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, October 7, 2018

AMERICA AT IT'S WORST

Image result for george w bush trump




The New York Times recently ran a lengthy article that took a long look at the finances of President Trump and came to a conclusion that should surprise no one who's been following the man's unlikely path to The White House: that he has been lying about the source of his wealth.
Of all the literally thousands of falsehoods that Trump has been saying for years, this one may be the the one that he has repeated the most.  He has often held himself up as the embodiment of the American dream, the hard working, successful businessman who built a multi billion dollar empire out of a "small" loan of  a million dollars from his father.  While always absurd on the face of it (since when is a million dollars a small loan, especially when it was given fifty years ago?), we now know that it's another example of Trump's con artist nature and massive ego creating a mythical world in which he has almost god like powers of success.  In fact,  according to the article, Trump was already a millionaire at age eight!  And time and time again, his father was there to bail him out as he stumbled from one failed business venture to another, surviving six bankruptcies and terrible ideas (Trump steaks?  Trump water?  Trump university?).   He even tried to have his father's will rewritten shortly before his death to gain more power and money to bail him out yet again.  There is nothing self made about this man.
In fact he is, put simply, the living embodiment of everything wrong with American capitalism: the rich get richer and poor get poorer.  The American ideal is that with hard work and determination, anyone can be a success.  But what about the children of those who have had success?  While it's reasonable to want your children to be well provided for, is it right for them to raised in a way where their every desire can be met and every problem can be bought away?  Where prep schools train them for  entrance into ivy league colleges that they very well may not even deserve to go to?  Where a family business can lead to a cushy job that others would have to put in years of experience to get?  Has our reverence for  the American dream led us to have our own form of royalty, a tiny elite of super rich brats who rule over the rest of us because of the station of their birth and little else?

We've gone down this road before: when I hear about Trump's life of enormous wealth and privilege, I can't help but think about our last Republican President, George W Bush.  Not only were both born wealthy, but they also lived lives of entitlement and privilege: they both found ways to avoid serving in Viet Nam (Bush served in the Champagne Unit of the National guard, so named because of the number of rich kids in it, Trump had a mysterious bone spur in his foot), attended Ivy League schools without earning the right to (Bush was a wealthy Yale legacy, Trump  transferred to Wharton Business School after a family member intervened on his behalf) have been able to shrug off years of behavior that would have disqualified many presidential candidates (Bush's drinking led to a DUI and a Drunken Disorderly arrest, Trump's womanizing saw him accused of sexually assaulting nineteen different women).  They both won Republican presidential nominations through dubious means (when Bush was running against John Mc Cain in 2000, somebody spread a vicious rumor about his adopted daughter, while Trump openly accused Ted Cruz's father of somehow being involved in the Kennedy assassination!), lost the popular vote and yet swaggered into office basking in the new power that their privileged birth right had won them.  They then both began cutting taxes for wealthy families like theirs, doing nothing to aid the nation's poor and middle class.  They even both have attacked affirmative action, ignoring the role that their race, money and power had in their own lives.  And their complete and utter lack of any empathy for people not having the pampered childhoods that they had was (and is) often apparent.  It should be remembered that even in the era of crazed Trump press conferences, George W Bush's statement on Hurricane Katrina, in which he reminisced about his drinking days in New Orleans and expressed regret over his rich friend Senator Trent Lott losing his summer home (!) in the disaster, while thousands were left dead or left with nothing, ranks as one of the most tone deaf and thoughtless presidential addresses ever.   Almost as bad, Trump as president has gone to disaster sites and bragged about the turnout or told people to "have fun".  Like all psychopaths, the man is incapable of caring for anyone else but himself.
So what can we do about these smug elites buying their way through life?  Well, back in the 1950's, the top tax rate on the wealthiest people in this country was a whopping 89%.   Flush with cash, the government spent that money on three things: education, infrastructure and scientific research.  The result was the largest growth in the size of the middle class in this nations history.  Sadly, that shared prosperity ended in the 1980's, with Ronald Reagan's deep tax cut for the rich, combined with his assault on unions, beginning a steep decline in the well being of the middle class and a growth in the rich and super rich.  Although right now progressive taxation seems crazy given Trump's latest trillion and half dollar tax cut/hand out to the rich, there will come a day when common sense will finally assert itself in this country, and the wealthy elites like Trump and Bush that buy their way into power will find themselves slightly less well off.   And I hope that all they will be able to do is throw a tantrum about it, like the spoiled brats they are.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

THE PARADE OF LYING WOMEN

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Women are inherently deceitful.  They will lie repeatedly to bring down powerful men and increase their own finances and social standing.  This is one of the core beliefs of Donald Trump.  After the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women, nineteen different women came forward and accused him of assaulting them in much the same manner that he was heard talking about.   He immediately said they were all lying, threatened to sue them, and, of course, even publicly insulted the physical appearance of one of them.  Later, when serious allegations of his extra marital affairs with a porn star and a Playboy centerfold and his possibly illegal payoffs to those women arose, he again shrugged them off.  More women just lying, as we all know they always do. 
And those are just the women he believes are lying about him.  He has also expressed sympathy for sexual harassers Bill O'Reilly and Roger Aisles, his former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who abused his ex wife, and Senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who was credibly accused of having sexual contact with teenage girls.  He openly endorsed Moore, again shrugging off the accusers; even more lying women.   
Which leads to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination.  With his long history of Republican partisanship   and conservative pedigree, along with the slim but strong majority his party holds in the Senate, it looked like he would be an easy lock for the court.  But now, three women have come forward to allege that in his high school and college days, Kavanaugh drank heavily and assaulted girls or tried to get them under the influence of drugs and alcohol so that he could take advantage of them. Christine Blasey Ford claims that he himself assaulted her, while the two other women describe his aggressive behavior when drunk.  He has, for his part, denied the whole thing, and the Republican party has either said they believe him, or that it happened a long time ago, so who cares?  (Which, of course, means that he's lying in his denial). Remember that Kavanaugh was a spoiled prep school athlete, and he has admitted to over drinking in both high school and college.  Is the notion that his drunken behavior often led to assaulting girls, or treating them like meat for the taking, all that far fetched? 

According to Trump they are; as expected, he has defended Kavanaugh and, while not he did not outright call these women liars, he has claimed that the Democrats are pulling "a con job." “People want fame, they want money, they want whatever.” he said in a recent press conference.  There's one small problem to this: despite what Trump wants to believe,  decades of studies have shown that the people who make accusations of rape or sexual assault are very rarely lying.  In fact, most cases go unreported, or, as in the case of Ford's accusations, are made years later, after much suffering and pain.  The notion that Ford is doing this just for money or fame is absurd: she was reluctant to come forward, knowing that the media attention would often be critical (or downright insulting), but she still felt that she should be heard.  And she and her family has inevitably been hit with death threats, something that Trump naturally, hasn't mentioned, because any sympathy he feels is for the "very outstanding"  Kavanaugh, not Ford. 
As it stands, it looks like Kavanaugh will weather this storm and the narrow Republican majority in the Senate will vote to put him on the court for the rest of his life.  This means that a president who has been accused of multiple sexual assaults may put on the court another accused assaulter who very well may rule to overturn a woman's right to an abortion in this country, joined in that opinion by justice Clarence Thomas, another man accused of sexual harassment.  And the Republican party will be enshrined not just as a safe place for bigots and homophobes, but also for misogynists. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

THE RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION

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Imagine if a new organization were formed to comment on the various political and social issues of the day.  Now imagine if that organization's founders openly declared that no woman would ever have any position of authority there.  Oh sure, women could join the group, play a role as secretaries and other minor positions, (and, of course, donations from women would be accepted), but every decision ever made by that group would be made by men and men only, from the top down.  And that this group of men would announce that any use of birth control is wrong, and that women's only choices in life are either celibacy or a marriage in which they will inevitably be constantly pregnant.

Now imagine if an educational organization that sent tutors to help out children in low achieving schools were rocked by scandals over some of those tutors being accused of molesting the children they were supposed to be helping. To make matters even worse, what if the administrators who ran the organization were aware of the accusations made against those tutors, and did nothing to investigate those accusations, even going so far as to send accused tutors from one school to another without a word about the allegations against them endangering innocent children.  Picture this going on for decades, with literally hundreds of pedophiles molesting thousands of children without punishment.

Now look at the Catholic Church, an organization that has done all of the above and more (the Inquisition, part of the church for centuries, tortured and killed thousands for the crime of heresy, but that was a long time ago, so I guess we're supposed to ignore that).  There is no way that any secular organization with a list of horrible behavior anywhere near the Catholic Church's could possibly survive.  Why do we give religious institutions such leeway?  Why are they allowed to openly discriminate and ignore crimes in a way no corporation could?

Religion is, quite simply, such a deep primal thing, something that has such a hold on so many people, that just turning away from it is almost unthinkable for them, no matter what. Many of the first artistic images created by ancient humans were religious in nature, and every civilization has created some kind of belief system in gods and/or goddesses, with some even willing to sacrifice their lives to a higher power.  That is how much strength religion has over people; it defines us to our very core.  And that especially goes for an institution like the Catholic Church, which has a history that goes back centuries and that has spread to every corner of the globe.  That's why it's entirely possible for someone to condemn the history of the Catholic Church, be sickened by the recent molestation scandal, completely disagree with the church's stance on birth control and abortion, and still attend church each week and drop money in the collection plate.  The good feeling that human beings have evolved to get from spiritual belief on a personal level, a feeling that is usually engrained in us as children, often beats the sick feeling one gets when viewing a church's history as a whole.  The logical part of our brain and the spiritual part do not often agree, which  can lead to such seemingly contradictory behavior. 

But there is a slow but steady drumbeat of people in first world countries moving away from religion.  Although the Catholic Church still stands at over a billion members worldwide, more and more people are responding "none of the above" when asked their religious affiliation in both the US and Europe.  And perhaps more pointedly, many members of a church are openly disagreeing with that church's teachings, like when the heavily Catholic country of Ireland voted in favor of gay marriage and abortion rights recently  Despite the grip religion can have a hold on people, scandals like the ones the Catholic Church is going through can take their toll.  Personally, I hope that these continuing scandals, along with the world's evolving views on women's rights and homosexuality, lead institutions like the Catholic Church to start changing their views or fading slowly away. I for one won't miss them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

THE DEATH OF DECENCY



TRUMP VISITS GOLF COURSE WHILE WASHINGTON MOURNS MCCAIN


The headline above from the September 1st edition of The New York Times perfectly illustrates the utterly classless and indifferent way that President Trump responded to the death of Republican Senator and war veteran John McCain.  Not only did he spend time playing golf (something that he once criticized President Obama for doing) during the funeral, he also found time to tweet out his usual dose of lies, boasts and insults while the proceedings were taking place.   Because even the death of one of the most admired politicians in the country can't stop Trump from thinking about himself.  It is fitting that McCain pointedly forbade Trump from attending his funeral services, seeing as how he once turned a speech at his own father's funeral into yet another excuse to brag about himself!
The death of McCain at age 81 from brain cancer is more than a tragedy, it's a sad symbol of what has really died in Washington since Trump took that fateful escalator ride more than two years ago: simple human decency.  McCain had a hot temper, was mostly a down the line conservative, and he was a constant defender of the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq.  But he was also  a decent man who was willing to cross the political aisle to cut deals and build friendships.  He was outspoken in his (sadly doomed) attempt to cut down the influence of big money in politics.  And along with his war record, I will always admire him for three things: when, during the 2008 presidential campaign, he corrected a woman in the crowd who called Obama a Muslim, when he withdrew his (already reluctant) endorsement of then candidate Trump after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, and, of course, when he voted against the Senate's attempts to repeal Obamacare, which would have resulted in tens of millions of people losing their health care.
At the same time, McCain provided a bridge to the disastrous state that the country is in right now: in the 2008 campaign, when McCain's initial choice of vice presidential candidate, Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, was killed by the party because Lieberman was pro choice, McCain picked the mostly unknown governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as his running mate.  While she proved to be a terrible choice for the campaign, her plain spoken manner made her very popular in the party.  And as the campaign went on, her misstatements and lack of knowledge, combined with her willingness to embrace the more radical elements of the party (she once accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists") endeared her even more to the Republican base. 

Image result for mccain palin 

Is it any surprise that eight years later the party was ready to embrace an unexperienced, insulting, blunt talker as its standard bearer?  And, in typical take no prisoners fashion, is it any surprise that Palin herself endorsed Trump, even after he had personally attacked McCain's war record? By 2016, McCain himself, was already a dinosaur, a remembrance of time when hyper partisanship wasn't the only thing driving the Republican party, as the often openly bigoted Trump wing of the party swept up behind the openly bigoted candidate. 
The good news is that, while Trump remains popular with the Republican base, the number of people in that base is shrinking: recently, Ohio Republican Governor  John Kasich admitted in an interview that  "We’re now down to about 25 percent. It’s all becoming like a remnant."  If any good can come from the Trump presidency, it may be that his open bigotry and conspiracy mongering may well  whittle down the Republican party to only a few remaining lunatics in the future.  But, for now, those lunatics are running the Washington asylum.  And they can do a lot of damage.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

REMEMBER THE DATE


Tuesday August 21st will be remembered as an earth shattering day in politics, even if some people are already trying to down play its significance.  On that day, within the same hour, former  President Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight charges of corruption and tax evasion, while Trump's lawyer for around a decade Micheal Cohen plead guilty to illegal campaign contributions.  While corruption by people around a sitting president is nothing new, the near simultaneous, split screen criminal stories show how far down this president, who ironically claimed that he would be "tough on crime" and "drain the swamp", has taken this country.
Of the two stories, the Cohen one is far more potentially damning for the president: Cohen has testified under oath that Trump himself directed him to pay off  two women to prevent them   from going public about their affairs with then candidate Trump before the election.  The payments were made to specifically keep the women's claims from effecting the outcome of the election, making them illegal campaign expenditures.  In fact, these crimes are considered felonies.
In typical Trumpian fashion, our president responded by sending out tweets that sounded like they came from a mob boss: he praised Manafort for "refusing to break", and dumped on Cohen, whom he claimed might "flip".  It is typical of the appalling nature of Trump that he refuses to condemn or even mention the crimes committed by these men and went straight to how this all affects him personally.  Indeed, his public worrying that Cohen might flip is really him almost admitting that he has committed crimes in the past that Cohen may be aware of; why would Trump worry about his lawyer testifying if he's done nothing wrong?
But then, from day one, this administration has never cared about its public image: from granting security clearances and cabinet positions to his unqualified family members to the first lady going to visit children separated from their parents at the border while wearing a jacket that says I DON'T CARE, DO YOU?, from  Trump holding a private meeting with Vladamir Putin,  the man he has been accused of criminally conspiring with, to his refusal to stop profiting from his businesses, not to mention his constant barrage of bratty, insulting and dishonest tweets.  Yes, violating every norm of presidential decorum and simple human decency is something Trump and the  people around him do every day.
And why should he change?  His cult like popularity with his base in the Republican party has remained high, and if the party stood by him while he insulted John McCain's war record, made racist comments in campaign speeches, was heard bragging about sexually assaulting women on tape (and was accused of making such assaults by nineteen different women), defended white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville (and retweeted white supremacist posts), called the press "the enemy of the people", and held a fawning press conference with a hostile foreign leader that he claimed to believe over his own intelligence agencies, then having two men that were once close to him revealed to be criminals is just another thing that elected Republicans will have to ignore.
Thankfully, change may be coming; although the Republican party may never have the courage to properly investigate their leader, the coming elections that appear to showing the Democrats at least retaking the House of Representatives if not the Senate, which will allow them to begin properly looking into the many possibly corrupt things that Trump appears to be involved in (along with the Russia connection and mistress payoffs, there's also his violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution and his misuse of his charitable foundation).  Quite frankly, it would be nice to see that for once his life Donald Trump may be held accountable for the terrible things he has done.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

TRUMP AND PUTIN: TWO OF A KIND

“Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are - a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”- John McCain

Donald Trump is not a subtle man.  He never has been in his whole life: as a six year old child he once punched his music teacher because he thought she didn't know enough about music and was later sent to military school because he was out of control, where he soon gained a reputation for falsely bragging about girls he dated and sporting events that he had won.
In many ways his entire life is an embodiment of one of the main things wrong with this country: that the system is rigged in favor of the rich and the powerful.  That a man  born into a family of enormous wealth and privilege, who was given a "small loan of a million dollars" from his father when he graduated from college, could hold himself up as a self made successful  businessman,  even as he declared bankruptcy five separate times, is a perfect example of how the wealthy in this country do not have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.  His bragging and bluster are classic symptoms of a rich white male who sees the country as his playground to indulge whatever desires he has.
He has led a life in which he has not even tried to hide his misdeeds, from his bragging about cheating on his first two wives to his refusal to release his tax returns without explanation, to the continuance of his corporate businesses as president, he clearly has never cared about things like the appearance of corruption or impropriety.  He  never had to before in his life, so why change now?

But has his misbehavior finally reached a breaking point? Last Friday, the Justice Department indicted 12 members of Russia’s military intelligence service for a criminal conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election and hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.   This follows reports by every branch of the government clearly stating that Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin clearly interfered in the 2016 election in favor of Trump.  The following Monday, during a joint press conference with Putin, Trump disparaged his own intelligence agencies and claimed that he believed Putin's denials of interference.  In other words, we have a president who believes the corrupt leader of hostile foreign power over his own intelligence agencies!   Although Trump has always denied that Putin had some kind of incriminating evidence against him (from possible financial links to Russia mob members to the infamous pee tape), it seems hard to believe that he ever could have been more toadying to Putin than he is now.  Even his attempts to walk back his comments the next day by claiming he misstated a  single word feel like a pathetic joke, a dodge put up his advisors after his comments were met with almost universal derision.
Even if we take Trump at his word and accept that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government, it's obvious that he knows that Putin helped put him in office and he doesn't care.  The fact that Russia helping him was a criminal act by a foreign country means as little to him as the fact that as president he owns a hotel in Washington DC that visiting foreign leaders can stay in and essentially bribe him through hotel bills is an obvious conflict of interest.  All his life he has advanced by never following the rules, why should he start now?  The only good news here is that, as he stumbles from one reckless decision or offensive statement to another, at some point the Republican party will put country over partisanship and help the Democrats impeach him or at least replace him with another candidate in 2020.  It's the only decent moral thing to do.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

THE END OF ROE



Recently, the country of Ireland voted to make abortion legal.  This vote, along with one legalizing gay marriage a few years ago, showed that the country once held underneath the puritanical boot of the Catholic church (divorce was illegal there until 1996!) was entering the modern world.  Sadly, the US now seems to be about to take a big step backward.
On Wednesday July 27th., Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced that he would be resigning, giving Donald Trump another Supreme Court justice appointment.  More importantly, this means that court will soon be moving rightward, given that Kennedy was often a moderate swing vote on many big issues, including Roe Vs. Wade.  There has probably been no time in its 45 year history that the Roe Vs Wade ruling has been in more jeopardy.  The religious right have been supporting Republicans since 1980, just waiting for this very moment.  The second the new judge is sworn in, conservative state legislatures will start passing challenges to abortion rights.  Lawyers have been waiting their whole lives to argue against Roe at the Supreme Court.
Yes, the man who once said he was "very pro choice" is now about to be the president who will almost definitely appoint a conservative judge that will allow abortion to be outlawed in multiple states.  Is there anything that the Democrats can do?  Not really.  The Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, and plan to fast track whatever judge Trump picks to make sure he (it'll probably be a he) is appointed before the November election.
Is there any silver lining here for pro choice progressives?  Perhaps: the most recent Pew research poll done on the issue in 2016 revealed that 59% of Americans overall think that abortion should be legal in most cases, the highest it had been in twenty years.  And an even higher amount, (69%) believe that Roe Vs Wade should not be completely over turned.   And when it comes to women, the support is even higher:  79% of Democratic women and 60% of independents are pro choice.  Even 32% of Republican women support abortion rights, which is quite high given the party's stance.
Put simply, there have now been entire generations of women who have always assumed that getting an abortion was a viable option for them, who may wake up someday soon to find that option taken away.  This may have the effect of radicalizing and mobilizing women into voting more.  Polls show around only 50% of citizens between 18-29 years old voted in the 2016 presidential election, compared to 58% of all eligible citizens.  And while they often reject terms like pro life and pro choice, millennials generally oppose outlawing abortion completely. 
Will this issue be the one that pushes more young voters into the voting booth?  I think it's entirely possible that this and other issues that will soon be ruled on by a conservative court will backlash against the Republican party, who have wanted to over turn Roe Vs Wade since 1980, but have avoided making it  a primary issue in national elections.  In other words, the Republicans may win the battle here, but still lose the war in the long run.  I certainly hope so.

Monday, June 18, 2018

WE SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING


 "This is as bad as I’ve ever seen in 25 years of doing this work,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The little kids are literally being terrorized.”'

We should have seen this coming.  When Donald Trump kicked off his presidential campaign with racist comments about Mexican immigrants ("they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists"), when he encouraged chants of "build the wall", or when last month he gave a speech describing undocumented immigrant children by saying “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”

And so now here we are; in the past six weeks almost two thousand children have been taken from their parents and put into custody.  Horror stories abound: one father killed himself after his three old son was taken from him.  One mother had her baby snatched away while she was breast feeding.  While the difficulty of dealing with parents with children asking for political asylum or trying to cross the border has existed for years, no administration has ever resorted to such outright cruelty.  It's all due to a change in policy that treats all undocumented immigrants as criminals, and therefore subject to separation  from their children.  Sadly, the administration seems to see this as having a double benefit; not only does it discourage further immigrants with children from trying to enter the country, it allows give them a bargaining chip to use when negotiating with congress to get the funding for that wall Trump's followers want so much.  The fact that innocent children are in the crossfire of this negotiation hardly seems to concern anyone working for Trump.  As John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told NPR so brusquely, “The children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever.”
Not surprisingly, this horrific policy has proven unpopular, with  even the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, passing a resolution on Tuesday calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.”  So Trump has done his usual thing by brazenly lying about it, stating more than once his administration is just following a law passed by Democrats.  He never specifically stated what law he was talking about, because there is no such law.  This policy has been carried out by Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General, who has promoted and defended it, even going so far as to quote the bible in doing so!  And now the president's usually silent wife Melania has joined the fray, condemning the policy and then somehow claiming it is the responsibility of "both sides", putting a softer tone on her husband's lies.
All of this reveals just what a coward Trump truly is, despite all of his tough talk and bluster.   He ran a presidential campaign steeped in xenophobia and bigotry, promising to bring the full force of the government down on immigrants both legal and undocumented.  And now that his minions are doing just that, resulting in terrifying images of children being taken away from their parents, he lies and points at Democrats, somehow forgetting that congress is now controlled by his own party.  I don't think that Trump truly cares about the children (Tony Schwartz, the co author of Trump's ART OF THE DEAL book, who spent more time with Trump than any human ever should, once stated that  "There is no one Trump cares about in any deep enduring way—no one, not even his children.”) he's just afraid to own up to his own policy, a policy that Senator Lindsay Graham has so rightly pointed out, could be ended with a single phone call.  Hopefully, the outcry coming from even his supporters will eventually push him into making that phone call.  But don't think for a minute he'll be  doing it out of compassion for anyone but himself.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

GRABBING SMOKE



During the  2016 presidential campaign, one of the problems that the media had in covering candidate Donald Trump was that there were so many potential issues in his past that could reveal him as being a poor candidate for president: from the fact that he and his father were found guilty by the federal government of discriminating against black applicants at one of their properties back in the 1970's, to his multiple bankruptcies, to the blatant chicanery of Trump University, there was too much to cover properly, and emphasizing just one of them was difficult.  This stood in stark contrast to candidate Hillary Clinton, who had to field numerous questions about her emails time and time again; the effect of this was that to the casual news media consumer, the email scandal was far worse than anything in Trump's past because of the media's emphasis on it.  Add to that Trump's  image as a super successful billionaire that he had carefully cultivated over his years as a reality TV show figure, and its sadly easy to see why Trump was able to skate over his many past transgressions, without even the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape stopping him.
Now that he's president, the media is having the same problem of overload; here are some recent examples of Trump's potential scandals:

- He recently tweeted that he wanted to help out Chinese telecom company ZTE, saying that were “Too many jobs in China lost."  This came after a Trump backed company was pledged with a five hundred million dollar loan from the Chinese government, which Paul Krugman in the New York Times said may be an outright bribe.

- He also reportedly pushed the postmaster general, Megan Brennan, to double the rates that the Postal Service charges the online company Amazon for shipping.  It appears that the main reason he's doing this is because Amazon owner Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, a newspaper that has the temerity to print the truth about him.  In other words, since he can't directly attack freedom of the press, he will work around it to punish anyone who prints anything negative about him.

-At the gathering in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the opening prayer was given by Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor,  who once said that "Islam, Judaism,  and Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.” The closing benediction was given by John Hagee, who once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland.

Given that none of these scandals have risen to the level of coverage that the Russia investigation and the Stormy Daniels affair have, it is highly likely that once again Trump has  gotten away with corrupt and possibly criminal behavior that no other president has come close to getting away with. (It's depressing to consider just how much of a media storm it would have caused if Barack Obama had tweeted about protecting jobs in China while president!) Sadly, Trump has never had to pay for all the corruption and lies he was involved in before he became president, and he may never as president.  I still often feel that this country may not survive this presidency intact.

Friday, May 11, 2018

THE PATH TO WAR



Well, that was quick.  John Bolton has been Donald Trump's national security advisor for less than a month, and already his odious influence has been seen.  After threatening it for months, last Tuesday president Trump officially pulled America out of the nuclear arms deal  with Iran.  This is despite the fact that Iran has complied with the tenants of the treaty, and that the American allies that were also part of the treaty like the UK and France practically begged him not to do it.   Trump's stated problems with the deal was that Iran was still promoting terrorist groups in other parts of the world, and that the deal would end in ten years.  A call for renegotiating the plan to deal with these issues might have been a reasonable thing, but, because Trump doesn't want to admit that parts of the plan were working, he childishly killed it entirely.
The Iran deal now winds up in the waste basket along with the other deals that Trump has destroyed since taking office: the Paris climate change accord, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All three of them were treaties signed after years of careful negotiations with foreign leaders that he tore to shreds with little thought beyond the fact they were all forged by Barack Obama, and therefore must be bad.  (Somewhat absurdly, he has openly considered jumping back into the TPP agreement almost a year after leaving it, despite the fact that it has been completely renegotiated).  In typical fashion, his abandonment of each was not followed by any real alternate proposal beyond vague assurances that he wanted a "better deal".
While I disagree with his destroying all three deals, this latest move may very well prove to be the worst.  The collapse of the deal means that onerous sanctions against Iran have been put back in place, and as the New York Times pointed out yesterday "For the working class and for low-income people, new sanctions and renewed isolation will mean fewer jobs, less security and more poverty", which may also result in less time for the people of Iran to protest against their oppressive government, a government, the Times also noted, that will not really be effected by these sanctions.  And what reason does Iran have for returning to negotiations now, given that Trump has shown that any agreement reached by one president can just be thrown out by the next one?
The sad fact of the matter is that Bolton really wants Iran to start rebuilding its weapons  program, because it would  be the best pretext for attacking the country by Israel and America.  Bolton has publicly stated that he supports "regime change" in Iran, and we all know what that means.  As a candidate, Trump  ran as an isolationist, who blasted the 2004 Iraq invasion, but now he's listening to advice from Bolton, one of the few political figures in this country who thinks that that invasion was a smashing success.  One he wants to repeat  in Iran.  And when you add to that the fact that Trump often seems to base his views on any given subject on whomever he just last spoke to, and we have a recipe for disaster.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

GOODBYE PAUL, TAKE AYN WITH YOU


On April 11th., Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan announced that he will be resigning from political office, saying "I like to think I've done my part, my little part in history to set us on a better course."  The translation for this is that he foresees, like many others, a huge wave election for the Democrats coming in November  that would strip him of his status as majority speaker, and he'd rather avoid that humiliation.  Ryan has been a frustrating figure in the past two years:  during the 2016 presidential campaign, Ryan said Trump's statement that  Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel shouldn't be able to rule on a case involving Trump because of his Mexican heritage, was "the textbook definition of a racist comment", and he was reluctant to endorse Trump.  But once Trump was in office, Ryan's criticisms have grown more and more tepid, even as Trump has defended Klan and Nazi protestors and referred to African countries as "shit holes."  Ryan even called out Trump's "exquisite presidential leadership"(!) before the president signed the recent tax cut bill.
That tax bill says so much about Ryan; it's really his crowning achievement, a one and half trillion dollar change in the tax code that he feverishly worked on to get to the president's desk.  But it also shows his greatest flaws: it's heavily skewed towards the rich and increases the same national deficit that he used to be so worried about when Barack Obama was president.  It also continues his unshakeable belief in his Ayn Rand influenced world view that the federal government is always too big and intrusive in our country. Ever since he first entered politics, Ryan has expressed his admiration for twentieth century author Rand's books like THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED. (Although the fact that Rand was a pro choice atheist has caused him to tone down his admiration recently.) 
The Russian  born, virulently anti Communist Rand has become the patron saint of the libertarianism movement, that outspoken fringe of people who  worship the free market, see taxes as theft and perceive every stop sign and streetlight as an affront to their freedom.  Although libertarians have some progressive views (they support gay marriage and drug legalization), their message of no big government and lower taxes has mostly found favor with people on the right like Ryan.
To me the individualistic beliefs of Libertarianism are the flip side of the collectivist beliefs of Karl Marx and his followers.  Look at what they have  in common: they both are based on strongly written, popular books written by charismatic authors.  They both have ideas that sound good on paper, or  when being discussed in dorm rooms or coffee shops, (everyone is equal!  everyone is completely free!) but that fail when tried on any large scale.  From the repressive Communist regimes of Russia and China, to the absurd, aborted attempts of billionaire libertarians like Peter Theil  to create some libertarian island utopia, they just aren't a realistic way to run a country.
When you think about it, the extreme individualistic beliefs of Ann Rand and the extreme collective beliefs of Karl Marx both fall short when you look at human evolution: human beings have clearly evolved to be tribal, not solitary animals.  And in a tribal situation, there are inevitably times when you do things out of your own self interest, and other times that you must make sacrifices for the good of the tribe overall.  Or to put it another way, the money I earn I should be able to keep most of  to spend on what I want, but any working society needs things like roads, bridges, schools, and so on, which can only be paid for by taxes.  A middle ground is essential, which is why extreme ideas like Marx's and Rand's are doomed to failure.
It would appear that the rise of Trump  and the resignation of Ryan, even though they agree on some issues, is closing down the libertarian wing of the Republican party for now, to be replaced by one that pushes for non libertarian ideas like   protectionist tariffs and hardline anti-immigration policies.   And while I certainly don't agree with Trump's positions, I am glad that Ayn Rand's beliefs are getting closer to being thrown into the dust bin of history.

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.