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.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

CRAZY BEDFELLOWS



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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS


In what is yet another ground breaking moment in modern presidential history, President Trump recently marked his first big legislative victory and then almost immediately saw a scandal explode in his face.  He is the first president ever to be so heavily investigated about a possibly impeachable scandal so early in his regime.  While it seems like decades since he first ranted his way into office, it hasn't even been a year yet.
First, the good news for Trump; the Senate recently passed a massive tax cut bill that he has been pushing for.  Although there will have to be a few changes made to square the Senate bill with the one that the House of Representatives passed a short time ago, that's mostly a formality, and the bill will probably be on the president's desk before the new year.  After he was unable to get the Senate to repeal Obamacare, this is a big win for him.
But is the bill good news for the American people?  For the vast majority, the answer is a resounding no: it's centerpiece is a reduction in the corporate tax rate; it is assumed that the money saved by companies will be spent on hiring more workers and raising salaries for the workers they already have.  But there's no guarantee that that will be the result, and, based on past corporate behavior,  it's far more likely that the money will be used to benefit the companies already wealthy stockholders and CEO's.  While the tax plan does contain some cuts for most middle class people, those cuts are set to expire sometime in the next decade, while the ending of the estate tax, which benefits literally only the wealthiest 1% of Americans, will not be coming back.  The tax bill will blow a hole in deficit of well over a trillion dollars, the same deficit that the Republican party was so worried about increasing while Obama was president.  And the changes it makes to the Affordable Care Act are estimated to take healthcare away from a stunning thirteen  million people.  This bill is a complete repudiation of the populist campaign that Trump ran; from his claim to speak for "the forgotten man" to his frequent bashing of Wall Street, he always said that he wanted to help the common worker.  And he's about to sign a bill that will do nothing for them, and even worse, the lowering of government revenue may very well result in cuts to Medicare and Social Security, the very programs he pledged to protect.  To top it all off, he recently gave a speech claiming that this bill was going to be bad for him; as the New York Times pointed out, his leaked tax returns of 2005 show that the plan  will save him at least a billion dollars.  So, add yet another lie to the list of the many, many ones he has told as president.
Even the drafting of the bill was despicable; it was passed on a party line vote with little to no real debate, and once it was sure of passage, new provisions were literally penciled into it in the wee hours of the morning.  There's even an antiabortion provision!  Quite frankly, the passage of this bill will see the country drift even more towards third world status, with more and more total wealth being held by fewer and fewer people, while the poor and middle class will have worse healthcare and education choices.  It may be a bigger disaster than the aborted Obamacare repeal, and that's saying something.
And now to the bad news for Trump: former National Security Advisor Micheal Flynn has admitted guilt to lying to the FBI (among other charges) and has accepted a plea bargain in return for aiding special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into just how much the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in the 2016 election and whether or not the president has obstructed justice by trying to kill the investigation.  This is very bad news for Trump: for one thing, it's the third felony conviction made against members of his administration (Paul Manafort and George Papadopolous were both charged last month) and it definitely looks like this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The investigation will probably lead to an inquiry and possible charges made against the president's son in law Jared Kushner.  Yes, it's quite possible that very soon we will get another unprecedented political moment; a president that pardons a member of his own family.
Just how far will the investigations go?  At this point it's hard to say.  But one thing to note is that, once the tax bill is passed, the congressional Republicans may be more willing to cut him loose.  With his low approval ratings and increasingly erratic behavior, there may come a time when the Republicans feel that President Pence (or even Ryan) would be easier to deal with.  And the fact that Trump's constant state of anger and childish tweets have lead him to attack Republican members of congress may come back to haunt him.  It would be nice for once in his life for Trump to realize that lying, boasting and childish insults are not the way to run a country, or even manage an Arby's, for that matter.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Hypocrites?



Human beings are innately tribal animals and that is not always a bad thing.  Immediately identifying with other people in your tribe is a way to bond people together and create strong communities.  Thousands of years ago it was important to our survival as a species. But tribalism can make someone too  loyal to members of your own group.  What's happening with the Republican party in Alabama is a perfect example, with party members dismissing the sexual assault of a  minor charges against Senatorial candidate Roy Moore as just part of the deceptive liberal media.  Some have even said that they will support him even if the charges are true, because they still couldn't vote for a Democrat.  Tribalism at it's worst!
But if there is one thing that is truly bipartisan, it's powerful men engaging in (or being accused of) sexual harassment.   From Democratic big money donor  Harvey Weinstein to Republican Senator David Vitter, men in leadership positions often can't seem to control their libidos.  Recently, Democratic Senator Al Franken has come under fire; back in 2008, when he was just known as a comedian and author, he went on a USO tour with a woman named Leeann Tweeden.  She claims that he wrote a sketch that ended with him kissing her, and he then proceeded to kiss her aggressively in rehearsal.  A picture of him  pretending to grope her while she was asleep has also emerged.  To Franklin's credit, he has apologized for his behavior and encouraged an ethics committee investigation into it.  In a desperate attempt to deflect attention away from Moore, the Republican party has seized on Franklin's behavior as deplorable, which is kinda like robbing a bank and then distracting people by pointing at someone shoplifting  a candy bar!
The Franklin charges, such as they are, are relatively easy for Democrats to deflect. Even Tweeden herself has said that she doesn't think that he should resign.   But other charges against Democrats aren't so easy to dismiss; recently Senate member Kirsten Gillibrand bluntly stated that she thinks Bill Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a shocking statement given that Clinton is still a popular party figure.  While I don't agree with her on the Lewinsky scandal, I admire Gillibrand's courage in taking on a former president.  Let's remember that the Lewinsky scandal was about Bill Clinton having a consensual affair with an intern and then lying about it under oath; while I think it was a stupid thing to do, I think congressional censure would have been enough punishment.  But the Lewinsky scandal was just one of several charges made against Clinton.  There was also Paula Jones, who claims that Clinton once exposed himself to her and demanded oral sex, and Juanita Broaddrick, who claims that Clinton once tried to force himself on her, biting her lip hard enough to draw blood.  Given Clinton's acknowledged womanizing, are these charges unbelievable?  Certainly not, and the fact that Jones was given a settlement of over eight hundred thousand dollars (but no public apology) would seem to imply that there was some merit to her charges.
So should Clinton have stepped down because of these charges?  I must admit that I certainly didn't think so at the time.  In the 1990's, the right wing media was awash in outrageous claims against the Clintons: some said that they had had former White House Aide Vince Foster murdered (the birther movement of the 90's!), or that they had dealt drugs from the Governor's Mansion when Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas.  In this climate of mud throwing, the charges of Jones and Broaddrick seemed like just more baseless right wing attacks.  But were they? In my rush to defend a member of my tribe, was I, and other progressives like me, dismissing charges that very well may have been true?  It's hard to say; I certainly remember the excitement I felt when Clinton was elected after twelve years of Republican rule, and the fact that under him, the 90's were a time of peace and prosperity in this country didn't hurt my opinion of him either.  But does any of that matter, given the nature of the charges against him?  Is my disgust at the sexual assault charges against Moore and President Trump as much political as it is personal?  I honestly can't say, although I do now think that perhaps Clinton never should have been the Democratic candidate way back in 1992, and that for all his rhetorical gifts and leadership skills, his already established record of womanizing should have disqualified him.  But, given his victory in that election, maybe I'm wrong.  There's really no way to know just when our personal bias towards people ends and our political beliefs begin.  It's seems sexual harassment charges have made hypocrites of all of us.

Monday, November 13, 2017

FAMILY VALUES?


The state of Alabama recently voted for former judge Roy Moore to be the Republican candidate for the Senate.  This was in spite of (or perhaps, because of) controversial stands and statements that Moore has made in the past.  He first came to national attention in 2003 when, as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he refused to remove a ten commandments monument from the court house despite there being a federal order to do so.  He then went on to stake positions on the right that even most Republicans would find repulsive: from saying that homosexuals should be jailed to believing that Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office.  He was also a prominent birther, attacked evolution and defended the Confederacy. Sadly, none of these views hurt his standing in the party, and even worse, probably will help him in his Senate race.
It seemed like Moore was coasting to a victory until November 9th., when a Washington Post story broke claiming that when Moore was thirty two years old, he dated and had sex with a fourteen year old girl named Leigh Corfman.  The age of consent in Alabama at the time was sixteen, making this a crime.  Several other women have come forward to say that Moore dated them when they were under eighteen; he also allegedly bought them alcohol.  Moore has denied all the charges, claiming that they were "a desperate political attack by the National Democratic Party and The Washington Post".  This despite corroboration on the story from Corfman's mother, the assertion by one of his former colleagues that  "It was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls", and  the fact that Corfman herself is a Republican Trump voter, the notion that these charges are the result of a progressive media hit becomes less and less likely.  Some right wing media members have even tried to compare these allegations to the various Bill Clinton sexual scandals, as if a childish cry of "everybody else does it too!" somehow exonerates Moore's behavior.
The response to these allegations have been sadly predictable: while Senator John McCain and former Governor Mitt Romney  have stated that he should step down, and some other Republicans have withdrawn their support, party members in Alabama have mostly stood by him.  And, in what may be the single loopiest defense in political history, Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler compared Moore to Joseph in the bible, saying "take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”  Not only is he defending a modern law breaker with something that supposedly happened thousands of years ago, but he seems to have forgotten the meaning of the words Virgin  Mary!
And then there's the Trump administration; today White House officials have released a statement saying that Moore must be given a chance to defend himself before dropping out of the race.  This certainly is no surprise given that the president himself has been accused of sexual assault by no less than twelve women, all of whom he has dismissed as liars, despite the appearance of an Access Hollywood videotape in which he clearly can be heard bragging about making the exact same kind of assault on women that his accusers have claimed that he did.  An accused sexual assaulter defending an accused sexual predator is where this country has gotten to, and it's really no surprise.
The worst part of this is that there is still a very good chance that Moore will win his special election next month and join the Senate.  Unfortunately, the country is now so divided that even criminal allegations of pedophilia are not enough to stop Republicans in the state from voting for their side.  Really, why should they be expected to?  The same party that preaches family values and moral rectitude nominated a man for president who's been married three times and has had his sexual exploits paraded in tabloids for years.  All that really matters is winning.  Just ask one of Moore's defenders, Bibb County Republican chair Jerry Pow, who said he vote for Moore "even if the candidate committed a sex crime".   That, in a nut shell, is everything wrong with this deeply divided country today.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM



Just over a week ago, America suffered through the worst mass shooting in our nation's history, with more than fifty people killed and over five hundred wounded.   The shooter was an older white man with no religious affiliation or history of violence, who horrifically carefully set up his hotel suite to be a killing stronghold to maximize the number of people he could shoot before being stopped.
As always, the first reaction in the wake of such a shooting is for the blue side of this country to say that some kind of gun control laws must be passed, while the red side responds that now is not the time to have that discussion because it politicizes" the tragedy (although if the shooter had been a Muslim, there would have been no hesitation to politicize the shooting).  While it appears that this shooting will inspire the same thing as every other recent mass shooting has, that is, little to nothing, there does appear a possibility that both the NRA and their friends in congress will support banning  bump stocks, a device that the shooter used, which can, when attached to a rifle properly, turn a semi automatic into a fully automatic.   While this is hardly a major shift in the NRA's normal reaction to mass shootings, it does show that they are at least open to some kind of legislation.
But then a cynic may point out that bump stocks are mostly manufactured by a small independent company that can't afford the kind of enormous donations to the NRA that other larger gun manufacturers can.  In other words, banning bump stocks won't hurt the bottom line for the gun companies who pump millions of dollars into the NRA every year to support what they see as their unfettered right to sell guns to almost anyone with the money to buy one.  And that really gets to the root of the problem: money.
American politics is awash in money.  Although there are some limits to just how much money can be donated, there are numerous loop holes that allow the rich and the powerful far more influence than the average voter.  And it's only gotten worse in recent years:  in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that donations from corporations and unions are considered a form of free speech and are unlimited when given to a candidate's Political Action Committee instead of a candidate directly.  Which opened the floodgates; in 2016 Clinton raised over a billion dollars for her campaign, with Trump closely behind.  And that doesn't count the countless billions that go into congressional elections, state and local elections and votes on propositions.
Personally, I think that the Supreme Court's ruling that equates  money with speech was undemocratic, essentially legalizing political bribery.  While running a campaign is obviously expensive, the debt that politicians owe to big money donors dwarfs the debt they owe to their constituents, not to mention the amount of time they have to spend calling potential donors and attending fund raisers instead of doing the jobs they were elected to do.
And then consider just how much advantage political spending gives to the rich in spreading a message to the world.  For decades now, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have been funneling massive amounts of cash into campaigns and think tanks with the intention of discrediting the science behind climate change.  Sadly, their spending has had an effect; even as more Americans believe that climate change is happening and is man made than not (48% to 31% according to a 2016 Pew research poll), the Koch brothers money has brought victory to conservative candidates opposed to any kind environmental regulations across the nation, public opinion be damned. 
Money in politics effects so much in this country: it's why Republicans tried to pass a repeal of Obamacare that was supported by only 20% of the country, because their big money donors demanded action.  It's why our income taxes are so complicated, because big corporate accounting companies like Turbo Tax don't want Americans to do their own taxes.  It's why we keep minting new pennies every year, even though we certainly don't need any, because the  Jarden Corporation lobbies congress to get the penny minting contract every year.
So what can we do about this situation?  Well, other countries have realized that a mix of government funding and private funding, but as long as we have a Supreme Court that feels that money is speech, there really isn't much that we can do.  Unfortunately, political groups like the NRA and donors like the Koch brothers will pushing their agendas with cash for years to come.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

THE RETURN OF THE VOODOO


With his continual lying, childish insults and petty vindictiveness, Donald Trump has proven to truly be a president like no other.  But in some ways, he has been just another modern Republican: he denies the science of climate change, surrounds himself with hateful homophobes, and now he has just released a tax plan that greatly favors corporations and rich Americans, in much the same way that Ronald Reagan and George W Bush's tax plans did.  So much for the forgotten middle class man that he claims to stand for!
The constant drum beat for more and more tax cuts really began in the nineteen eighties, when Ronald Reagan, promoting a theory put forth by the ironically named Arthur Laffer, claimed that tax cuts paid for themselves by increasing economic growth.  During the primaries, then primary opponent to Reagan George Bush called the idea "voodoo economics", although he later swallowed his pride and supported Reagan's tax cutting after becoming vice president.  And while there definitely was some economic growth during those years, the massive national deficit that those tax cuts created, showed just how absurd the idea of tax cuts paying for themselves was.  And the eighties sadly began a trend that continues to this day, with the middle class losing ground in this country as the rich get richer.

And yet, here it is decades later, and the Republican party is still pushing this crazy idea.  This despite the enormous economic growth that occurred in the nineties even after President Clinton raised taxes, and the lack of growth that occurred after George W Bush cut them.
The tax issue is just another way that the modern Republican party is both supported by and completely out of touch with its base.  They win elections on racial divisive issues like building a wall with Mexico and demonizing undocumented immigrants, and then once in office go about trying to overturn Obamacare, which would hurt states that went for Trump most of all, and cutting taxes for the rich, which has hardly any benefit to the blue collar  middle class white voters who put him in office.
Trump's response to this is, as always, to lie, claiming that the tax cuts wouldn't benefit him at all, even though his most recent released tax returns show that he would save millions every year under the plan.  The rest of the party is more subtle in their lies, claiming that the tax plan would help "middle class" families, implying that people who have six figure salaries are somehow in the middle class!  While I do think some Republicans honestly believe that tax cuts will help the country on the whole, I believe privately most of them realize that modern politics is run on money, and big money donors to the Republican party expect a return on their investment with tax cuts for them or their  businesses.
There's an even more cynical aspect to this: the Trump plan, if passed, would blow a hole in the federal deficit to the tune of one and half to two trillion dollars over the next ten years!  It would take an awful lot of economic growth to make up for that, but do Republicans really want to?  Remember that for years now they have wanted to reduce the size of (or privatize) Social Security and Medicare, despite how popular those programs are with the general public.  Why? Because they disprove the argument that federal government programs designed to help the poor (Social Security was created during the depression to help impoverished seniors) actually work.  Just cutting the programs as a matter of course would be politically dangerous, but by saying that the cuts would have to be made in light of the government having less revenue might be the way to convince the public that those cuts are necessary to save them.  It's the kind of bait and switch that is falsely called "fiscal responsibility", when what it should be really called is a hand out to rich donors, paid for by the poor and middle class.

Friday, September 1, 2017

TWO OF A KIND



In a depressing, but not surprising move, last Friday Donald Trump pardoned convicted Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was famous for his racially motivated profiling of latinos in the state of Arizona.  In a typical lack of sympathy and human emotion, the following Monday Trump admitted that he picked the day that Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Texas to make his announcement of the pardon because, “Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they were normally.”  Yes, that is the President of the United States saying that he wanted to use the media hurricane warnings to help raise the ratings of his controversial announcement.  Once again, Trump has shown that his only interest in office is the same as it is in the rest of his life: to pump up his own bloated sense of self worth!
The Arpaio pardon is just the latest chapter in Trump's long string of playing to white supremacist attitudes, from saying that Barack Obama was not an American citizen to calling Mexican immigrants rapists.  But the Arpaio pardon is particularly galling in that his crimes were so horrible; known as "America's toughest Sheriff", he was actually far worse: he and his men would round up anyone that was Latino, demand citizenship papers, and jail anyone without such papers.  The conditions of his jail were so bad, he himself referred to it as a "concentration camp".  The prisoners were routinely brutalized and humiliated.  One woman claimed that she was shackled during her pregnancy, and not allowed to hold her baby after giving birth.  All in all, the legal bills the state was forced to pay out during his reign of terror ran into the tens of millions of dollars.   The final straw came when he refused to follow a court order that he stop racially profiling people who were not accused of committing a crime, an order that he publicly said he would refuse to follow.  Can we just sit back and take a minute to gawk at the spectacle of a self styled law and order candidate pardoning someone who openly broke the law?  
Now let's look at the recent history of white supremacy in this country: the Klu Klux Klan, which had mostly disbanded in the 1870's,  began their second reign of terror around a hundred years ago.  The number of Americans involved in that movement, or others like it, has waxed and waned over the last century.  A real spike in their membership began in the year 2000, when the gallup poll reported for the first time that white Americans were projected not to make up more than 50% of the population within forty years.   The election of Barack Obama in 2008 also sadly led to an increase in their numbers.
Given all of this, Trump's successful  sowing of white resentment was really more an inevitability than many of us thought: Trump is much worse than a terrible president, he is a negative reflection of  the racist attitudes of country, attitudes that so many of us wished were at the very least in decline.  Recently, in the wake of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, a recent poll found that 9% of Americans are OK with people having pro Nazi or white supremacist views.  While that may not sound like a lot, remember that in a country that has around three hundred and twenty million people, that 9% amounts to somewhere around thirty million.  Look at  the math, Trump won the presidency with sixty three million votes; assuming that all of those thirty million people who are OK with Nazi views voted for him (a safe assumption, given his campaign) and we can see that almost half of his voters were racially motivated bigots, who will never turn on him, no matter what he does, as long as he continues to do things like defend Nazi marchers and pardon people like Arpaio.  Those thirty million are single issue voters of the worst kind.  (Clinton was right, half of Trump's supporters were from a "basket of deplorables"!) All we can do is hope that we can sway the remaining thirty million not to support him next time.  Assuming he isn't impeached or resigns before then, which, given his erratic behavior, is a possibility.

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.

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.