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.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

BUYER'S REMORSE

President Trump, Rob Porter and Reince Priebus

53%.  That's the number I'll never understand.  It's the percentage of white women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.  Although he lost the female vote overall, due to the overwhelming percentages of non white women voting against him, a clear majority of white women voted for him.  He won them despite the Access Hollywood tape in which we heard him boast of sexually assaulting women, and despite the claims of sixteen different women who accused him of assaulting them in much the same way that he described on that tape.  They voted for him even after he dismissed those accusers of all lying, and went so far as to imply that some of them were too physically unattractive for him to have assaulted in the first place.  With his macho swagger and Archie Bunker like statements,  the spell Trump held over working class white men was understandable, but the mind boggles as to why a  majority of white women went along with them.
Reading interviews with those white female supporters is both elucidating and infuriating: some just shrug off his behavior as him being a  typical man (which really does not reflect well on men in general, does it?), while others only care about his perceived success and wealthiness.   He played an exaggerated, god like version of himself on reality TV for years, why couldn't he bring that same kind of power and success to the White House, they rationalized.  And in that infamous Access Hollywood tape, he inadvertently stumbled on a sad truth: "When you're a celebrity, you can get away with anything." Add to that the overwhelmingly white Evangelical women who will always support him as long as he promotes their anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights agenda, and you start see how he won that majority.

Well, the good news is that Trump finally may be reaching a breaking point with white female voters: in the past year, his overall approval ratings are down across the board with all women, according to a January 11th. New York Times poll, although he still has over 70% approval from Republican women.   Still, the trend for his approval among female voters is definitely downwards.  And those disapproving women are speaking out.  The recent ME TOO movement, in which women that have been sexually assaulted or harassed raise their voices and demand punishment for their abusers, would not, in my opinion, even exist if Hillary Clinton had won.  It appears to have been forged in the anger that so many women in America have felt when a man with a sexual history like Trump's somehow defeated an experienced woman like Clinton.  That movement may well spell disaster for Trump and the party he leads: in a recent interview former White House Chief Advisor Steve Bannon told journalist Joshua Green "Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn't juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch," .  He, of course, thinks this is a bad thing.
In the past year, Trump has lived up to his misogynistic past, issuing another denial of all the assault charges leveled against him, defending Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly as they were forced to resign under harassment charges, endorsing Roy Moore for the Senate even as credible charges of him having sex with underage girls arose, and recently speaking highly of  White House Aide Rob Porter even as Porter resigned under accusations of spousal abuse from both of his ex wives.  In every case, Trump believed the men over the women, often not only defending them but outright praising them.  It's clear that to him that sexually aggressive (or physically aggressive)  men are just acting like the alpha males they should be.  When you get down to it, every time he says he wants to Make America Great Again he's talking about going back to a time when powerful men could treat women anyway they wanted, when sexual harassment was just an accepted part of life for women with little to no recourse.  Sadly, this man with this downright primitive view of women  somehow wound up in the White House.  But I think it's safe to say that this victory of his will mark the beginning of the end for white male supremacy in this country with more and more women (many of them not white) joining the ranks of power ready to oppose him and men like him who want to turn the clock back for women and their right to live unharassed.  Let's just hope he doesn't ruin this country before he leaves office.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE SINGLE WORST THING


Donald Trump has been president for just over a year now, and his reign has been just as horrible as any reasonable person would expect: there's been non stop bragging and lies, (over 2,000 since he took office, according to the Washington Post) openly racist comments, (defending white supremacist marchers, referring to African countries as "shit holes") attacks on any media coverage that doesn't worship him, chaotic cabinet decisions that saw multiple firings, and his blatant use of the white house to line the pockets of himself and his family.  He has been, quite simply, a complete and utter embarrassment to the country, lowering our prestige around the world.
In the midst of all this insanity, there is one thing that he has done as president that stands out to me: his assault on the nation's environment and rejection of climate change science.  Trump once tweeted out that climate change is nothing but a conspiracy by the Chinese government to destroy the American economy(!), and his actions as president have shown that he believes that.  In the past year, Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate change agreement, rolled back mileage goals for the auto industry, brought back the Keystone oil pipeline, opened national parks to developers and called for oil drilling off our coastlines.  This is completely shameful.
The worst part of this is that Trump is only doing what any Republican president would do; ever since the sainted Ronald Reagan claimed that trees caused air pollution, the Republican party has been the party of stripping away environmental regulations.  When climate researchers first began warning the world about the possibility of climate change, the Republican party ignored them.  When those warnings got louder, the party moved towards outright denial, so much so that there are now only a handful of Republican politicians who believe that climate change is happening at all.  This despite the fact that a whopping 97% of the world's climatologists believe that climate change is real.  Sadly, this is no big shock, rejecting the science of climate change is easy for a political party that has a significant number of people in it who reject the science of evolution.   Add to that the fact that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, oil and coal companies donate to Republicans over Democrats at a 15 to 1 ratio, not to mention the tens of millions of dollars more spent by conservative oil barons the Koch brothers attacking climate change research, and you can see why the Republican party in America has no problem being the only major political party in the world to deny climate change.
This all gets very upsetting when you look at what happened in America in 2017: two massive hurricanes hit Houston and Puerto Rico, making last year's  the most expensive hurricane season ever, and terrible brush fires shot through the state of California.  Ten years ago, climate change researchers warned the world about these very kind of things happening.  And this may only be the beginning: Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said human influenced climate change “is expected to lead to a greater incidence of high-intensity hurricanes”.  America is the second highest emitter of carbon in the world after China, for us to continue our burning of fossil fuels in the face of more years of environmental chaos is madness.  This is not just a policy disagreement, the future of the world as we know it is at stake.  How Republicans can live with leaving such a heavily damaged world to their children and grand children is beyond me.
To add to this insanity, clinging to oil and coal production is also foolish economically: last year the US Department of Energy released a study showing that the solar power industry now employs  374,000 people, while only 187,117 workers are employed at coal, oil, and natural gas power plants.  Clean fuel production is not only better for the environment, it's also the wave of the future.  After all, a energy source that doesn't have to be drilled or mined for, and that never runs out, is obviously superior to ones that do.  The green energy movement is an emerging economy that is better for the environment, rejecting that obvious truth for a few red state votes and big money donations is despicable, and the worst thing Trump has done in the past year. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A MISOGYNISTIC BIGOT

Adult Star Stephanie Clifford

Another week in Trump's America leads to another round of offensive statements, damaging revelations and erratic behavior.  It's hard to know where to begin.
Let's start with Michael Wolff's new book about the Trump administration, "Fire & Fury".  Although there is some doubt as to the overall veracity of Wolff's various claims in the book, the portrait it paints of the Trump administration is both horrifying and believable: the president is seen as being child like, petulant, ignorant and bull headed.  Members of his own cabinet privately insult his intelligence.  Basically, the book confirms every negative thing about the administration that so many Americans like me  have imagined.  The picture it paints is so poor that Trump defended his mental state with a tweet, saying that he was "a stable genius."  Because there's no better sign of being a genius than openly saying that you are.
There was little stability or genius on display a few days later when, during a bipartisan meeting, Trump referred to Haitian immigrants as coming from a "shit hole" country.  He then asserted that he wanted more immigrants from Denmark in America.  While there has been some pushback from the White House on the wording of these statements, Senator Dick Durban who was at the meeting claims that he said them repeatedly.  The sad thing is that this is part of a pattern from him; this is, after all, a man who was sued by the federal government back in the 1970's for refusing to rent to black  people.  And who repeatedly said that he believed that Barack Obama was not born in this country.  And that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers.  And that an American judge could not rule properly on a case involving him because he was of Mexican heritage.  I could fill out  another page going on with more examples of his bigotry, but you get the idea. Sadly, this  probably won't move the needle of his support by Republican voters, in fact, I'm sure many of them are silently cheering him on.  Meanwhile, most Republican politicians have either cowardly said nothing, made only the most tepid of criticisms (Paul Ryan called them "Very unfortunate"), or actually tried to defend them!  Let's face it, the minute the Republican party chose Trump as their presidential candidate, they threw away any pretense that their party is not the party of bigotry and hatred.   Although many Republican candidates are not themselves bigots, they will gladly except their support if means getting more power.  White supremacy is now their default setting, and until they finally publicly break with their president, it always will be.
And then another scandal emerged just yesterday, reminding us that Trump is as much a misogynist as he is a bigot.  According to the Washington Post, he made a payoff of one hundred and thirty thousand dollars to an adult film star to prevent her from disclosing a consensual affair they had in 2006 right before the election.  Part of me is not too concerned about this, given that it was a consensual affair between adults.  Also  I don't want to be a hypocrite, because that I don't think Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky in the 90's was worth of impeachment.  However, I do still think  it does reveal much of Trump's mentality towards women: in 2006, Trump was in his sixties, married, and his wife had just given birth.  And he still thought it was time to have an affair with an adult film star that was half his age.  Classy.  And let's not forget, there are sixteen women who claim that Trump sexually harassed or assaulted them in some way.   The fact that he appears to have been chasing porn stars while his wife was caring for his new son only adds credibility to the notion that he sees women as there for the taking.
So, in the past week we have heard the president claim that he's a genius, make bigoted comments about nonwhite countries, and then heard about yet another affair he's had.  If this is his idea of returning America to greatness, I'll take the country as it was from 2008-16, when we had a president who wasn't an utter embarrassment, thank you very much.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

O? HELL NO


Last Sunday night media mogul and former TV host Oprah Winfrey gave a speech during the Golden Globe Awards that many people saw as the beginning of a presidential campaign for her in 2020.  Although she had previously shot down such ideas, the speech was popular, uplifting and just political enough ("...a new day is on the horizon..") to excite some Democrats at the prospect of finding their answer to Trump.  And while I do think a president Oprah would be preferable to Trump, I still think it would be a mistake for the country to veer wildly from one unexperienced celebrity president to another.
Ok, let's look at some of undeniably positive aspects of Winfrey's career: unlike Trump, she really is a self made billionaire. She pulled herself up from humble beginnings (she once admitted that she even smoked crack cocaine at one point in her life) and went from being just another TV talk show host to being a massively successful media icon.  On the way she's given millions of dollars to charity and encouraged literacy. And how ever you may feel about her old show, it's obvious that she found a way to speak intimately to her viewers.
But there are cracks in her empire: on her show she promoted the work of one Dr. Oz, an outright scam artist who peddles one fake weight loss cure after another.  She has given sympathetic interviews to Jenny Mcarthy, allowing her to spread her  despicable anti vaccination ideas.  She heavily promoted the "self help" book The Secret, which absurdly posits that money and better health can come to you if you just think real hard (and pay for the book, of course).   And while it's hard to argue with the phenomenal popularity of her talk show, on my few viewings of it I found it bland, celebrity driven dreck.  The thing that bothered me the most was the way that Winfrey herself looked directly into the camera periodically and told the audience what they were about to see and how they should feel about it, leaving no room for any kind of independent thought.  In this regard, her technique is similar to right wing media mogul Rush Limbaugh, and his army of so called "ditto heads", people who proudly echo his words without even considering them.  And also like Limbaugh, she often takes complicated issues and dumbs them down for the audience, aiming for the lowest common denominator.  And the devotion of her fans can be scary; just look at the almost crazed reactions her studio audiences have when she takes the stage!  Her influence is sometimes more cult like than fan like (on the show 30 Rock, the character Liz Lemon one described her religious beliefs as "I do whatever Oprah tells me to do.").  As an atheist who would like to live in a world without anybody blindly worshipping anyone or anything, I find all all this troubling to say the least.
Along with all that, the main reason I don't want Winfrey to run is that I want to end the absurd notion that the government should be run by someone who has never held any kind of political or military office.  Donald Trump has given us a year of insanity and incompetence, even those who may agree with politics must admit that his bullying tweets and string of hirings and firings of cabinet members and advisors shows a man who knew little about how the presidency works  before taking office.  Would Winfrey really be any different?  Like Trump, she's known for being the head of a corporation in which she can pick and choose who she hires and fires,  and where she can shape company policy independently.  This is completely different from a president who must deal with members of congress picked by the voters, as Trump  found out in his failed attempt to repeal Obamacare.  Being president means making compromises and working together with congressional leaders that often disagree with you; there's nothing in her professional history to show that she knows how to do that.
What I'm saying is that America should let the Trump presidency serve as a cautionary example, an aberration, and certainly not a new way to win the presidency.  Just because one celebrity somehow managed to fail upwards into the White House doesn't mean that the door should be open to President Winfrey, or Dwayne Johnson or whomever.  Come on Democrats, just because the Republicans lost their minds doesn't mean you have to also!

Friday, January 5, 2018

THE HYPOCRITICAL DOUBLE STANDARD


In the midst of all the crazy speeches, even crazier tweets, firings, tantrums, endless self promotion and possibly criminal behavior the first year of the Trump presidency has given us, some actual policy matters have emerged from the chaos.  And in many ways the policies are worse than the chaos.
Recently, the state of California voted to legalize marijuana for recreational usage; this was no big surprise, given that the whole country has been slowly but surely moving in this common sense direction for years.  There are now twenty nine states that have legalized pot for medicinal use, and six that have for general use.  California joining that list is a welcome addition given that it is the most populous state with the largest economy, making pot legalization a seemingly inevitable reality for most Americans.
During the campaign, candidate Donald Trump shrugged off marijuana legalization as a state's rights issue; sadly, that was just another lie.  His choice of Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General showed where his feelings really were on the matter.  Sessions, who was, we should remember, was disqualified for a judgeship back in the 1980's because of racist comments he made, is an old school fan of the war on drugs, that disastrous policy that helped America become the country with the highest prison population in the world.  Apparently, he doesn't think that's high enough, because just yesterday he wrote a memo to United States attorneys rescinding the Obama era policies of not actively pursuing marijuana convictions, and added that federal laws should “reflect Congress’s determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”  Sadly, this was an easy call for him, given that increased arrests will result in increased searches and arrests for poor, non white citizens more than anybody else (as the ACLU has noted, African Americans are no more likely to use marijuana, but around four times more likely to be arrested for it).  Also, of course, most of the states that have legalized recreational use are blue states.
This is not only terrible policy, it's also hypocritical: buried deep inside the recently passed tax bill is a cut on excise taxes on beer, which will benefit both small and big brewers.  As a recent New York Times article  pointed out, every year around 88,000 Americans die from alcohol related reasons.  The article also points out that since the year 2000 there has been a stunning fifty percent increase in the number of people going to emergency room because of heavy drinking.  Is this really the time for America to be giving tax subsidies to manufactures of a product that has no positive benefit, that instead results in the death of tens of thousands of Americans every year?  Considering all our tax dollars pay for those emergency rooms, shouldn't alcohol manufacturers pay more taxes to help fund them?
This gets even crazier when one considers that marijuana has directly resulted in exactly zero deaths in the entire history of its recreational usage.  Yes, it is literally impossible to overdose on pot (and believe me, growing up in San Francisco, I've met people who seem to be trying to!), and it is also not physically addictive, unlike alcohol.  So this is where our country has wound up, the same government that encourages a business that sells a drug that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year to increase its sales, wants to criminalize another business selling a drug that has never directly killed anyone.  Sadly, there is no common sense in these policies, but, fortunately, the public is on the right side of them, and inevitably there will come a change.  Unfortunately, it will come too late to spare the estimated half million people a year arrested on marijuana charges in this country.

Monday, December 18, 2017

THE WORST



 Recently, conservative columnist George Will, an unrepentant member of the "never-Trump" movement, announced that president Trump's strong endorsement of Alabaman Senatorial candidate (and accused pedophile) Roy Moore marked him as the worst president ever.  The usually apolitical USA TODAY also published a similar editorial recently, stating that Trump's recent tweet about Senate member Kristen Jillibrand that all but called her a whore, made him "...unfit to clean toilets in Obama's presidential library or to shine George W. Bush's shoes".  Other editorial pages across the country (and the political spectrum) have characterized Trump as leading us into new lows for presidential behavior.
It's an easy thing in our deeply divided country to dismiss a president we don't agree with as the worst ever; those words were often repeated by conservative commentators during the Bill Clinton years, and then were inevitably brought back during Barack Obama's reign.  And now, with a deeply unpopular and divisive president in the White House, they are being spoken again (and not just by progressives).  From his constant lies, boasts and childish insults, to his appointment of unqualified family members to important advisor roles, to his bratty insistence on tweeting, it's easy to see why Trump can be called the worst president ever.  And while I certainly find his behavior despicable, I'm not entirely sure if he yet qualifies for that title.  Despite all of Trump's flaws, he still may be above George W Bush.
From the beginning of his career, Bush seemed to represent one of the main things wrong with this country: that it's better to be born to a family of enormous wealth and privilege than to be someone who works hard and plays by the rules. An admitted heavy drinker and lazy worker for the first forty years of his life, Bush attended Yale entirely because of his family name and money, and was, as he himself characterized it, a "c" student.  He then went into the family oil business and did poorly, never showing much initiative and eventually picking up a DUI arrest.  At around the age of forty, he found Jesus, gave up alcohol, and decided to get into the other family business of politics.  Just as he used his family name and money to get into Yale, he also used that name and money to raise support for his political career, often raising money from the same donors who supported his father before him.
And then there was the chaotic presidential election of 2000, which came down to the severely contested state of Florida; the closeness of the vote there led to all manner of law suits and recounts.  Amidst all of that came the charge that hundreds of African American voters turned up to vote in the state and were told that their names were not on the voting list, this in a state where Bush's margin of victory was only around five hundred votes.  On top of that, Bush's own brother, Jeb, was governor of the state at the time, making the appearance of corruption of the voting process a definite likelihood.   Or to put it another way, because the presidency was something that George W Bush couldn't buy with his father's money, he had his brother steal it for him.
Even if you think that he won Florida legitimately, it was an undeniable fact that he lost the popular vote to Al Gore by around half a million votes.  This didn't stop him from swaggering into office like he had some overwhelming mandate.  And then after 9/11, his approval swelled as the country was showered with global sympathy, which he then proceeded to squander with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Let's not put a fine point on this; the Bush lead Iraq invasion was one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history.  The war was fed to us on a string of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies.  There were no weapons of mass destruction there, no links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the war was obviously not finished quickly, the Iraqi people certainly did not greet American soldiers as liberators and oil revenues did not pay it.  Instead, tens of thousands of Iraqi people and  thousands of American soldiers were killed or wounded as the country fell into chaos and the war dragged on into an occupation.  And as it dragged on, the Bush administration refused to cover the cost of the war, instead tossing it onto the national deficit; they even avoided a draft by hiring mercenaries to fight there at an increased cost to the tax payers.  Meanwhile, the administration expanded the so called war on terror by endorsing torture techniques like water boarding and sleep deprivation, claiming that suspected terrorists were not subject to the Geneva convention.
To make matters worse,  as the Iraq war was proving to be more and more of a quagmire, Bush ran for reelection in 2004 by openly endorsing a Constitutional amendment that would have banned marriage for gay and lesbians in perpetuity,  making his the most openly homophobic campaign in presidential history, and putting him on the wrong side of history.  Sadly, this strategy worked as he eked out a narrow victory against Democrat challenger John Kerry.  In his second term, the Iraq war continued to be a mess, his response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was disastrous, and the revelation that his administration had wiretapped American citizens without getting warrants appeared criminal.  In the middle of all that, he attempted to privatize Social Security, a plan that got less and less popular the more he talked about it, until his own party thankfully killed it in the senate.  His approval sunk to levels lower than Nixon's during Watergate as he appeared sullen and angry.  And last but not least, the financial crash of 2008, while not exactly the fault of his administration, caught him flat footed and made him look even more like what he was; a spoiled brat in over his head.
So, am I saying that Trump isn't so bad?  No, he's absolutely terrible, it's just that he has yet to sink the country into an unnecessary and horrible war, or reside over the worst economic crash since the Great Depression.  But, given his policy decisions and erratic behavior, such things don't not appear impossible in the coming years of his presidency.  He just hasn't sank to the level of George W Bush yet, but he may get there.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

CRAZY BEDFELLOWS



Last Wednesday president Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It's a move that rolls back decades of American policy and it was swiftly condemned not only by Palestinian  leaders, but also by many European leaders and Pope Francis.  While many political analysts see this as mostly symbolic move, it's one that could lead to increased turmoil in the Middle East, and also set back the always difficult peace process between Israel and Palestine.
While the move was not surprisingly cheered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hard line American supporters of Israel like billionaire Sheldon Adlelson, there was also rejoicing from the American Evangelical movement.  But why?  Obviously Jerusalem has enormous resonance with Christians given that it's where Jesus Christ was crucified, but why should American Evangelicals care so much about where the capital of Israel is located? It all has to do with their interpretation of the biblical book of Revelations and their belief in the so called rapture. 
As lined out in the surprisingly popular Left Behind book series, (and the not so popular, crappy looking movie series of the same name) millions of American Christian Evangelicals believe that at any given moment, they will be magically spirited up to heaven in what they call the rapture.  The rest of the earth will then be plagued by years of violent turmoil, leading to armageddon and the return of Jesus, who will cast all people who aren't Christians  into the fiery pits of hell.   Furthermore, they also believe that for the rapture to take place, a Jewish homeland must be created in the Middle East.  This belief has lead to an interesting phenomenon: conservative Jews from Israel who oppose a two state solution will often travel to American Evangelical churches to speak about their beliefs to the churchgoers, who happily receive them and donate money to their cause.  Left out of their discussions is the fact that the Evangelicals all believe that, as non-Christians, all of the Jewish people they're donating money to are doomed to burn in hell!  I would assume that the Israelis themselves are also aware of this, but don't care as long as they can get financial support.  While it should be pointed out that the Left Behind books do have a Jewish character in them, and that he, after the rapture, converts to Christianity and gets to go heaven at the end.  Yet this would seem more like an absurd fig leaf defense against anti semitism (Jews for Jesus get to go to heaven!) than any real acceptance of Jews (or Hindus or Buddhists for that matter) as anything other than unholy.
It would appear that Trump's goal for the move was to appeal to both conservative donors like Adelson and white Evangelical voters who voted for him in high numbers.  So Trump has just made a a major  foreign policy decision that could have tragic, fatal consequences,  at least partly driven by the pipe dream belief of Evangelicals that they can go to heaven any minute while avoiding that whole pesky dying thing. It's crazy things like this that make me wish that religion and politics could  just move to mostly neutral corners, accepting that their goals rarely sync up in a positive way, which is the prevailing wisdom in most industrialized nations.  Just not in the US.   But then, I also can't believe that our president has decided that his son in law Jared Kushner, who has no foreign policy experience whatsoever, (and who very well may soon be indicted for his relation to the ongoing Russia scandal investigation) should be in charge of Middle East peace talks.  Sadly, this disastrous move will be seen as just another in the long list of reasons why Donald Trump should never have gotten anywhere near the White House.