Words that never were true

…just spoken to help nobody but you.

word cloud

In our 24/7/365 news cycle, there’s never a moment when the world stands still and gives us a chance to get caught up on the events of the day. For a newspaper columnist the challenge is to try to keep up, knowing that the next blockbuster headline is just around the corner. So, while they are fresh in our minds, let’s explore some recent events.

Seeing is believing?

After much speculation, we now know that members of the Trump presidential campaign were in direct talks with Russian contacts who were seeking to influence the 2016 election. This isn’t speculation. All parties who attended, including Donald Trump Jr., have come forward to admit that the meeting occurred, though there have been conflicting stories about the topics that were discussed.

Now, in a normal world, you’d think that we could agree on most of the facts. But since last November, it’s not as easy to call things ‘normal’. Take for example this excerpt from the results of a recent survey by Public Policy Polling. (This is insane.)

“On Russia related issues we find a certain degree of willful ignorance among Trump voters that can possibly best be summarized by this finding: only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton…even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn’t happen and 24% say they’re not sure.”

Notice that? Junior admitted that the meeting occurred, and he even released the emails that prove his intention was to obtain materials from the Russians that supposed would be harmful to Sec. Clinton’s chances in the presidential race.

Nearly a third of Trump voters deny the meeting occurred… EVEN THOUGH JUNIOR SAID IT DID. The facts are undeniable, yet most Trump voters can’t allow themselves to see the truth that’s right before their eyes. That’s much more than willful ignorance. That’s self-imposed destructive stupidity.

It’s not the crime, it’s the…

Even more mind-boggling than the average Trump voter’s inability to grasp reality is the public’s quick and easy acceptance of any wrongdoing by the president’s inner circles. Part of Donald Junior’s rotating fairy tales about his secret chat was an effort to make it seem like it was all about trying to help Americans adopt Russian children. Now we know that President Trump dictated Junior’s official statement, trying to give it a spin of innocence. Does the elder Trump have no trust in his oldest son’s ability to speak for himself, or is twisting the story part of a plan to hide something nefarious?

By taking charge and re-directing the narrative, President Trump took the lead role in an attempted cover-up. This could be the opening special counsel Robert Mueller needs in his investigation into the Putin-ordered hacking and other efforts to help win the election for Trump.

Maverick? Meh.

As one of three Republican senators who voted against an Obamacare-killing bill, John McCain has been hailed as a hero by many on the political left. But let’s not rush into that. Senator McCain may have been standing up for what he thinks is right, although he’s not shown any previous love for the Affordable Care Act, so I doubt he’s suddenly decided that President Obama’s big achievement is worthy of his support.

It could be that McCain truly wants to see Congress return to the days of bi-partisanship on major issues, and thinks that his vote will convince others to regain a bit of sensibility. Then again, McCain may just have wanted to deny President Trump a victory.

For me, I have strong doubts that Senator McCain can be seen as an advocate for expanded health insurance coverage. That would take much more political courage than I’ve seen from him in many years. Now, if he were to go on Meet the Press and apologize to the American people for making Sarah Palin famous, then I might be convinced that he has honorable intentions.

How much is too much?

One final thought: as President Trump wrapped up his first six months in office, his administration saw many internal shake ups. His press secretary resigned under pressure, his newly-named communications director was hired and fired in just eleven days, his Chief of Staff was replaced, and numerous attorneys and spokespeople have come and gone. You have to wonder if the well will run dry. I was asked, “How long until Trump has alienated a critical mass?” That is, will we reach the point where no one else will work for him?

I think not. Considering the players that have been members of this administration so far, I’d say this:

There’s plenty of evil, untalented fish in the ocean.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald August 3, 2017.)


He ain’t heavy


David had a problem. He had a story to tell, one that he himself didn’t believe. Couldn’t allow himself to believe. And yet, he knew he had to share the secret. Or, did he?

If he let the cat out of the bag, people might get hurt. Reputations would be damaged, perhaps ruined. Maybe it was best if he just kept it to himself.

But he knew he couldn’t. Deep down in his heart, he knew that the right decision — the only decision — was to come clean. To talk. And so he did.


Mailbomb murder mystery

Beginning in 1978, the United States was at the mercy of a serial killer. One of a different breed than most. Unlike the habits of murderers like Ted Bundy or The Zodiac who selected victims at random, this killer’s targets were associated with advancing technology. Mail bombs were sent to universities, airlines, computer stores, and private homes. In its investigation, the FBI decided to condense the words ‘university’, ‘airline’, and ‘bomb’ to tag the case file as UNABOM. Thus, the still-unknown killer was nicknamed The Unabomber.

Three people died and 23 others were injured in a murder spree that lasted nearly two decades. But the killer said he would stop if a major publication would print a lengthy essay that was harshly critical of industry and technology. The New York Times and The Washington Post agreed, and the so-called “Unabomber Manifesto” was printed verbatim.  

And that’s when David Kaczynski recognized the words as those of his estranged brother.

David and other members of his family had had very little contact with his brother, Ted, for many years. At first, David wasn’t convinced that his older brother was responsible for the string of deadly attacks. Before contacting the authorities, he organized a team to investigate privately. A few months later, David made the decision to speak to the FBI. His brother was arrested a few weeks later. He eventually pled guilty to multiple charges and was sentenced to life in prison.


A matter of conscience

There’s no way to know if The Unabomber would have continued his terroristic ways if his brother had kept quiet. But it was clear that the FBI was stumped in its investigation. Because David Kaczynski acted when he did, any future attacks were clearly thwarted.

Essentially, lives were saved because David decided that it was more important to protect the nation than to keep his brother’s identity hidden. By putting his country first, he made the right decision.

Congress should do the same.

Which way will they choose?

The decision put before politicians in Washington isn’t one of trying to capture an elusive killer, but it’s no less serious. We’ve been hearing for months about Russia’s efforts in trying to influence the USA’s 2016 presidential election. (Note: I said “trying” for a reason. More on that later.) Seventeen intelligence agencies agreed that such attempts did occur, and their early investigations strongly suggested that members of the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russian government officials at the same time. It’s just common sense to find out who knew what, who did what, and what steps can and should be taken to prevent an adversarial government from manipulating American elections.

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, members of Congress and others both within and outside the federal government are in denial mode. Rather than wholeheartedly embracing their oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States”, we’ve seen high-ranking officials work to delay or derail these investigations. Whether it’s the Republican chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence cancelling hearings in order to have semi-secret chats with the White House or President Trump’s move to end the FBI’s investigation by firing its Director, our elected officials are certainly not putting any meaningful effort into learning the truth about Russia’s activities.

Can you imagine the Reagan Administration working to protect Russia? Me neither, but today’s Republicans sure seem to be eager to cater to the nation that Ronald Reagan called the “Evil Empire”.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that Russia actually caused the election to go Trump’s way. But they sure tried. What I’m saying is that Vladimir Putin wanted to see how far he could go to meddle in the most important part of our nation’s very being: our election.

We need to know what they did, how they did it, and who (if anyone) helped them. Most important: we need to know what to do to make sure they aren’t successful when they try again.

Our elected officials need to decide what’s more important: covering for somebody from their own party, a member of their own “family”… or protecting the entire nation.

It’s not a hard choice. Ask David.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald June 1, 2017.)

Home of the…?

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to rewrite the national anthem. Not the whole song, just the lyrics… and only a small part. Really, just one word.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the anthem or the sentiment of the verses. It’s just that one word. We don’t seem to be living up to that word.

Now don’t get excited. There are many, many Americans for whom that word is appropriate. Some, like retired U.S. Army Captain Florent Groberg who was recently awarded the Medal of Honor, it’s inadequate. Capt. Groberg was part of an elite security detail in Afghanistan when he confronted a suicide bomber. His efforts to shove the man away from the other soldiers in the patrol saved many lives, though Groberg himself was severely injured.

Groberg’s story is one of true heroism, but it’s not unique. Military personnel, law enforcement, firemen… I’m sure you can think of plenty examples. And let’s not discount everyday heroes… the people who put in a hard day’s work, who wring every last drop of sweat equity out of their paychecks, knowing that they could be downsized or outsourced at any minute.

And we need to recognize the boys and girls who do what’s right even if it means risking acceptance by the popular kids… standing up to bullies and, respectfully, challenging authority when a wrong has been committed.

These and more are… brave.

Unfortunately, the people who speak on our behalf… those that we entrust with the most valuable possession we Americans have, our votes… typically display the least courage. Some would argue that casting a “no” vote here and there or making a chest-thumping speech on C-Span takes an iron will and a steely spine, but I’m not buying it.

Politicians, you want to show me an act of bravery? Then let’s see you support something that is beneficial to everyone, not just your big-money contributors or your political base. Let’s start by agreeing to fix our roads and bridges, and I don’t mean a scheme that shifts funds away from other public services. Roll up your sleeves and come up with a plan that makes our highway system the envy of the world once again. Make it more functional and safer.

And for crying out loud… spend the money to get it done! We Americans kick in a huge chunk of cash every year. The least you could do is spend it on things that we need. Yes, we need a well-funded military, no argument here. But don’t focus too much on dropping bombs halfway across the world while ignoring the infrastructure that’s crumbling here at home.

While you’re at it, take a stand for what’s right… even if it means a handful of extremists will scream at your at your next town hall. Let’s hear you say something positive about independently-owned family farms, public school teachers, or even (gasp!) journalists. Acting like a grown-up might mean you’ll face a primary challenge from the fringe. But if you show up and do your job like we pay you to do, you’ll give us a good reason to vote you back in.

On the subject of showing up for work, let’s see you do something about your schedule. When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled the 2016 calendar for Congressional House workdays, there were too many empty spaces that need filling. What were you thinking? Only 110 days in session?!?!? That’s even less than the 133 days on your schedule in 2015. Is it asking too much for us to expect you to put in a string of 40-hour weeks?

Spare me the stories about how you need all those other days to catch up on “district work” when we know you use that time to give stale speeches at fundraisers and play golf with your special-interest lobbyists.

There’s one more thing you can do to show that you’re worthy: be honest in all that you do and say. Telling blatant lies may be a great way to get yourself booked on the most popular talk shows, resulting in more and more campaign contributions, but it just makes us trust you less and less.

We’ve got people running for the most powerful job in government who act like they’re allergic to truth. They tell huge lies and when confronted with the facts, just tell bigger lies. Is that the kind of leadership we deserve? Based on the crowds they draw, I’m beginning to wonder.

Here’s one more way you can show you’re worthy: reject and condemn the candidates whose campaigns are filled with bigotry and unkindness. Do what’s right… even if you face negative feedback… and we’ll be more willing to consider you “brave”,

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald, December 3, 2015.)

Object, but Respect

Remember back in 2009 when then-unknown Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted “You Lie!” during President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress?
He became an instant hero to the Tea Party and other low-information ‘Muricans… despite the fact that he threw the whole notion of civility and gentlemanly behavior out the window. Imagine the reaction if a Democrat had done this when President George W. Bush stood before Congress and lied about those WMDs in Iraq… or when President Ronald Reagan looked into the cameras on Nov. 13, 1986, and told this whopper: “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages — nor will we.”
Yet, Fox News and other political organizations masquerading as media outlets paraded Wilson as some sort of champion, giving him plenty of coverage (and boosting his fundraising as a result of that outburst).
By the way… what was the “lie” that inspired Wilson to interrupt the president? It was the moment when President Obama made it clear that the Affordable Care Act would not mandate coverage for undocumented immigrants. Despite Rep. Wilson’s interruption caused by his ignorance… the president’s statement was, indeed, truthful. But, to an audience eager to have its own disgust justified, Wilson remains idealized.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with our elected officials. From 2001-2009, I tolerated the Bush/Cheney administration. I spoke out when they led us into war in Iraq by making Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. I spoke out when they abused their Homeland Security credentials in order to win re-election. I spoke out when that administration’s economic policies led us to the brink of depression.
But… through it all… I maintained respect for President Bush because… whether I liked his politics or not… he was the president. Given the opportunity, I would have gladly shaken his hand… and I still would today… but I would also use that opportunity to express my feelings in a respectful manner.
Yes, you will see political writings from me that point out what I consider to be outrageous actions and comments… and, yes, most of them will probably be about people from the ‘Right’… or, at least, the ‘Far Right’. But everything I publish is based in fact, and I’ll gladly enter into a debate on the issues with you any day, any time.
Today… if you disagree with President Barack Obama… that’s your right. But if you wish to disrespect the office of President of the United States, you’re on shaky ground. Intelligent, mature discussions have no room for conspiracy theories, ‘funny’ pictures that are hate-fueled, or personal attacks on members of the president’s family.
And let’s dispense with the idea that American politics and religion have to be inseparable. The Constitution — specifically, Article VI, paragraph 3 — forbids the concept of any religious litmus test. The Founders made it clear that religious favoritism, which was a key factor in 18th Century England, would not be tolerated in the United States of America. The Framers’ intention was to prevent the government from involving itself in its citizens’ religious beliefs and practices.
Of course, a person’s character can come into play when he or she seeks office, but how they choose to worship… or if they choose not to… is not to be a means to prevent them from holding office.
Now, I do have questions for President Obama regarding Jeremiah Wright…why he remained seated in that church, not speaking out against Wright’s assorted tirades until the pressures of the 2008 campaign made it clear that such a break was necessary. But we can’t criticize one politician and one preacher while ignoring the harsh words of others.
Just this week, Pat Robertson continued his repeated attacks on President Obama’s personal faith, suggesting that the imposition of Sharia law in the United States is imminent and that because the president spent part of his childhood in Indonesia that he is in on the imagined plot. John Hagee, who infamously preached that Adolf Hitler personified the fulfillment of God’s will, had the audacity just last month to declare that our president is anti-Semitic.
And Franklin Graham has gone so far as to propose that Russian President Vladimir Putin, a one-time KGB agent of known ruthlessness, is leading his nation to a higher moral standard than the USA, a country that has made Rev. Graham very rich and very famous.
Who are we to condemn Wright… yet allow Robertson, Hagee, and Graham to make such pronouncements without objection?

Yes, they have the right to express their opinions, just as the rest of us have the obligation to challenge them to be honest.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on February 5, 2015.)

A White Guy says Raising the Minimum Wage will hurt Minorities

I’m sure Congressman McClintock didn’t mean to suggest that minorities only deserve a low wage… but unfortunately that’s what he ends up saying here.
McClintock could have made a legitimate argument — something like “a lower wage means more opportunities for more people”, or a similar stance based on bad economic theories — but instead he rambles about low wages are best for minorities because of a lack of skills.
I’m not an economist, but I could come up with a better argument — in fact, arguments that make sense both for and against raising the minimum wage — and I certainly wouldn’t include anything that sounds bigoted.
Perhaps Congressman McClintock should think more and talk less.