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.

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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

OREILLY OUT


Perfect poetic justice: Bill O'Reilly, one of the most popular of the right wing bloviators on Fox News, has been fired because he has a history of sexual harassment against several female coworkers.  Rumors of his crude and unwarranted behavior have been floating around for almost a decade, with the network shelling out millions of dollars in damages to protect their profitable star.  But apparently, the latest round of complaints, accompanied by advertisers pulling their commercials from his show, have pushed the network, (which had already forced out former news chairman Roger Ailes on similar charges),  too far.
Part of me is thrilled by this: good riddance to a loud mouthed jerk who often held himself up as a paragon of moral rectitude (in a truly delicious bit of irony, he once co-authored a book for children entitled GIVE PLEASE A CHANCE [!]).  Over the years O'Reilly has called for a terrorist attack on San Francisco's Coit Tower because he didn't like the way people there voted, shouted down anyone who disagrees with him, and sent camera crews to verbally attack people who didn't want to be on his show.  Although he occasionally made feints to common sense to show he wasn't just a mouthpiece for the Republican Party (he admitted Barack Obama was born in America), he has mostly been an echo chamber for cranky old white men to hear him yell about how rap music is destroying the country, or whatever.
There is another part of me that is perplexed by this whole thing; while what O'Reilly is being accused of is certainly repulsive, none of the charges are any worse than what twelve separate women have alleged against our current president, who infamously was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault.  Is it possible that the sudden, shocking election of Donald Trump, despite all those allegations, so outraged women's advocates that they are now hyper vigilant?  Are they partly taking their anger at Trump out on one of his fanboys? While part of me says, good for them, another part of me wonders why they couldn't have pushed harder to convince the 53% of white female voters who went for Trump to not vote for him?  Or at least have gotten more people to the polls in the first place? The sad fact of the matter is that O'Reilly, despite his popularity, had little to no actual political power, while Trump has already made decisions that deeply affect the world, and may do so for years.  I guess what I'm asking is, if one person's career had to be destroyed by sexual assault charges, why couldn't it have been Trump's?

Friday, April 7, 2017

A MIXED REACTION



President Donald Trump recently engaged in a wide scale military strike on the military government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.  The strike was made in retaliation to a brutal attack Assad made on suspected Syrian rebels with chemical weapons that resulted in the ghastly death of scores of people, many of them children.  
Trump's decision to strike is a major change in his previously stated view on the subject:  in 2013 he tweeted that then president Obama should not attack Syria, even though al-Assad had crossed a red line Obama had set by using chemical weapons against the rebels in his country.  And repeatedly on the campaign trail he decried the idea of the US getting further  involved militarily in the Middle East.  But now he has changed his tune, saying,  “I will tell you, that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.”  
It's possible to be of two minds on this issue: first, it is obvious that al-Assad's attack was horrific and deserving of a military strike, the kind that Obama himself regretted not making in the past.  According to the New York Times,  al-Assad's motive for the attack was to completely demoralize the rebel movement, with civilian casualties being part of that demoralization.  In another words, it's possible to be a progressive pacifist that despises Trump and still feel that he acted rightly here.
On the other hand, it also showcases Trump's impulsive behavior, as he acted without speaking to congress about it first, and seemed to be basing it on what he was watching on TV that day.  Even worse, his anger at the death of children stops at our borders; he appears to have no intention of changing his policy of not allowing Syrian refugees to enter America, which would save more lives than missile strikes.  Also, is this just the beginning?  Will America continue bombing in Syria, or even send in ground troops?

My mixed reaction to the president's action is mirrored by many political figures: some of Trump's most conservative supporters have condemned it, feeling that it wasn't putting American first, as he so often said he would during the campaign.  While many other Republicans and some Democrats have offered praise.  Meanwhile, there's even been a debate as to whether or not it was legal, not that there's likely to be any consequence for Trump on that matter; he isn't the first president to launch such a strike.
And if that weren't complicated enough, the attack has soured relations between America and al-Assad ally Russia.  Somewhat amazingly, the same candidate who never said anything negative about Vladimir Putin during the campaign, and who benefited from Russian computer hacking into the Democratic National Committee files, has now gone against Russia.  Could this backfire on him?  Do the Russians have some dirt on Trump, as has been often rumored?    
One thing is sure, once again the unpredictable, even deranged style of leadership that Trump promised has led to an unknown conclusion.   Trump may prove to be a transformational president to both the country and the world, but we'll have to hold our breath to see if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

TRUMP SUPPORTERS VOTED AGAINST THEIR OWN INTERESTS



Yesterday, the Republican party proved something: they are a party that is great at opposing Democratic policies, but terrible at actually creating policies of their own.  Yes, after eight years of demonizing Obamacare and sending literally dozens of repeal bills to Barack Obama's desk for him to veto, the Republican party couldn't even get their own healthcare bill out of the House of Representatives.   The cracks in the party were readily apparent: the moderates didn't want to support a bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimated would take healthcare away from over twenty million people, and that was opposed by every major health providing organization in the country, and the conservatives didn't feel that the bill went far enough(!).
 On the campaign trail, Donald Trump  said that the healthcare plan he would replace Obamacare with would cover everyone, let you choose your doctor and lower premiums (somehow he forgot to promise free unicorn rides to the doctor's office!).  Not surprisingly, just how he planned to pay for such a plan was not mentioned: his healthcare promises were about as vague as his promises to get Mexico to pay for a border wall.  It was also not surprising that the healthcare bill that Paul Ryan created in the house fell short of Trump's lofty goals, even as he openly supported it.
While I'm certainly glad that the bill went down to defeat, the contents of the bill say much about the party and the man who leads it.  Along with giving an enormous tax cut for the rich (the Republican solution to all of life's problems), the bill would make it harder for the old, the sick and the poor to afford healthcare.  A study by the Bloomberg political group found that most of the people who would benefit from the tax cut resided in cities that voted for Clinton, and that many of the people who would lose out the most from the bill  resided in counties that went for Trump.  This fact was brought up by conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson in an interview with Trump, who agreed that it was true, and then shrugged it off by saying "this is going to be negotiated."
Now let's compare the healthcare bill to the recently released Trump federal budget; while it takes a meat axe to the usual Republican targets like public broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts, it also included eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an independent agency set up in 1965 “to address the persistent poverty and growing economic despair of the Appalachian Region.”  The same Appalachian region that turned out to vote for him in large numbers.  He also wants to get rid of the Economic Development Administration, an organization that in recent years has been trying to help out communities devastated by the closing of coal mines.  Again, the same communities that turned out to vote for him. Now to be fair, those two programs are a minuscule part of the budget, and he probably had no idea what they were of why they got cut (I'm going to assume that the actual writing of the budget was accomplished with very little input from him), but when the budget is combined with the healthcare bill, it looks like a double backstab aimed at the very people who voted for him.  Oddly, the president's biggest supporters should all be glad that the healthcare bill failed and that his budget will be altered by congress.
So what gives?  Why do so many poor and middle class white voters vote for candidates who try to pass legislation that doesn't benefit them, and may actually harm them?  Sadly, this tradition has long roots that reach to the days of slavery; back then, most white people who lived in the South did not  actually own slaves, and most of them were laborers who were forced to compete with slave labor; they would have actually benefited from slavery being abolished.  And yet, when the civil war began, those poor white Southerners were willing to fight and die for the right of the rich to have slaves because they were sold a bill of racial superiority; as free white men, they would always have more rights than slaves.  And what Trump said on the campaign trail, demonizing Mexican immigrants and Muslims, falls into that same tradition of racial superiority.  In fact,  I would argue that this racist theme is what pushed Trump over the top to victory in November.

Jared Taylor, Trump supporter, white supremacist, asshole

Consider that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are now 130 Klu Klux Klan groups, 100 White Nationalist groups, and 99 Neo Nazi groups, scattered around the US, mostly in the red states.  Now while these groups usually abstain from politics and abhor politicians, the Trump campaign absolutely energized them.  Just listen to Jared Taylor, a prominent white supremacist, talking to the New York Times: "I've never met him, and I cannot read his mind any better than you can.  But someone who wants to send home all illegal immigrants and at least temporarily ban Muslim immigrants is acting in the interest of whites, whether consciously or not."  Trump, naturally, repeatedly denies that he's racist, but that's hard to believe given the level of his campaign rhetoric and his appointment of Steve Bannon, a former editor of a white nationalist website, as a chief White House strategist.  It's undeniable that the Trump presidency is popular with most hate groups.  This popularity may explain why so many pollsters got the election wrong; polls are done with likely voters, not  with white supremacists who rarely show up to vote.  Now, am I saying that all sixty three million Trump voters are Klan members?  Of course not. But consider that  Taylor claims that his white supremacist website American Renaissance gets 300,000 unique views a month, and Stormfront, a similar site, claims to get the same number.  In an election as close as the last one, people in those kind of numbers, especially ones that don't normally show up to vote , may very well have lifted Trump to a win.  Much to our nation's disgrace.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

DON'T GIVE EX PRESIDENTS A PASS


When former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died in 2013, the public pushed the song "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" to number two on the UK singles chart, and many people who opposed her reign were open in their lack of remorse.  Comparatively,  when disgraced former president Richard Nixon died in 1994, most Americans were either remorseful or silent; the fact that he committed crimes and resigned in disgrace was whitewashed to the point that he was simply called "controversial".  It appears that while America may never have had royalty, we are expected to respect the office of the president so much that ex presidents are treated that way, even criminal ones like Nixon.  Just look at how Ronald Reagan has been held up as some paragon of presidential greatness, with the fact that his administration  illegally sold weapons to Iran and then used the profits of those sales to fund an equally illegal war in Nicaragua almost never mentioned.  And Bill Clinton's near impeachment was mostly forgotten and ignored by the press until his wife started running for president, and even then it was hardly seen as an issue.
This is manifesting itself right now in the rehabilitation tour that former president George W Bush has been going on; in the past few weeks he's been popping up on talk shows, showing off his paintings (which really are awful looking), and laughing and joking around, promoting himself as some kind of lovable grandpa figure.  I find his self serving attempt to improve his image as utterly disgusting.
Has America forgotten that Bush led us into a an utterly disastrous war in Iraq based on charges of weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda?  And how that war lead to the death of thousands of American soldiers, ten of thousands of Iraqi civilians and threw the region into such chaos that over ten years later the world is still dealing with the fall out from what was one of the worst foreign policy decisions in modern history? And what about the illegal wire tapping of Americans his administration carried out?  Not to mention water boarding and other torture techniques being used on terror suspects?  Is all that supposed to be forgotten because he's been out of office for awhile?  How short is the American memory?
The image that bothers me the most is of Bush visiting the Ellen DeGeneres show and clowning around with the host.  Has she forgotten that in 2004, Bush waged the most openly homophobic presidential campaign ever?  Why would an out lesbian who has pushed for gay marriage do a friendly, outright fawning interview with a president who repeatedly stated that he wanted an amendment barring gay marriage enshrined in the constitution?  And who packed the supreme court and the judiciary who judges who agreed with him?  She couldn't summon up the strength to ask him one tough question about all this?  Imagine Arsenio Hall giving a cute interview with David Duke!

History must not forget: when George W Bush left office, his approval ratings were lower than Nixon's during Watergate, in fact, his low ratings lasted longer than any other president ever.  We must remember not just the Iraq war and his opposition to gay rights, but also his pathetic response to hurricane Katrina, and, of course, the economic policies he supported that laid the groundwork for the biggest economic crisis since the depression.  When Trump haters look back on Bush's regime with nostalgia, they seem to forget all these things.  While I think Trump has all the potential to be an even worse president than Bush was,  he hasn't gotten there yet.  Bush wants to improve his image as a terrible president and somehow absolve himself from stumbling into a horrific war.  Let's not let him.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A BRIEF MOMENT OF SANITY



Last Tuesday President Donald Trump made his first official address to Congress, and the fact that he got through  a mostly positive speech without complaining about illegal voters or bragging incessantly was greeted with rapturous praise from much of the media: "he has pushed reset on his presidency", they exclaimed, "for the first time he seemed presidential" they gushed.  Amazingly, some of this praise came from the very media outlets that Trump had earlier described as enemies of the people!
Honestly, the reaction to him getting through a teleprompter speech that he probably didn't even write any of is very similar to first time parents gushing with praise as a toddler learns to walk.  Are the media so dispirited about the chaos and disorder surrounding the leader of the free world that they feel that any movement towards normalcy must be praised to the hills?  Has this country really sunk to the level of giving glowing media coverage to the president just for showing up?
The sad answer to that seems to be a resounding yes.  And just how long did Trump's reset of the presidency last?  Less than a week.  Yes, just  after giving a speech in which he said that it was time for the country to move beyond petty squabbles,  Trump entered into yet another one by embracing a conspiracy theory without proof on twitter, reverting to the same childish, whiny, bratty behavior he's shown since he first announced his candidacy.  At 4 AM this morning, Trump tweeted this:

"How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

Yes, the same man who held on to the idea that Barack Obama was not born in America for years, even after Obama's long form birth certificate was released, and who later accused Obama of being "the founder of ISIS", is now saying that the former president had Trump's  phones tapped during the election.  Just like his claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally in the last election, he offers no proof of this claim.  And once again, his official spokespeople are silent, scrambling to come up with some kind of reason for why the president would claim to believe something so crazy without evidence.
So why is he saying this?  Well, it's a conspiracy theory making the rounds in the conservative media that Trump is so fond of following, but like most conspiracy theories, it make little sense.  Sadly, we are now living in a country where its chief executive believes whatever he wants to believe and spreads absurd rumors to his followers without any verification.   And like we saw a few weeks ago when a lunatic shot up a pizza parlor because he believed a different conspiracy, they can have dangerous consequences.
And just for the record, it should be pointed out that the president is not just allowed to wire tap whomever he wants.  If Obama's justice department  did indeed wiretap Trump's phones, it could have only have been because they were able to obtain a warrant to do so by a judge.  Which means that there would have to be a compelling belief that criminal behavior was being conducted on those phones.  If Trump really thinks all of that happened, then is he admitting that there was reason for the government to believe that his campaign was up to something illegal.  So his childish attempt to lash out at Obama may just wind up drawing attention to the fact that his campaign may very well have been up to something, like, say, coordinating email leaks with the Russians during the campaign.  Will this latest crazy tweet wind up turning around and biting him?  Well, Trump seems to be a man who can't shoot himself in the foot no matter how much he tries; sadly, it will probably fade into the fog of crazy that he has been projecting now for months. Somehow,  time and time again, he gets away with saying and doing things that would sink any other politician.  Hopefully, someday his lies will stick to him.



Thursday, February 23, 2017

Two sides of the Same Coin?



A new president comes into power, marking a definite change from the previous one, sparking protests nationwide, that spill over into loud, almost violent town hall meetings with members of congress.  Am I talking about the Trump administration?  Yes, but I could also be talking about what happened in 2009 when the so called Tea Party movement targeted President Obama and the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Above are two pictures: one of the Tea Party in 2009, the other taken less that a month ago.  Although the signs may be different, the anger is the same.  In fact, the similarities are striking: in 2009, rumors were spread by Democrats saying that the Tea Party was funded mostly by the conservative billionaire Koke Brothers, now Republicans are saying that Anti-Trump protestors are being paid by progressive billionaire George Soros.   Both sides embrace the expression "not my president", as if a president they disagree with is somehow invalid.  Both sides often not so subtly use Nazi imagery in making their point against whomever they disagree with.   And just as some people in Texas flirted with the idea of seceding from the country during the Obama years, now California is considering the same thing under Trump.
As a progressive myself, I know which side my sympathies lie with, but the anger both sides express reveals a sad, bitter truth about just how divided this country is.  Progressives and conservatives now live in not only separate red and blue states, but separate communities within those states.  And the media they consume only echoes their own feelings about the world.  It is entirely possible in the US to encase oneself in a cocoon in which only people you agree with ever enter, except for a few angry holiday dinners.
Americans have to accept one undeniable fact: however you voted in the last presidential election, over sixty million of your fellow countrymen voted in the opposite  direction.  It's become a cliche for news reporters to say this, but it's true: we are a deeply divided nation, in fact the divide right now has not been this strong since the Civil War.  While clearly the notions of outright warfare or California succeeding are extreme, it does often seem that red states and blue states contain people with such radically different world views that nation wide unification on many important issues is almost impossible.
So what can we do?  Well,  part of the reason Trump won is the fear of white Americans of the demographic changes the country is going through, which will eventually result in white people no longer making up over fifty percent of the country.  (Yes, even if Trump gets his wall and deports eleven million people, it will still happen).    What is going on now in the US  may be a repeat of what happened in the state of California in 1995, when Governor Pete Wilson strongly ran against immigration, running race baiting political TV ads about undocumented immigrants that Trump echoed in his campaign.  While Wilson won his reelection, the backlash against the Republican party was so strong in the state that now Democrats run almost all the wheels of power.  So, it appears that time is on the side of progressives, with America slowly but surely turning to the left as older white conservatives die off, to be replaced by a more diverse and progressive generation.  Looked at this way, the Trump victory will probably be remembered as the last gasp of the older white Americans fighting the inevitable.