Sunday, January 21, 2018
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 In the past year, Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate change agreement, rolled back mileage goals for the auto industry, brought back the Keystone oil pipeline, opened national parks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
|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
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
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.