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, August 15, 2017

YET ANOTHER NEW LOW

"Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.
He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate … on both sides!
He said he loves us all."  -A Blog Post from the Daily Stormer, a White Supremacist Website.
It'a story that keeps developing and keeps getting worse.  Last Saturday, in Charlottesville Virginia, white supremacists, many carrying Nazi flags, held a truly terrifying rally.  Although the ostensible reason for this rally was to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee, it's real driving force  was an attempt  to display the excitement felt by the racist right in this country at the fact that they helped elect a president that they feel is sympathetic towards their beliefs.  Or, as former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke put it, "We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump."  The rally then got violent as counter protesters arrived, and eventually a deranged twenty year old man drove into a crowd of those counter protestors, killing one woman and injuring many others.  All in all, it was a dark and ugly day for America.  And then president Trump went and made it worse.



As the situation got uglier and uglier, Trump inevitably had to make some kind of statement.  Speaking in a bored monotone, clearly annoyed at missing his golf game, Trump at first seemed to be issuing a standard presidential statement, until he paused and repeated the now much analyzed phrase, that there was violence on "many sides".  He also did not once mention any of the white supremacist groups at the rally by name.  Yes, we now live in a country where a president can look at a literal Nazi rally and not condemn them by name.  It's clear why he feels this way: he and his advisors realize that a large part of his unlikely victory lay in the white resentment and anger exhibited in the rally; that these marchers and the voters who agreed with him were his base.  Furthermore, Trump's bloated ego clouded his mind and showed him a group of people cheering for him, so he couldn't condemn them; not when they supported him so strongly.  They saw him as being as wonderful as sees himself as being.
While it was good to see quick and strong criticism of Trump's comments, I am unmoved by the fact that many Republicans also were critical.  Where were they we he was making racist comments on the campaign trail?  Paul Ryan once described Trump's attack on a Mexican American judge as the "textbook definition of racism", why then did Ryan wind up supporting Trump?  The fact of the matter is that the Republican party has been playing up white resentment to get an electoral advantage for decades.  Trump is just the inevitable culmination of the racist dog whistles blown by the likes of Ronald Reagan and George H Bush.   The party lost all credibility on this issue the day they decided to make an unexperienced egotistical bigot their party nominee.  Don't tell me you're surprised that a hateful campaign produced a hateful president!
It should be mentioned that on Monday, Trump finally gave a stronger statement in which he called racism evil.  While his words (which he obviously didn't write) were an improvement, it still was a case of a little too little, a little too late.  If he really hates racism, why is his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who was considered too racist to be a judge back in the 1980's?  Why is one of Trump's top advisors Steve Bannon, a self proclaimed member of the white nationalist alt right movement?
Amazingly, this has all gotten even worse!  Today, Trump gave a press conference in which he ignored his stronger words delivered on Monday and doubled down on his original comments.  Conjuring up some imaginary image of the violent "alt left", Trump implied that many of the marchers were not actual white supremacists (did he not see the flags?) and that the violence that occurred happened because of the alternate protestors attacks.  He failed to mention that the man who plowed into a group of anti-Nazi protestors was described by a former teacher of having once written a paper that was “very much along the party lines of the neo-Nazi movement,”.  Instead, as Trump put it:  “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent.  Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”  Words fail me as to how many excuses one man can make to not condemn a racist rally in the proper way that an American leader should in 2017.  So I'll just close this by quoting  David Duke again in a tweet:  “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville."



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

DANGEROUS SABER RATTLING


During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump broke precedent by using blunt, unsubtle rhetoric time and time again.  This especially applied to his talk about the military and his expected roll as commander in chief;  saying he would "blow the shit" out of Isis, and use "waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse" on suspected terrorists were common statements from him.  These childish comments were often mentioned when people like myself said that he lacked the proper temperament to be president.  Sadly, his base seemed to love him for it.
So here we are, less than a year into his presidency, and already that blunt talk of his may lead to some dangerous consequences.  Recently, in the wake of the UN passing sanctions against his country, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has ramped up his own threats against the US, discussing the possibility of attacking Guam, which has an American base.  He has even raised the specter of launching  nuclear missiles at the US, although according to the New York Times, there's some debate as to whether such an attack is possible.  Trump's response to these threats was something no president has every publicly said before: he said that North Korea faced "fire and fury like the world has never seen."  Although the implied use of nuclear weapons against our enemies has been part of American foreign policy since the late 1940's, no president has ever so openly and forcefully threatened another country in this manner.  The fact that he made those comments while vacationing at a golf course adds to the surreal nature of what this country has become since he took office!

To be fair to Trump, there are no easy answers to the problem of North Korea; Kim Jong-Un is an absolute unstable dictator, and the new round of sanctions will probably have little affect other than making him angrier.  He seems determined to develop more and stronger weapons, realizing that the possibility of a vicious nuclear strike will prevent invasion from other countries.  Despite all of this, Trump's approach of threatening some kind of a massive attack is frightening and over the top; hopefully he and his advisors realize that both a nuclear strike or a military invasion of North Korea would be an epic disaster, with perhaps millions of lives being lost.  Given those stakes, it's terrifying that the fate of the world now rests in the hands of two hot headed, egotistical men.  All we can hope for now is that the people around them are smarter and more level headed then they are, and that they will listen to them.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

OBMACARE SURVIVES FOR NOW




Shortly after he won reelection in 2004, President George W Bush, armed with Republican majorities in the house and the senate, planned to spend the political capital he had gained from his victory by "reforming" Social Security.  His plan for privatization proved so unpopular that congress never even debated it.  At one point, the more he promoted it publicly, the less people seemed to like it.  The Republicans in congress now have made a similar discovery when it comes to repealing Obamacare: people who rely on a government program don't like to see changes in that program, especially when it appears that those changes will hurt them or their family members.  It's common sense: people would rather stick with something that seems to mostly work for them, rather than try something that may not work at all.
It may only be seven years old, and it may have had a wobbly beginning, but Obamacare (or as it should be known as in the future, the American Health Care Plan) is starting to reach the same sacred space that Social Security and Medicare have in this country: that is, it's a program that has helped millions of Americans and that most people don't want changed.  It's also painted the Republican party into a corner; for years, Republican congress members repeatedly voted to repeal it, knowing full well that then president Obama would veto their repeal, making their vote a purely symbolic one, a simple way to whip up their anti Obama constituents without actually having to do anything.  But when Trump somehow won the presidency, they were forced to actually work out a plan that would not only repeal but also replace Obamacare.  And then their problems began, the major one being that the Republican economic philosophy of tax cuts for the rich and the defunding of federal government programs is not one that coincides with making health care more widely available for Americans.  While millions of citizens are still without healthcare under Obamacare, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reviewed every version of the Republican bill and estimated that it would result in around twenty two to twenty three million more people losing their health care in this country, and in a cruel bit of irony, most of those people live in states that went for Trump.  These estimates have rendered the bill's popularity in the country as toxic (it's popularity has reached as low as 17%!), so toxic that even several Republican members of the senate have said they can't vote for it in its current state, and it appears that repeal is dead.
For his part, President Trump has done a poor job of pushing for the bill, discussing it without seeming to really know what's in it, and at one point even calling the House of Representatives version "mean"!  Certainly, it does fall short of his lofty promises made on the campaign trail about replacing Obamacare with a system in which everyone would be covered and see their premiums go down (hardly a plan that would have gotten through a Republican congress!).  Unfortunately, his  new plan of "letting Obamacare fail" can gain some traction, as he has certain powers (like refusing to release federal funds to repay health care companies that cover the poor) that he can employ.  Hopefully, one of his advisers will sit him down and point out to him that the American public will not allow a president to continually blame his predecessor for everything that goes wrong in his presidency.  If Obamacare fails, voters will know who to look at to blame for its failure.  And I doubt they will forget.

Friday, June 30, 2017

LIES, LIES, LIES



“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”- Donald Trump, THE ART OF THE DEAL

Our president is a liar, and that doesn't even scratch the surface of him; he lies constantly, in nearly every speech or interview.  He lies to support his policies, underline his childish insults and puff up his bloated ego.  And he doesn't just evade, use obfustication, or exaggerate, like all politicians do, he just straight up says things that are factually incorrect.  How much does he lie?  The New York Times recently ran a huge list of all of his lies since he took the oath of office on January 21st.
Here's what it looked like:
100 lies in 6 months

 And note that those are only the lies he's told as president, it doesn't count his years of lying about Barack Obama's birth certificate, or mention the fact that when he finally, reluctantly, admitted that Obama was a legitimate American citizen, he still lied about who started the conspiracy!
So our president lies constantly, in a manner unprecedented for any other president.  But what's worse to me is why he lies; I've said before that I believe that Trump is truly a psychopath, and they have an enormously inflated sense of self importance, which is where a large part of his dishonesty comes from.  Here is a man who never apologizes, openly refers to himself as smart, and sees his six bankruptcies as good business moves.   His main guiding principle in life (perhaps his only one) is that he, Donald Trump,  is a great, amazing, and  virtually god like person, and he wants all other people to agree with that principle. So it's easy for him to go from being  a man who's donated to Democrats and Planned Parenthood to being a rabid Republican who wants to defund Planned Parenthood.  When he started publicly questioning Obama's birth certificate, he found that it made him popular with Republican voters, so he just kept repeating it, soaking up their adulation and doubling down on his dishonesty (He once claimed to have investigators in Hawaii who were finding out "amazing things" about Obama's birth certificate.  We still haven't heard from them.).  And when he started giving speeches at his rallies, his posture and body language clearly showed him feeding off the crowd's adulation, literally almost swelling up with pride as he spoke.  From the beginning, it was obvious that he would just say things to make the crowd cheer for him, with his lies getting bigger and bolder ("Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are  the cofounders of Isis!") as the campaign went on.  Many people in the crowd realized that he was not telling the truth, but they were untruths that they wanted to hear, that espoused a world view they agreed with, so they cheered anyway, building an almost circular symbiotic relationship of lies between him and his crowds.
And he can pivot on a dishonest dime if he needs to; during the campaign, Trump spoke repeatedly about The New York Times, saying that it was "failing" and "dishonest".  But after he won, he did an interview with reporters from The Times, in which he openly praised the paper and humbly said that he hoped he would "make them proud".  And then he went right back to giving speeches assaulting the Times, as if he had never met with those reporters!  How can he do this?  Again, his guiding principle is to convince everyone else in the world of his greatness, so he will calibrate what he says to one group of people, and then completely change his words when speaking to another, and again, while all politicians learn to do this, he takes it to an extreme.  He can be superficially charming to a person's face, and then have no qualms about stabbing them in the back once they're gone.
Will Trump's lies every really catch up with him?  Sadly, they haven't so far, but hopefully someday, when the coal and manufacturing jobs don't come back, and his healthcare policies harm people who live in states that voted for him, people will start to see him for the habitual liar that he is and turn on him.  Really, it can't happen soon enough.

Monday, June 19, 2017

OUR VIOLENT, DIVIDED COUNTRY

FBI Agents look over the crime scene

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

Saturday, June 3, 2017

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM?


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

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

FROM THE TOP DOWN



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

Pictured above: America, sadly enough

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