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.

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

THE WHEELS ARE FLYING OFF



While I intensely disagree with almost everything Donald Trump stands for as both a political figure and a human being, I will give him his due and admit that he was right about one thing in his campaign: his unlikely march to the White House is a lot like the recent English vote on Brexit.  Like that vote, Trump went into election day an underdog and came out an unlikely winner, surprising the world and making many voters wonder what kind of country they were living in the next day.  Sadly, there are even more similarities: both campaigns were full of exaggerations, and outright lies, and both won out  on the votes of working class whites and their fear of immigrants and refugees.  And just like how many pro Brexit voters are admitting to now having buyer's remorse, many pro Trump voters are realizing that an unexperienced man who promised to "shake things up" in Washington may not be the best person to run this, or any country.
Yep, Trump has now been president for less than a month, and it feels like years to many of us.  While any presidential transition can expect some turbulence, especially when it involves a switch in party affiliation, Trump's transition has resulted in chaos.  It's so jolting to move from the cool, professional Obama administration to this drunken herd of elephants led by a lying narcissist! From the craziness of his foreign travel ban, to spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway violating ethics laws by openly advertising for his daughter's product line on television, to him still maintaining that somehow millions of illegal immigrants voted in the election, it's hard to believe he's barely into his first term.

 Today Andrew Puzder, his controversial choice for Labor Secretary, withdrew his name from nomination due to serious questions about his hiring of an undocumented immigrant as a maid, among other things.  And that's not even a big deal; the big deal is that Micheal Flynn, who had been appointed to be National Security Advisor, had to step down after only days in the post due to a possibly illegal phone call he made to Russia before he was a member of the Trump administration. The fact that Flynn, who led chants of "lock her up" about Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention, may himself be locked up, could be a delicious piece of irony.  And it  may just be the tip of the iceberg; new evidence has arisen showing that members of the Trump campaign were communicating with Russia during the campaign, although it is uncertain what that communication was about.  Could the Trump people have been conspiring with Russia on the release of embarrassing emails that Russian hackers obtained from the Democratic National Committee?   It's possible that we have a president who won by coordinating his campaign with a foreign power to give it an electoral advantage.  It may even be possible that Russia is pushing Trump to end sanctions that the Obama administration put in place by blackmailing him with wire tapped recordings of his recent trips to Russia, which may be  embarrassing, or even criminal.  Or it may just  be that his still unreleased tax returns would reveal  enormous economic dealings with Russia, dealings that would be put in jeopardy if he didn't end the sanctions.
Although getting a Republican majority congress to open investigations into what could be impeachable (and outright treasonous!) actions by Trump may not be easy, some are getting the message, like Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.  Remember, when Trump started winning primary victories at the start of his campaign, there was a general belief that he would do irreparable harm to the Republican party.  Once he surprisingly won, the party generally seemed pleased to have one of their own in the White House, but  given his insane first month,  he still may destroy the party.  Sadly, now he could take the whole damn country with it!

Monday, January 30, 2017

WELL, THAT WAS FAST





It is generally believed that the first 100 days of a new presidency  is a real make or break period, in which a generally positive feeling from the public combines with new cabinet members to make some real changes in both the country and the world.  If that's true, the next 90 days are going to be hellish.
Donald Trump spent the first week of his presidency lying about the size of his inauguration, attacking the media, and lying about how he would have won the popular vote if millions of  undocumented  immigrants hadn't illegally voted.  (While defending that last claim, Sean Spicer, the president's press secretary, was reduced to saying the president "believes what he believes", without any proof whatsoever.)
He also signed a number of executive orders (while Republicans who once attacked Obama for signing such orders were strangely silent).  Most of them passed with some debate in the media but there was not a lot of outcry; and then came last Friday when the president signed an  order entitled "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States".   And with that, ten days into his presidency, with all the dignity of a hippopotamus trying to tap dance, Trump  hit his first Constitutional crisis.
The order indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees, and temporarily bans all people from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the US.  One of the worst of many lies that Trump stated on the campaign trail was the notion that refugees from Syria were not being vetted before entering the country; they are, in fact, heavily vetted in a process that lasts over a year.  And now many of them, who are literally fleeing for their lives, are having the door to safety shut in their face. Just how far this ban extends has already become debatable, with green card holders initially shut out, and then later allowed.  Trump has said it not about religion, but the fact that it makes exceptions for Christians from those banned countries shows what a lie that is.  It's also mysterious that of the seven countries that are banned, none of them have any ties to Trump's economic empire, but countries that do have such ties  are not on the list.  Saudi Arabia, for example, where 18 of the 19  terrorists that attacked us on 9/11 came from, is not  on the list; according to the New York Times, recent financial disclosures showed that Trump had several limited liability corporations there.  What could possibly be worse about this order?  How about that it was signed at the behest of White House Advisor Steve Bannon, the former editor of Breitbart News, an "alt right" white supremacist web site.
It should also be pointed out that this order is terrible even when the war on terror is considered: this kind of divisive, America against all Muslims move plays into the very West Vs. Middle East ideas promoted by ISIS and other terrorist groups, aiding their recruitment.  If America is ever going to win the war or terror, it can only be done with the help of Muslims standing up to terrorism with us.  This order alienates many potential allies.
On Saturday, a federal judge ruled that people already in airports in the US  could not be deported, but the ruling stopped short of taking on the very Constitutionality of the order.  Legal challenges will inevitably continue, and hopefully the whole thing will be thrown out.  Also, the chaos of the order has lead to enormous protests taking place in airports nationwide; this marks the second massive protest against President Trump only ten days into his first term.  And I say, keep up the pressure America.   Let the world know that our president does not speak for all of us.

Monday, January 23, 2017

NO SURPRISE






President Trump's advisor Kellyanne Conway recently gave an interview in which she defended him by coining an interesting term:"alternative facts," as in, you have your reality with your set of truths, and we have ours. Alternative facts could be the perfect term for Trump's entire political career.  While anyone who thinks they can be president has to have a sizable ego, It's clear that Trump's is so big that when he believes something to be real, he honestly thinks it must be, evidence be damned.  So if his inauguration had less people than Obama's, he can just say that the media is lying about it and leave it at that.   This  worldview has some frightening ramifications; in his inauguration address he painted a view of America in "carnage", wracked with violence and unemployment.  Even though violent crime is mostly down in this country, and unemployment is also low, his unrealistic,  almost apocalyptic view of the country means we may be in for an increase in tough on crime laws that could swell our already bloated prison population, combined with roll backs of "job killing" environmental  regulations that will make our air and water less clean and contribute to climate change.
And that's just of the tip of the iceberg that he could be steering us into; Trump clearly intends to be the same kind of president that he was a candidate.  Which means he will lie, insult and boast constantly, which was bad enough before, but now that he has the biggest military in the world behind him, could bring disaster on a global scale (his apocalyptic world view could become a reality!). Honestly, the best thing we can hope for with him is that his well documented short attention span will keep him from focusing too much on one thing, and that he will spend most of his time giving speeches in front of adoring crowds or engaging in pointless twitter wars with celebrities, while his more mature cabinet members (extreme conservatives  though they may be) actually engage in running the country.    It's depressing to think that former Exxon CEO and soon to be secretary of state Rex Tillerson may be all that stands between America and World War III, but here we are.

If anything positive can come from Trump's victory, it's that he has united and enraged the world against him; last weekend saw the women's march against Trump bring in what might have been the biggest protest in American history, with thousands more marching in cities like London, Paris and Berlin.  Let's hope this anger doesn't dissipate; really, what the left needs to do is what the Tea Party group did so effectively against Obama back in 2010: outspoken protest combined with electing congressional candidates who pledge to keep the president in check.  If they can somehow claim a mandate against a president who won the popular vote, then certainly the left can against one who didn't!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

HOW LEGITIMATE WAS THIS ELECTION?



And in another odd turn, the  CIA has submitted direct evidence that Russian hackers, working on the orders of  leader Vladimir Putin himself, hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee with the express purpose of undermining the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.  This raises the truly odd notion that for the first time ever, both the FBI and the KGB were on the same side, working to influence the election of the most powerful person on the planet.  In typical Trump fashion, the President-elect first denied Russia's involvement, going so far as to berate the CIA and compare their findings to their failed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq back in  2003.  But after a full on information briefing for him and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, even Trump himself has admitted that the DNC hacking came from Russia.
So just how much influence on the election did Putin have anyway?  We'll never really know, but it's undeniable that the leak of thousands of emails from the DNC, and their inevitable inspection and analysis by the media, dominated the headlines for weeks during the election.  Even though there was nothing criminal in them, and only a few things that could be considered truly embarrassing, to Clinton they put the words "Clinton" and "emails" next to each other in headlines, and that was enough to implant  the idea that she was somehow corrupt in the minds of voters.  This was then exploited by  Trump and his supporters gleefully, with chants of "lock her up" in regards to Clinton echoing through his speeches.  So Putin definitely had some influence.
Things get even stranger when one considers that Trump's refusal to release his tax returns (which, sadly, never became the major issue that it should have) may very well reveal that he has enormous financial dealings with Russia.  In fact, Trump's son Donald Jr. according to the Washington Post, in a posting on the website of eTurboNews, once said at a real estate conference in 2008, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets."  He also added "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."  Surely  Putin was aware of  that money pouring in, and he knew that he could use it  to leverage Trump, if Trump were elected, into dropping economic sanctions put in place by the Obama administration after Russia tried to annex Crimea.  Yes, it is entirely possible that we have a president who will ignore enormous human rights violations because he wants to protect his own wealth.  This may very well be true, and it's breath taking.  And something even a Republican congress should investigate.
While, sadly, there is no way to overturn the presidential election, can the country just agree that Trump is now a deeply weakened president with little to no mandate? When you  combine this hacking revelation with the fact that he lost the popular vote by three million people, how could anyone other than Trump himself come to that conclusion?