are getting closer to being thrown into the dust bin of history.