Sunday, July 23, 2017

As For Your Right To Choose ...

... take that seriously as well.  Because it's being undermined.

Two of my greatest frustrations about the outcome of last year's presidential election are (a) the demonstrable interference in the election by Vladimir Putin and various agents of either the Russian government or Russian-based businesses, and (b) the voters who sat at home sulking that Bernie Sanders wasn't allowed to be the Democratic nominee, and otherwise being furious over Hillary's alleged sabotaging of his candidacy.  To them, there was no Russian sabotage; Hillary was the one who was the true threat to democracy.

I've always wanted to ask these people why, if Hillary-related sabotage was the reason behind Bernie's failure to win the Democratic nomination, did Bernie then turn around after the primary season and endorse Hillary?  If there was real sabotage that cause real damage to the process, and Bernie is the stand-up guy his supporters say that he is, why then did he not stand up to Hillary and denounce the damage? Is it possible because, even if some members of the Democratic National Committee tried to undermine Bernie (and I concede that there is evidence of this), isn't it possible that it never got far enough to damage Bernie?  Or that it happened without Hillary's knowledge or support?

It doesn't matter to these people.  All that matters is the purity of their point of view, which must never, ever, be sullied by facts.  Including that facts that have emerged, are emerging and are continuing to emerge about the Russian connection.  It pains me to say this but, quite frankly, this makes them in my mind the left-wing analog to Trump supporters.  Which means that, with the help of Trump supporters, they are contribution to the destruction of the most successful free society in the history of the world.

In fairness, I don't think they mean to do that.  I think that most of them truly believe in the best values of this country, and expect us to do more to live up to them.  On that, I agree with them 100 percent.  But we live under a system of government that is designed purposefully to thwart attempts at dramatic change, unless supported by large majorities.  That is why incremental change within our system is the only kind that is truly possible.  If you're made about the influence of big-moneyed interests, fine.  Be angry. Fight the influence of money in politics every way you can.

But don't sit at hope waiting for the perfect cause, the perfect party, or the perfect candidate.  We ourselves are not perfect people living in a perfect world.  And in our highly imperfect world, we now have a president who is actively trying to take away your right to vote.  Thankfully, nearly all of the states are standing up against it.

But that's for now.  The future is not guaranteed, and neither is democracy.  Sitting at home doesn't preserve it.  Voting for candidates who can win and advance your values does.  Never lose sight of that fact.  And never fail to heed it.

For Those Content To Sit On The Sidelines ...

... I have one word of advice:  Don't.

I realize I say that, having just declared myself possibly ready to leave the Democratic Party over its signature combination of fecklessness and betrayal.  But that is not an excuse for doing nothing.

It never is, of course.  But that's never been more true than it is now.

You see, there are two fundamental rights each citizen in a democracy has.  Two rights that are essential to the effective operation of a free society.  Those are the right to know, and the right to choose.

And both of those rights are under massive, unprecedented assault by the Trump White House and the Republican Party's unobjecting support of him.  As well as their supporters.

I'll start by inviting you to look at this.  It's the column from which I admit to lifting the phrase "the right to know."  Well, I didn't lift it.  I took the liberty of paraphrasing the late, great Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate era, who spoke of "your right to be informed." However it is phrased, the right exists.  Information is what empowers us to make the right choices, the ones that citizens in a democracy are empowered to make and responsible for making.

The media, in whatever form (legacy or digital) plays an essential role in providing that information. This is why they're referred to as the fourth branch of government.  This is why they're protected by the First Amendment.  And this is why any government action hostile to their interests should always be viewed with the deepest suspicion.

Usually, those hostilities are perpetrated by people and organizations that have the common sense to do it covertly.  But Donald Trump cannot, and probably never will, be fairly accused of having common sense.  He is, I am sorry to say, the type of New Yorker who will punch you in the nose if you even look like you want to do the same to him.  And so, in his dealings with those media outlets that he perceives as not worshiping him sufficiently, you get episodes like this.

Or, in reporting accurately in the public interest about someone prominently connected to one of Trump's constituencies, you get stories like this.  (This one, by the way, is really fascinating; I suspect I'll have more to say about it in a future post.)

This is why you should never take "your right to be informed," as Bradlee put it seriously.  He took it seriously enough that he risked his career and the Post's reputation on getting to the bottom of Watergate.  And he did.  We should always be grateful.  And we should all, always, be equally vigilant.

Why I Just Might Leave The Democratic Party

If you've read what I have to say in this space even once, you can pretty easily guess which side of the partisan divide I stand on.  I was raised by New Deal Democrats, got involved in Democratic politics as a teenager and, after a few early adult years in which I was unaffiliated, became a regular Democratic voter and contributor in the late 1980's.  I'm 60 yeas old, and can therefore honestly say that I've been a Democrat most of my life, which is a respectable length of time.

But all of that might be about to change soon.

Let me explain.

My ambiguity as a young adult came out of a feeling that the Democrats were stuck in a 1960s time warp when it came to relating to the American voting public, and had lost the ability to connect to middle-class voters.  I was happy to vote for Jimmy Carter twice, because I felt he was someone who could articulate traditional Democratic concerns about economic and social justice without sounding like either a hippie or a Bolshevik.  But, in part for precisely that reason, the party turned on Carter and ultimately helped to give us eight years of Ronald Reagan, a con artist who helped pave the way for today's con artistry.

I responded in 1984 by casting a write-in vote for then-Senator Mark Hatfield, the only time I've ever voted for a Republican in my life.  It was a straight-up protest vote and, now that I have a more mature perspective on protest votes, I regret doing it (with due respect to Senator Hatfield).  As flawed as Walter Mondale was in many ways, he would have been a better President that Reagan; at least he would have been awake and alert most of the time.

When Bill Clinton came along in the 1990s, I felt completely confident about voting for him, in spite of his undisciplined personal life.  Here, I thought, was another Carter, someone who could talk about Democratic values to Republican voters in a way that could win elections consistently.  In his first two years as President, that's exactly how he seemed to operate.

But then came the Republican midterm landslide and, after that, Clinton seemed hellbent on caving to the Republicans on one issue or another.  Gone, with "welfare reform," was the guarantee that we would look after our neediest citizens.  Gone, with "criminal justice reform" was the possibility of a truly fair sentencing process.  Gone, with the repeal of Glass-Steagall, was the possibility that Wall Street would turn into a casino (and we all know how that turned out).  And much more, all for the same of not being impeached.  And he got impeached anyway; nobody knows how to say "thank you" quite like a Republican.*

The Clinton experience, combined with eight years of Bush/Cheney (or should I say Cheney/Bush) pushed me back from the center and more toward the left, even as the country has seemingly drifted further and further to the right.  When Obama was elected, I thought that the moment I had waited for in politics all of my life had come.  For the first two years, tangible results out of Washington seemed to prove that.  Then came a decade where Republicans, playing a long game with a thousand sword cuts, took control of everything.

And now, with Republicans in charge of government at the federal and state levels, and the Democrats little more than a regional party, facing a government that looks increasingly like a South American kleptocracy, what do the Democrats do?  How are they going to keep my vote and win back the country?

With listless slogans like this.

"I mean, have you seen the other guys?"  Seriously?  The other guys are the ones in charge now.  Are you really that afraid to say what you stand for?  That's your fighting faith?  "We're not the worst choice you could make?"  Whoever came up with this should be fired.  And the same is true for whoever approved making this idiocy public.

I'm sorry to say, however, that it gets worse that that.  Much worse.

Charles Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader and the principal Democratic capo in the world of Wall Street fundraising, is working with none other than Ted Cruz to enact a bill that would criminalize any attempt to lead, participate in, or even so much as to inquire about a boycott of Israel for its settlement activities on the West Bank.  The bill provides for a minimum penalty of $250,000 and maximum penalties of $1 million and 20 years in prison.  Think about that.  Twenty years locked away for simply asking about a boycott.  No less incredible is the fact that this bill has 237 House sponsors and 43 Senate sponsors.  You can read about it here.

That such a bill could even be filed in the first place is a tribute to the lobbying power of AIPAC, which lobbies on behalf of what it perceives to be Israel's interests.  Apparently, from AIPAC's perspective, subverting democracy is now in the interests of Israel, and anyone who says otherwise is an anti-Semite.  Including, one guesses, the Reform Jews who spearheaded the founding of the state of Israel as a safe haven for Jews and Palestinians alike.

The Democratic Party, at this point, from my perspective, is a party that stands for nothing and falls for everything.  Unless this trend gets reversed, pronto, my change in registration to independent can't come fast enough.  And they can forget about my money, unless it can go to progressive candidates and causes.

Am I doomed to become a protest voter once again?  Maybe.  But I'll have been pushed by the Democratic Party, every step of the way.

*Yes, I know that the Glass-Steagall repeal came after the impeachment trial.  But it was still part of the same basic dynamic:  Clinton, worrying more about being loved by Republicans than serving the people who elected him.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Silver Bullet That Could Kill Trump's Support

Thirty-six percent.

That's where Donald Trump's popular support has bottomed out.

But it's holding.  Seemingly nothing can budge it any further.  And this phenomenon has the folks in legacy media spellbound.  They send reports out to Trump country to find out how Trump is able to retain his hold on these people.

What do they find out?

Not much.  To these folks, all of the stories about the chaos and corruption in the Trump White House is so much media noise, Washington nonsense, or whatever winger cliche works at any given moment.  Doesn't matter to them.  Their guy is Making America Great Again, signing executive orders, giving fiery speeches, ticking off all the people they love to hate.  That's all that counts. They voted for him partly because he was white (unlike the other guy), but also because he promised he would bring all of the good blue-collar jobs back. They count on him to keep his word when it comes to that.  They know it'll happen, sooner or later.  It's only been six months.

Only six months.  But, as it turns out, things have been happening on the jobs front. The blue-collar jobs front, that is.

They're continuing to leave.

Remember that triumphant moment during the transition period when Trump went to Indiana and boasted about saving factory jobs from leaving for Mexico?

Guess what?

They're going anyway.  And the company's keeping all of the state aid that it got to keep the jobs here.

There's your billionaire hero for you, folks.

Another year of that, and not even racism will be able to keep you in the Trump camp.

Mitch McCONnell, Fortune Teller

Who knew?

Mitch McCONnell, Senate Majority Leader, and thus-far failed co-captain of the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, can foresee the future.  Or, at least, he can when his ability to count votes depends on it.

As you know by now, McCONnell has, for the past several months, been engaged to repeal (and, possibility, replace) the ACA through a so-called "stealth" process that involves no hearings, no attempts at bipartisanship, no input from anyone in his caucus that is a woman, and no disclosures to any member of the public as to what health care in this country might look like once the repeal-and-replace (or repeal-only) process might look like.  Except, of course, for horror-show predictions from the Congressional Budget Office, which are quickly dismissed by conservatives as "fake news."

And all he has to do, because the budget reconciliation process is being used, is get 50 votes.  Not 60. Not even 51.  50.  Because, of course, he's got the Vice-President's vote in his back pocket.

But it hasn't been easy.  It turns out that talking about repealing Obamacare is one thing for Senators, and making actual voters in their home states suffer for the sake of "keeping their word" is quite another.  Why, they might forget all of the lies that they were told about Obamacare and discover that not only does it work, but losing it would be painful.  For their friends.  For their families.  For themselves.

So, then, what does Mitch do?

He puts a scarf on his head, gazes into his crystal ball, and tells wavering Senators that the cuts to Medicaid recipients will never really happen!

I mean, it must be the case that he can do this because he has a crystal ball.  Because, otherwise, it would just mean that the Republican bill is not really an effort to make America great again, but just a rank exercise in cynicism and self-serving hypocrisy focused entirely on next year's midterm elections.

And that can't be the case.

Can it?

Trump, The Muscovite Candiate Unmasked

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, as more and more information became available about Donald Trump's financial ties with Russian interests, and as Trump, while denying the existence of such ties, heaped words of praise upon Russian President Vladimir Putin, an unsettling question emerged in the minds of many (mine being among them):  is Trump the real-life equivalent of "The Manchurian Candidate," the title character of the 1962 film (and the 2004 remake), a person who has been manipulated in becoming an agent of a foreign power, even though perceived by the public as an American hero?

Trump himself, unsurprisingly, was not particularly honest in addressing this question.  He denied having any business dealings in Russia, even while evidence of such dealings slowly began to accumulate.  Since his election and inauguration, that process of accumulation has only accelerated, to the point at which former FBI director Robert Muller is now acting as an independent prosecutor investigating Trump's Russian ties, among other related matters.

One of those related matters, of course, is the extent to which the Russians used cybertechnology to meddling with the votes and the outcome of last fall's election.  At the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany earlier this month, in a private meeting that reportedly did not even include Trump's own translator, Putin allegedly assured Trump that no such meddling had taken place, and even offered to work with Trump to ensure that it would not take place in the future.  In return for Putin's reassuring, unverifiable words, Trump gave Putin carte blanche to intervene in the Syrian civil war in any way that he wanted.  Further, and perhaps even worse in some ways, he gave him carte blanche to continue to suppress and assassinate his one people, upending decades of American foreign policy dedicated to the advancement of human rights.

OK, you tell me, who got the better of the deal here?  Only the most die-hard of Trump voters would say yes.  As a matter of fact, some of the saner member of Trump's own party are saying no, and pushing him to act more like he's the President of this country, not Russia.  But, instead of taking the advice of people whose self-interest (and the interests of the nation) depend on helping him, Trump chooses to sail even deeper into the limitless depths of his ignorance and arrogance.

Much more recently, Trump has gone so far as to not only hint at firing Muller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but also to inquire into the extent of his office's power to grant pardons.  As in, can he pardon himself, if he has to?  In particular, he hinted that Muller should not investigate any of Trump's businesses.  If you think after hearing that hint that there's an innocent explanation for Trump's refusal all though last year to release his tax returns, feel free to inquire about this bridge I own.

But perhaps the most direct evidence of Russian attempts to interfere with last year's election came when it was revealed, and subsequently substantiated by direct evidence in the form of e-mail communications, that Donald Trump, Jr. took a meeting with a Russian lawyer under the pretext that the lawyer possessed damaging information about Hillary Clinton that the Trump campaign could put to good use.  Trump's son, as it turns out, was being totally bamboozled; the lawyer had a different agenda altogether.  The information about this meeting should have been turned over to the FBI; instead, it became just another one of numerous foreign contacts that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law (who was also at the meeting) "forgot" to report.

Art of the deal, my foot--either one of them.  Who falls for such an obvious attempt by a foreign power at gaining access to the American political process?  And who honestly believes that, in the fishbowl of international politics and Web-based journalism, it would be possible to be part of such an attempt and yet expect never to be caught?

I believe that this article holds much of the explanation.  Trump, his family, his closest followers and, to a degree, the people who voted for him, are all afflicted by that peculiar form of narcissism that Americans are prone to display, especially in dealings with foreign nations and nationals.  Our perception of our "exceptionalism" leads us to believe that we have nothing to learn from the rest of the world, even though the principles behind our system of government had antecedents in European philosophy and history.  Couple that with Trump's silver-spoon pedigree, and the sense of entitlement that it nurtured in him, and you have all of the ingredients you need for self-love to self-inflict a disaster for everyone in this country.

Sadly, in the process, our idealism about what America and the rest of the world should be like, which is very much linked to our narcissism, is sacrificed in the process because Trump regards our ideals as little more than words, empty vessels to be given away at will for the same of short-term gains.  As the Vanity Fair author explains, it is those ideals that offer our best defense to the level of foreign corruption that Trump and his cronies have invited across our borders.  Our borders! He's the last person who should be talking about weakening this countries borders; he may have already allowed the Russians to erase them.  And they certainly aren't shy about letting him know--or us--know it.

Donald Trump, the Muscovite Candidate.  It's not a movie.  It's the reality that surrounds us.  It's the reality that may devour us.

A Few Words Of Explanation

I didn't write as much in June as I normally do and, as you can see, I'm off to a somewhat late start for July.  The main reason for this is something I discussed in an earlier post.

The surgery that my oldest granddaughter had in late June went as well as could be expected.  She stayed in the hospital for a few days less than was originally expected--ten days instead of two weeks. One happy consequence of that stay, given when it occurred, is that she and her parents got to see the fireworks in downtown Baltimore on the Fourth of July from the Johns Hopkins Childrens' Center, a tall building that, by virtue of its location, commands a view of the Inner Harbor from which the fireworks are launched.

During her hospitalization, my wife, with some help from me, watched our youngest granddaughter to enable her parents to focus their attention on her sister.  My stepdaughter and son-in-law are caring and dedicated parents; they alternated spending each night with my oldest granddaughter, and have done everything humanly possible to get her through all three of the surgeries she has had on her heart.  On the last Saturday of June, my wife and I took our youngest granddaughter down to see her sister and her parents.  The six of us spent time together in the very large, well-supplied playroom, where I allowed my oldest granddaughter to beat me at Monopoly Jr..

She has now been out of the hospital for two-and-a-half weeks, and just started day camp this past week.  Since her discharge, she has been under a number of dietary and activity restrictions which should be lifted as time passes.  If all continues, as we hope and pray, to go well, she will start kindergarten this fall.

All of these surgeries that she has had are palliative in nature.  There is no "cure"; the closest thing to that would be a full heart transplant, which she may have to undergo in another ten years.  But, hopefully, the surgeries will enable her to get more oxygen in her blood and allow her to grow and function more normally.  One thing she has going for her is that she is a tough little girl; she even refused to take prescription-strength pain killers although she was in very real pain.  If that counts for anything--and I believe it counts for a lot--she has a lot going for her, even with her heart condition.

And something else she has going for her are not only the doctors, nurses and other staff members at Hopkins, but the many family members, friends, co-workers, and others who helped out during a very trying time for all of us, whether with actions for words (and prayers count as both).  Our sincerest and inexpressible thanks to everyone.

And now, back to the news, fake and otherwise ...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Where Should G-d's Law Be Written?

As you can see by following this link, the latest effort to use the power of government to promote all or part of the Bible came, quite literally, to a crashing halt.  In a relatively short span of time, too.

Two aspects of this are interesting.

First, there's the whole idea promoted by religious conservatives (and their secular partners in blasphemy) that the power of the state should be used to promote theology.  And not just any theology.  Their theology.  Whether those who disagree like it or not.  The "logic" behind this routinely cited is that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and therefore the power of the sword (whether held by a Federal or state hand) is fully justified in keeping it that way.

I could, at this point, launch a screed about the failure of many of these "Christians" to translate other aspects of the Bible into public policy.  Caring for the poor, and the strangers and sojourners within our midst, are among those aspects (to say nothing of the ever-present problem of winking). But that's not even the most significant problem with this whole Ten-Commandments-in-government-buildings trend.  Neither is the fact that, like it or not, this nation was not founded as a "Christian" nation.  Read the Preamble to our Constitution.  Find any "Christian nation" references in there? Didn't think so.  And, even had you done so, there's always this to chew on.

There's a more important question to consider, however:  where should G-d's law be written?

Well, a superficially plausible answer would be on and in houses of worship.  Perfectly reasonable, and utterly, utterly superficial.

Let's step back for a moment and ask the question:  What does the Bible say?

In fact, this is something that orthodox Christians and Jews can agree upon:  G-d's law is ultimately meant to be written on and in our hearts.  Take a look, and note that the word often translated as "heart" in the Bible is more correctly understood to mean "center"--that around which every other aspect of our lives revolves.

That is why the First Amendment to the aforesaid Constitution prohibits either the establishment of religion by government, or the restraint of freely worshiping.  Religion, first and foremost to the Framers, was meant to be a choice.  Nothing else could truly be called religion; in fact, it can only be described as tyranny.

And the second interesting thing about the Arkansas story?

As I've said before, a war in this nation has been brewing for some time, and now both sides have joined it.  This is a fact none of us should celebrate (I surely don't).  But it is one we all must now face--and join together to find a better way.  Hopefully, G-d's.