HELLO

Whether you're a fan of my OSCARBLOGGER site, or if you're just casting your way 'round the web, I hope you enjoy my new blog: WHISPERING IN A WIND TUNNEL. Here I will discuss issues of politics, religion, race, gay rights, gender, you know, the big stuff.

Friday, May 12, 2017

THE COMEY MESS


The stereotype has been around for years: Republicans are the daddy party, Democrats are the mommy party.  The daddy party will keep the country safe by spending more money on defense, making sure you can buy any kind of gun you want and acting tough.  And it dispenses tough love by saying that you have to earn what you have, sink or swim.  The mommy party wants the country to more fair by making sure that schools are well payed for, and that the poor and middle class should be given some help.  While both of these stereotypes are often untrue, (although Republicans like to paint Democrats as weak on defense, the US's defense budgets under Barack Obama were still much larger than any other country's)  they still seem to define both parties in the modern world.   This is especially true in right wing media, where accusations of Democrats "feminizing" our country are common place.
One of the realities of these seemingly different world views, is just how much more aggressive the Republican party is grabbing onto and holding power; put simply, they always seem to want to lead more than the Democrats do.  Back in the presidential election debacle of 2000, they very effectively pushed the narrative that Al Gore was trying to "steal" the election with recounts.  And then when George W Bush won with out winning a majority of the popular vote, he swaggered into office as if he had a sweeping mandate from the people instead of a narrow victory in a deeply divided country.  And the Democrats in congress, for the most part, went along with it; some of them even voted for his tax cut plan.
 
Conversely, when Barack Obama won a far more sweeping victory in 2008, the Republican party acted as if his win was not legitimate, from spreading false rumors about Obama's birthplace to filibustering his every move in the senate, they showed none of the acceptance that the Democrats had in 2000.  And in 2016, the Democratic party got more overall votes, but hold no majorities in congress, thanks to Republican drawn congressional districts,  while Democrats saw another presidential candidate go down to defeat while winning the popular vote.  Somehow, in a divided country, the Republicans have gamed the system, giving them more power than they proportionally should have.
This lust for raw power has now lead the Republican party into supporting and defending both a
candidate and president that may be threatening American democracy itself.  They fell in line with Donald Trump as a candidate, despite his lack of experience, and racist and misogynistic comments, and now that his actions as president are becoming less and less easy to defend, the vast majority still stand with him. Just a few days ago, he  fired James Comey, the head of the FBI, in a completely unprecedented move; although the firing is within presidential power, and he's not the first to do it, the firing came while the FBI was still investigating Trump's campaign ties to Russia.  While Trump's people have given a flurry of answers as to why he did this, from Comey mishandling the Clinton email investigation (which Trump actually praised on the campaign trail), to workers at the FBI losing confidence in him (which was contradicted by testimony from actual FBI members), to Trump himself in an interview dismissing  Comey  as "a grand stander" and "a showboat." (Projecting a little there, Donald?).    The most convincing reason to me is that POLITICO magazine reports that Trump would watch TV reports on the continuing Russian investigation and scream and yell at the screen like a psychopathic toddler, leading to him inevitably lashing out at Comey, foolishly assuming that this would somehow end the Russian investigation.
The good news is that the Comey firing has had the opposite effect, drawing even more attention to the possible treasonous collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  The bad news is that the Republican party is still almost entirely standing behind him, with Mitch McConnell and others rejecting a call for an independent investigation.  Worst of all, as an apparent distraction, Trump has appointed a panel to investigate so called voter fraud, a panel that includes Kris Kobach, a proponent of tough voter laws that inevitably target minority voters.  (In yet another example of their raw quest for power, the Republican party has no problem with suppressing the rights of minority voters to gain a political advantage.)
Yes, just as they ignored Trump's  use of the White House to expand his and his family's wallets, while appointing unqualified  family members into important positions (the president's son in law Jared Kushner, has been given many different governmental duties, including negotiations in the middle east, not bad for a real estate business inheritor with no political experience!).  And they ignored or tried to defend  his absurd accusations of millions of illegal voters going to the polls, or that Barack Obama had him wire tapped.  And now here they are, going along with Trump as he tries to distract and move the country along from what could be the biggest presidential scandal in our nation's history.  In the past few days, there have been numerous comparisons made between Trump and Richard Nixon, and while many of these are apt (Nixon fired a special prosecutor instead of the head of the FBI, but the nature of the firing was very similar), the sad fact of the matter is that in Nixon's time, there were enough Republicans of principle willing to stand up to him in the face of obvious wrong doing.  Do such Republicans even exist today?  Perhaps a handful, but for the most part it appears that the Republican party is just fine with Trump acting more and more like a corrupt third world dictator than a president as long as he can bring them the tax cuts for the rich, rollback of environmental regulations  and the removal of Obamacare that they so crave for.  It's getting really hard to feel any kind of patriotism for this country and its leader these days.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

WHEN WAS AMERICA GREAT?



In the many, many analytical articles that have been written about the still shocking result of the 2016 presidential election, one theme is often repeated: among  Clinton's problems was a lack of a compelling message, a strong reason as to why she should be president.  The slogan her campaign came up with was the vaguely feminist "I'm With Her",  which obviously failed to break through. *

On the other hand, Donald Trump's campaign slogan was, I must admit, simple, catchy and memorable, even if it made me cringe every time I saw it.  Part of the success of "Make America Great Again" was that it echoed the slogan of Ronald Reagan's popular 1980 campaign slogan, "Let's Make America Great Again", giving older, Reagan loving voters a nostalgic connection.  More importantly, it implied that once upon a time there was a glorious time in America in which all was wonderful, and somehow Trump was going to take us back there.  But back where?  When exactly was this glorious time?
Well, many people look at the 1950's , as a time when America appeared to be prosperous and happy.  The both ridiculed and loved TV shows of that era, like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET portrayed a peaceful, suburban view of the country, with parents in traditional family roles and children that were respectful of them.  In stark contrast to the tumultuous times of the 60's,  the 50's are seen as a time of wholesome values.
But were the 50's such a perfect time?  Well, as with many things in life, the truth lies in the middle.  Culturally, the 1950's was certainly a conservative time, with segregation still the law in Southern states, women treated as second class citizens, and gay people all closeted, it certainly was a good time for heterosexual white men.  But here's the odd part of the 50's: it was also a time of progressive economic policies.  The top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was around ninety percent(!).

Image Take from Business Insider

Even with all the various write offs and deductions rich people could make, it's safe to say that they were paying a much higher rate than the current rate of thirty nine percent.  So the government, led  Republican war hero Dwight Eisenhower, had money to spend, and it was mainly spent on three things: education, infrastructure, and scientific research, and the result was the largest growth of the middle class in our nation's history, as better schools, roads, highways and bridges, along with advances in science, made for a happier populace.  This is the part of the 1950's that conservatives seems to forget, they just revere the traditional values  and forget the part about how government investment in the country made our nation more, well, swell.
Looked at historically, the notion that high taxes  on the wealthiest Americans can't  lead to economic growth simply doesn't hold up, and yet  the Republican mantra of tax cuts for the wealthy is still one that holds sway in modern America.  To me it  seems to be more about rewarding wealthy campaign donors than spurring the economy.  Hopefully, someday the government will come to its senses and realize that government spending, done properly, can result in more of the kind of widespread prosperity that Trump promised but will probably fail to deliver.  Interestingly, the one thing I do agree with him on is his proposed plan to increase infrastructure spending by a trillion dollars, which is sorely needed.  But, considering his budget and tax proposals don't allow for that kind of spending, it seems that that promise from him is just another one of his many lies.


*And really, this just plays up to the fact that she has often been a hard luck candidate: back in 2008, while running against Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, she decided not to play up her gender, and she lost.  In 2016 she played up her gender more, (which seemed logical while running against a man with multiple sexual assault charges!), and yet she still lost.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

THE WHIMS OF THE SENATE



Well, when it comes to the passage of a disastrous health care bill in the House of Representatives, it would appear that the third time's the charm.  When the first health care bill was with held from a vote in March, it looked like the majority Republicans couldn't even compromise with each other.  After another attempt failed attempt, it looked like the party might give up entirely.  But today, by a final vote of 217 to 213, it squeaked through.  One of the lessons they learned from before was to push the bill through before the non partisan Congressional Budge Office could give a full report as to its expected full effect.  But such analysis is not needed when it's clear to see effect of a  bill that cuts a stunning eight hundred and eighty billion dollars from Medicaid over the next ten years, ends most protections for people with pre existing conditions, and guts Planned Parenthood while also handing a huge tax cut to the rich, will have.  Healthcare premiums will rise, and tens of millions of Americans will be unable to afford it.  The fact that the American Medical Association, the American Association of Retired People and several other prominent health groups oppose the bill means nothing to them.
As with each version of the bill, President Trump has supported it without seeming to know what's in it.  Although it comes nowhere near the healthcare plan he claimed to support on the campaign trail, he will, of course, ignore what he said earlier, and his promise of cheaper coverage for all will go down as  just another one of the many lies he told in order to win.  He obviously cares more about his own personal goal of destroying Barack Obama's legacy than he does about the millions of people who will lose healthcare if he signs the bill.  His own glory is his only concern.
So all we have left to stop a bill that will prove horrible to most Americans is the Senate.  The good news is that the Republicans have only a slim majority (52-48), and even if they use a rule that avoids the filibuster, there are some moderate Republicans  who may see the light.  Even better, not only does this bill stand a chance of going down to defeat, all of the Republican house members who voted for it are going to have to somehow defend a bill that is wildly unpopular in the polls in 2018 when they run for reelection. So, it's possible that  the House Republicans cheering today may be sealing their own doom.  I certainly hope so.

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.