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.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A POSSIBLE BREAK


During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump (in)famously said that his supporters were so faithful, he could shoot someone in the middle of Times Square, and they'd still support him.  Sadly, that appears to be true, given the fact that no amount of scandals (Porn star affairs! Russian collusion! Whatever the hell Jared Kushner is doing!) can lower his approval ratings among a certain segment of the population.  Putting it bluntly, as long as he rants about immigration and can blame Democrats for not paying for  his wall (that, it should be mentioned, he repeatedly said that Mexico would pay for), around 35% of the American public will support him, even if he burns a cross on the White House lawn while worshipping an idol of Vladimir Putin.
Or so it would seem.  A possible breaking point may have finally arrived: acting on a promise he made on the campaign trail, and against the advice of some of his own economic advisors, on March 8th. Trump announced a tariff on steel and aluminum imports targeted at China.  On March 18th.  45 U.S. trade associations representing some of the largest companies in the country, urged him not to  do this, saying it would be “particularly harmful” to the U.S. economy and consumers.   On April 1st., China responded in kind, announcing tariffs of their own; two days later Trump plowed forward, announcing 50 billion dollars more in tariffs.  A day later, China responded with tariffs on over 100 American products. Last Thursday, Trump  threatened further tariffs worth 100 billion dollars.  Somehow, in the middle of all this, the president tweeted out that trade wars are easy to win (!), meanwhile the stock market (which he has always taken credit for when it rises) tumbled sharply as investors were spooked at where this game of economic chicken would end.
The part that gets really interesting is that China, not being stupid, specifically targeted for tariffs products that are manufactured in the American heartland, that is, Trump country.   Almost immediately, soy bean, corn and wheat farmers in middle America have been hurt by the tariffs.  With midterm elections around the corner, a Republican party president carrying out policies that are hitting the very people who supported him the most could prove disastrous for the party.  Already, some leading Republicans are pleading with him to stop, but to no avail.  While it is true that China has often pushed for economic advantages  globally that have hurt American manufacturing, most analysts feel that it would be better for the president to build a coalition of other countries working against China's unfair practices rather than going it alone.  But Trump's lack of desire to negotiate with our allies (just listen to his rants about the UN and NATO) has been a hallmark of his administration.
Another question is, why is he doing this now?  The most recent data shows that the country's unemployment is at 4.1%; with our economy doing well, why start a trade war with a the world's second biggest economy?  It's because Trump is obsessed with the fact that America has a trade deficit with China; on the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly hammered China for "raping" the US economically, bringing up the trade deficit as an example.  While this over the top (and frankly racist) characterization played well with his xenophobic crowds, turning that angry rant into actual economic policy has proven to be a lot harder, no matter how easy he thinks trade wars are to win.  And in typical Trumpian fashion, he has repeatedly said that America runs a trade deficit with China of over 500 billion dollars; according to the New York Times, it's actually 375 billion, but given that this is a man who repeatedly says that millions of people voted illegally in the last election without a shred of proof, being off by over a hundred billion is closer to the truth than he usually is.
It appears that Trump, quite simply, has no real idea what the trade deficit is, since he often says that the money has been "stolen" by China and other countries.  Despite his boasts about his business genius and degree from business college Wharton, he somehow believes that there is a warehouse in China with an enormous pile of American trade deficit money!    But, as economist Paul Krugman has pointed out: "Except at times of mass unemployment, trade deficits aren’t a subtraction from the economies that run them, nor are trade surpluses an addition to the economies on the other side of the imbalance."  Or to put it more bluntly, is it really a surprise that we buy more things from China than they do from us?  They have a billion more people than we do, and a huge cheap labor pool to draw from (I would be more sympathetic to Trump's tariffs if they were somehow tied to China's human rights violations, but of course they aren't).
In the past year, as Trump has bounced from one chaotic mess to another, his loyal followers have stood behind him.  But now, when it appears that his impulsive, anger based temperament could result in real economic pain for them, they may finally have reached their breaking point.  I only wish that they had seen this coming sooner.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

WAR ON THE HORIZON?


A few weeks I ago, I posted on this blog that while I think Donald Trump is a worse person than George W Bush, I think Bush was the inferior president, given that Bush led the country into the disastrous war in Iraq and Trump has not done anything equal to that terrible mistake.  But it now  appears that he has taken a big step towards his own military disaster.

Last Thursday, Trump announced that his national security advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster was being forced out, and that his replacement was former American ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.  Trump recently mentioned in a press conference that he is -"really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”  If Bolton is who he wants advising him on national security, the country is in serious trouble.
Bolton's last worked with the Bush administration, and since then he has spent most of time his appearing on Fox news, where he often clings to the notion that the Iraq invasion was a success.  He has also repeatedly attacked Barack Obama's deal with Iran to limit their nuclear weapon capabilities and ridiculed the notion that negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un about limiting their nuclear weapons could be productive.  In fact, he recently wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal making the case for bombing North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal preemptively.  This is an exceedingly dangerous notion; even if the US military were able to take out Un's nuclear weapons  before he could use them (no sure thing), he still could use his chemical weapons on both American troops and people in South Korea, potentially leading to a war with a casualty rate in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions.

As if that weren't bad enough, he has also made the case for abandoning  the weapons deal with Iran and then bombing them if they attempt to build nuclear weapons of their own.  Yes, if Mr. Bolton has his way, America could soon be embroiled in two more wars to go along with the still ongoing US conflict in Afghanistan.
So, will Trump listen to Bolton's war mongering?  Well, Trump has an odd attitude towards the military; although he has never served in it, (and found a way to avoid the draft in Viet Nam due to a mysterious bone spur in his foot), he has an almost child like excitement about our military.  On the campaign trail he boasted that "no one is more pro military than me", and swaggered as he said that he would "blow the shit out of Isis." In office, he has increased our already massive military budget by tens of billions of dollars.  And he has decided that the country should have a military parade on Veteran's day, something we haven't done before, which will inevitably turn into another excuse for him to pump up his ego as he is saluted by passing soldiers.

Given all of this, along with Trump's often impulsive behavior and love of looking tough,  it is entirely possible that Trump will listen to Bolton's war mongering ideas and lead the country into a potentially disastrous and unnecessary war sometime soon. And history will have to wonder how such a narcissistic psychopath could possibly been elected president.   

Friday, March 16, 2018

CHAOS ON THE HORIZON

"If you really like Donald Trump, that's great, but if you don't, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges." -Donald Trump on the campaign trail in 2016.

Chaos has been the operative word to describe the Trump administration since the very beginning: from his flip flops on immigration and gun control to his constant firing of cabinet members and advisors, it's easy to see why.  But the future for both this administration and the entire country may be even more chaotic soon.
Recently the New York Times ran an article about how 81 year old Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is considering retiring from the court.  Although he was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan back in 1988, he has drifted  towards progressive decisions, casting an important swing vote on some of the biggest issues in America.  If he does retire, the battle to replace him will be an ugly one. 
Trump has already been lucky enough to get one Supreme Court pick just by taking office: after Justice Antonin Scalia died ten months before the Presidential election, the Republican Senate refused to even meet with then President Barack Obama's choice to replace him, instead letting the court rule with only eight members for almost a year.  After Trump's victory, and with a slight Republican majority in the Senate, he was almost immediately able to appoint conservative Neil Gorsuch to the court. 
This was a bitter pill for Democrats to swallow, but at least that was a case of one conservative judge replacing another.  But if Kennedy resigns, and Trump appoints another conservative, then this country is in for some battles on issues that once seemed decided.  For example:  

  1. Gay Marriage: Gay and lesbian marriage has been legal in this country since 2015, with millions of couples tying the knot.  The ruling was 5-4 in favor of marriage, with Kennedy in the majority.  His moving quote in the majority opinion has often been repeated at ceremonies: "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."  If this ruling is overturned, it will invalidate millions of marriages and upset the lives of innocent people as states will scramble to allow or disallow their marriages.  The country will become a pathetic patchwork quilt of pro and anti marriage states.  And all this could happen even as, in poll after poll, the country supports gay and lesbian marriages more and more.  So much for making America great again.
  2. Abortion:  Roe Vs. Wade, the court ruling that protected a woman's right to choose nation wide was was passed in 1973.  It was challenged in 1992, and Kennedy was one of the five justices that voted to uphold the ruling on this, perhaps the most divisive issue in the country today.  His  replacement on the court could very well cast the vote that strikes down a woman's legal right to choose.  It is stunning that Trump, a man who ran against the first female major party candidate and lost the popular vote by almost three million votes, and who has a history of sexual assault charges (and who was caught bragging about such behavior on tape), could be the man who appoints the judge who overturns Roe Vs. Wade.  Just like with gay marriage, the country would be swiftly divided into pro choice and anti abortion states, but beyond that, it would further divide our country on an issue that sparks more passion and anger than any other.
After Trump's unlikely victory led to women's marches across the nation and the world, which led to the "outing" of male sexual predators in the "Me Too" movement, it looked like things were changing for women in this country.  Now imagine if that same man those women were protesting against ushers in the end of Roe Vs. Wade; the anger against him will be palpable.  Hopefully, there will be such an uprising against both Trump and the party he ran with that his one term presidency will be see as the crazy aberration it is, and the country can go back to have a normal leader instead of a so called "stable genius."  But before that happens, there are going to be some major political battles in this country.  Buckle up, the chaos Trump unleashed just may get worse this year.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE


Recently, Donald Trump drew gasps from Republicans when he appeared to support expanding gun control laws during a bi partisan meeting with congress members.  He even ridiculed members of his own party for being afraid of the NRA!  Trump seemingly working against the party he is supposed to lead is nothing new: several months ago he seemed to endorse a clean bill for the Dream Act at a similar meeting, only to move in the opposite direction several days later.  It's obvious in both cases that his innate desire to be liked by everyone made him say things that the Democrats in the room would like, even if he never intended to stick by them.  To put it another way, his egotistical desire to be admired in the moment was more important to him than the political party he now is in charge of.

This raises an interesting question: could Donald Trump ever have run for the presidency as a Democrat?  That may seem crazy, but remember that this is a man who used to be pro choice, and who has even donated money to Planned Parenthood in the past.  His recent "conversion" to being anti choice was obviously made out of political necessity and not some spiritual awakening.  Looking at his history of books and interviews over the years shows a man who appears mostly moderate politically.  What happened was his embracement of birtherism, that noxious belief that Barack Obama was not born in this country.  He first started peddling this nonsense in interviews back in 2011, and the more he said it, the more Republican voters cheered him on.  Since there's nothing he loves more than people praising him, he kept repeating it more and more, even going so far as to deny that the long form birth certificate that Obama eventually released was authentic.  Then he immersed himself in right wing media and quickly discovered that their abiding principle was that undocumented immigrants (they call them "illegals") were ruining our country.  So, when announcing his candidacy, he called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and, sadly, he never looked back.

But what would have happened if he had embraced a different conspiracy theory?  In the years after 9/11, a surprising number of people on the left became convinced that there was a conspiracy by the Bush administration to lie to the public about them, some thinking that the president knew about the attacks in advance and did nothing to stop them, and others going so far as to say the attacks themselves were carried out by the government as an excuse to justify the later invasion of Iraq.  Trump was often critical of the Bush administration in interviews he did at the time.  What would have happened if he started to agree with the 9/11 conspiracy theories?  Would leftist voters cheer him on?  Would he keep repeating it?  I think it's possible that he very well could have run as a pro choice, pro LGBT rights candidate in the Democratic primaries.  Would he actually have won?  Well, that's a tougher question; I like to think that his constant boasts and lies would hurt him more with Democrats than it did with Republicans, not to mention his lack of political experience.  Still, you never know; his candidacy seemed like an utter joke two years ago, and now here we are.

Obviously this all conjecture, but my point is that we are in the unique situation in which we have a president with little interest in actual politics, and who's abiding principal is his unshakeable belief in his own almost god like nature, and for whom loyalty to him is more important than any other issue.  The result is utter chaos; a regime in which cabinet members are constantly being fired or quitting because they can't keep up with a president who constantly lies and changes position, all while expecting them to completely fall in line with him and constantly praise him like a small child learning to read.  Quite simply, Trump has not ever seen the presidency as a position that will allow him to make the country better, but instead he sees it as a marker of his own greatness, another sign that he is a winner.  He truly seems to be a psychopath that cannot ever care for any other person in the world, and who has left a wake of disorder all around him.  We'll see how this turns out for the country and for the world, but right now, things don't look good.

Friday, February 23, 2018

THESE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT



Another terrible mass school shooting.  This time it happened in Florida, with seventeen high school students killed by a nineteen year old former student with an AR-15 on February 14th.  At first, it looked like this tragedy was going to be treated like other recent high profile mass shooting: progressive politicians would call for more gun control, conservative politicians would say that "now is not the time to have this conversation", and that delay tactic would work so that no actual national gun control legislation could get passed. Eventually, the media would stop covering the shooting and move onto other things, and the country would brace itself for the next one.
But this time may be different.  This time, it appears that there is some genuine outrage that will not go away so easily.  The teenage students of the school are deciding not to mourn silently.  They are speaking out and they are getting organized.  Their outspoken passion and willingness to verbally confront politicians is impossible to ignore.  Will their anger result in some actual gun control legislation being passed?  Well, seeing as how we know have a Republican congress and president, the odds of anything changing in the near future are very low.  But their movement may have a lasting effect on voters in general.
One of the ways that the pro gun National Rifle Association  has held so much influence over the country's lack of gun laws is because most voters do not list gun control as a big issue for them, and those that do consider it an important issue are those voters on the same side as the NRA.  The gun rights people just have more passion on this issue; in 2012 after a similarly horrific shooting in Connecticut, then President Obama was unable to pass a weak expansion of background checks bill through congress, even though it's support was as high as 90% in some polls.  The Republicans who killed the bill knew full well that the voters who put them in office would continue to vote for them even if they agreed with the bill.  Again, passing gun control legislation was just not a major issue to their constituents. 
But that may change: what we could be seeing now from the students in Florida could be the beginning of a generational change on this issue.  Although the scary amount of guns owned in this country is somewhere around three hundred million, part of the reason for that high number is that many gun owners stock pile large amounts of guns.  Most polls show that individual gun ownership is actually going down in this country, with percentages somewhere between 30-40% being the number of gun owning households.  What this means is that you have a younger generation of Americans who are less likely to have guns in their house and are therefore less likely to have the almost romantic love of guns that many older Americans do.  And these young people are seeing the teens in Florida speaking out against NRA backed politicians, which may inspire them to do the same.
The Republican party has been scrambling to try and control this situation, with some going so far as to attack the children themselves as dupes for far left anti-gun groups.  And, somewhat inevitably, some conservative online groups have said that the shooting never happened, and that the outspoken teens are just paid actors! President Trump has been all over the map on this issue, as usual: first, he suggested that he was open to banning bump stocks that make rifles deadlier, and perhaps raising the age for rifle ownership from eighteen to twenty one.  But then he fell back on NRA talking points, saying that teachers should carry guns in the schools; he even went so far as to imply that teachers willing to carry guns could get a raise.  Yes, once again this country is hitting a new low: we have a president who's budget cuts funds to education, and who's party has attacked unionized jobs like teaching for years, but who thinks we should spend tax dollars on arming and training teachers, with the possibility of a little extra cash for those who do! 
The good news is that whileTrump and the Republicans may hold power for now, it appears that the tide of history is turning against them; every poll shows that younger Americans tend to more progressive than other voters on most issues, and the fact that they grew up with an African American as president, something unlikely to their parents and unthinkable to their grand parents, has shaped their opinions in ways unlike any other American generation before them.  Put simply, time is catching up to conservatives in this country, and the party that has had success of a mixture of race baiting, gay bashing and gun loving may soon have to adjust or become irrelevant.   

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

BUYER'S REMORSE

President Trump, Rob Porter and Reince Priebus

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

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE SINGLE WORST THING


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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A MISOGYNISTIC BIGOT

Adult Star Stephanie Clifford

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

O? HELL NO


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

Friday, January 5, 2018

THE HYPOCRITICAL DOUBLE STANDARD


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