Sympathy for the devil

Charlottesville

There are no good Nazis. Period. Full stop. Our parents and grandparents, those who made up what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation, joined forces with allies around the globe to defeat Hitler’s rampage. We pay tribute to those who sacrificed everything and we salute those who made it back home, each one of them a part of the greatest military force ever seen on this planet.

So I’ll say it again: there are no good Nazis. I’ll also go on record as saying there are no good KKK members.

And yet…

When Nazis, white supremacists, Klansmen, and other organizations with similar goals and desires came together last month in Charlottesville, their purpose was to voice their objection to the removal of statues and monuments that pay tribute to Robert E Lee and other notable figures of the Confederacy. Of course, it was much more than that.

With chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” coming from the tiki torch-bearing crowd, it was clear that the protest was about much more than Southern heritage.

This gathering of angry white men — many of whom wearing what appears to be the unofficial uniform of white supremacists, white polo shirts and khaki pants — apparently feel more emboldened than their predecessors who hid their identities beneath white sheets and hoods. That’s not surprising, considering that so many Americans still can’t handle the fact that a black man was elected to serve two terms in the White House.

They feel bold because, even after their protest march turned violent and resulted in a young woman’s death, President Trump could offer only a lackluster condemnation while also referring to some of the protestors as “fine people”. They feel rewarded by political pundits who, like Trump, engage in a “both sides” argument. Commentators took to radio and television, Facebook and Twitter, and newspapers large and small, taking great care to point out that the neo-Nazis were the ones with permits and First Amendment rights. We were told that everything would have been just fine if only the counter-protestors — those “liberals” and “leftists” — had not stepped in and caused trouble.

I wasn’t anywhere near Charlottesville that weekend but I have no problem saying this: if you were voluntarily marching in a crowd filled with people giving Nazi salutes and spitting out bigoted chants, you can’t expect us to consider you an example of “fine people”.  Our Constitution may allow groups to organize such events and protect even the most vile hate speech, but that treasured document doesn’t tell us we have to praise them for doing so.

The Rule of Law

The Constitution grants many protections besides free speech, of course. We all take for granted our ability to worship as we please, to lawfully own guns, and our protections in matters of criminal court cases. But not everyone agrees.

Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, the notorious former sheriff, stomped on the Constitutional rights of many Americans. Specifically, he was found to have violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Ordered to stop his actions, Arpaio not only continued his abuses, he bragged about his exploits. Found guilty of contempt and facing a possible jail sentence, Arpaio was instead pardoned by President Trump, whom the sheriff had vigorously endorsed during the 2016 campaign. The message couldn’t be more clear: when it comes to protecting his friends or the rest of us, Trump will side with those who do him favors.

Where’s the outrage?

You’d think that such blatant abuse of presidential power would cause Trump’s supporters to sour on him. You’d be wrong.

Remember those stories that flooded talk radio and social media in recent years? The ones that said President Obama was going to cancel the 2012 election? Or the ones that said he would cancel the 2016 election, giving himself a third term? Those stories were not just silly, they were incredibly irrational.

We don’t have national elections. We don’t have a singular presidential election. We have thousands of presidential elections. Every state, every county, every individual precinct. They’re not operated by the federal government, and they’re not controlled by the president. In order to cancel a presidential election, you would have to convince every polling place to refuse to print ballots and power up the voting machines.

It would take absolute agreement of the election boards in every one of those communities to stop our electoral process. Since we’re not living in a dictatorship or in some science fiction novel, you can surely see that it is impossible.

And yet, over half of Republicans said they support cancelling the 2020 election if President Trump proposed it. If congressional Republicans joined the president’s call, the number of Republicans who would approve climbs even higher.

The people who were practically tearing their hair out at the notion that President Obama would somehow circumvent the laws of this nation are now willing to allow President Trump to do just that.

Defending Nazis. Violating basic Constitutional rights. Making a mockery of our elections. I would ask, “What’s next?”, but I don’t think I want to know.

Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald September 7, 2017.)

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True colors?

Trump WaPost

It amazes me that the President of the United States of America said this today:

“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down—excuse me—are we going to take down—are we going to take down statues to George Washington? What about Thomas Jefferson?”

That is what a Klansman would say to defend himself, by making comparisons to our Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave owners.

Trump is a dangerous man. He stands for the ideals of the extremists of the white nationalists, and that’s not what America stands for.

No matter what

A road sign with the word Choose and arrows pointing left and right

In America, we like to choose sides. We make a decision and then stick to it. Nothing you can say or do will convince your buddy to change his ways.

Take for example the Cola Wars. There’s been a rivalry between the drinkers of Coke and Pepsi for generations, with both sides insisting that their favored beverage is better. While I’m sure you know somebody who has no preference, most of the people in my circles are dedicated to one brand over the other. One side insists that Coke is the only soda worth drinking, while the other will select water rather than accept a cola other than Pepsi.

It’s the same thing with sports teams. Or Ford vs Chevy. Or those old commercials with a bunch of guys yelling “Tastes great!” and “Less filling!”

In most cases it’s all in good fun. But often we invest so deeply in our devotion toward one side over the other that it’s no longer trivial. Eventually, these disputes become much more heated when the loyalists on the two sides face off on a political issue.

The Truth, the Whole Truth

If you’ve been following this column for any period of time, you know that I have no patience for liars. If your argument is built upon a foundation of falsehoods, I want no part of it. I wouldn’t want to stake my reputation on something I know not to be true, and I can’t conjure up the desire to have a conversation with someone who deals with fantasy rather than facts.

We have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. Our computers and smartphones can lead us to the answers to just about any question imaginable. But we have to be willing to use discernment. We have to take precautions, to make sure that what we hear and what we read is honest and trustworthy.

Sometimes the lies are obvious. Others, though, are partially shadowed. Whether these are half-truths or unspoken realities, we can count them as lies because of how they’re presented. We may be told a less than complete story or, quite often, we just don’t listen well enough. We hear the things we want, and ignore the rest.

If you always believe what you’re told without doing a bit of investigating on your own, you’re taking a big risk. You could end up putting your trust in a person or an ideal only to be greatly disappointed in the long run.

Take for example the woman in Indiana who counts herself as a supporter of President Trump. She voted for him because, among various reasons, she liked his tough stance on undocumented immigrants. But she didn’t think that her husband, who came to the States illegally from Mexico nearly twenty years ago, would be deported. She heard Trump talk about kicking out criminals, but never suspected he was talking about people like her husband. And yet, he was detained, then sent to Mexico on a one-way trip.

Or the mother in Tennessee who told the Washington Post that it was tax credits from Trump that made her unemployed son’s health insurance premiums drop by nearly 85 percent. In reality, those savings were the result of subsidies from the Affordable Care Act, which is still the law. Ironically, repeal of the ACA – a key talking point of Trump’s campaign – will cause those subsidies to end, thus causing her son’s insurance premiums to skyrocket.

In both cases, and a multitude of others, overwhelming loyalty prevented these people from seeing and understanding basic truths.

It becomes part of you

Dan Pfeiffer, who served as Senior Advisor to President Obama, recently said, “Being for Trump becomes part of someone’s identity.” While he is clearly partisan, Pfeiffer’s words ring true. Trump himself made the claim that he could shoot someone and not lose support. Based on the enthusiastic attendees at Trump’s rallies, he’s right. There are a lot of people who are willing to accept anything Trump says or does and remain on his side.

It didn’t matter to them when Trump reversed his campaign promise to label China a “currency manipulator”. They seem okay now that Trump has changed positions on NAFTA and NATO, and that he has flip-flopped on several health care issues. They stand by their votes for him, and they eagerly sign up for tickets to his rallies where they laugh at his jokes and feel good about the choice they made.

They refuse to be convinced otherwise, perhaps because they just don’t want to admit that they fell for a con.

I wonder what it will take, what abuse of power or act of greed, before they see clearly.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald May 4, 2017.)

Wouldn’t it be nice?

cut net

I’d like to think that there’s at least some good in all of us. It would be comforting to be able to look at someone, just a random individual, and be able to honestly say that there are obvious signs of good qualities inside that person’s mind and soul. After all, humans are not some kind of emotionless beast driven purely by instincts. We have empathy. We care.

Well, not all of us.

As harsh as it may sound, I can’t help but look at the ongoing battle over health care in the USA and see example after example of those among us who just don’t care.

Let’s be honest about the Affordable Care Act. It’s a mess. A big, heaping pile of brain-numbing bureaucracy. But considering the size of the healthcare industry – amounting to nearly one-fifth of our nation’s Gross Domestic Policy – any law that tries to tame the monster would have to be pretty complex itself. And just like any other law of considerable substance, once the ACA was enacted the flaws were easy to spot.

Normally, you would expect our elected officials to fix the broken parts, to work together for the common good. But instead of making the repairs, Republican members of Congress made it their goal to repeal the law they nicknamed “Obamacare”. Of course, with President Obama not about to sit back and allow such an important part of his legacy, the Republicans discovered that they were powerless to kill the law until they could get a member of their own party elected president.

And then Donald Trump happened. And the Republicans realized that, finally, they could make their dream come true.

Except, they couldn’t.

The Republicans fashioned their own healthcare law, but couldn’t convince enough of their own party to support it. The holdouts, the Republicans in Congress who were the difference between pass and fail, were those within the House Freedom Caucus. These are the most conservative, the most extreme rightwing members, and they couldn’t be talked into voting for the ‘repeal and replace’ plan.

Because it wasn’t cruel enough.

The House Freedom Caucus demanded that the new law strip away the so-called “essential health benefits” which were part of the ACA and were kept in the Republican legislation. These are a list of features that must be included in all health insurance plans. We’re talking really basic stuff, like emergency services, maternity and newborn care, lab tests, and in-patient treatment. Those are the things you would expect to have covered by a health insurance policy, but they weren’t required until Obamacare became law.

And the House Freedom Caucus wanted to remove that part, essentially telling insurance companies that they could sell policies that would cover almost nothing.

No wonder it failed.

But the battle isn’t over. Recently, House Speaker Paul Ryan said this:

The whole idea of Obamacare is … the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick. It’s not working, and that’s why it’s in a death spiral.”

Read that a bit closer:

“… the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick…”

That’s a simplistic and not all that honest a description. Sure, if you buy health insurance and don’t use it, it seems like the costs of treating sick people is making your bills go up. But the better way to look at it is this: because healthy people buy insurance, it brings the costs down for those who need the coverage the most. Is it really such a bad thing to help the less fortunate?

The real goal of Speaker Ryan isn’t replacing Obamacare. His one true desire is to reduce taxes for the very rich. He’s make tax reform his biggest objective since he entered politics. But the reality is that those tax cuts would result in a huge deficit unless something very big was cut out of the budget. And that’s where the real cruelty becomes obvious.

More than two-thirds of the federal budget is spent on what we call social insurance. That’s programs like Social Security, Medicare, education, and veterans benefits. Cut those services drastically, or eliminate them completely, and suddenly you’ve freed up billions of dollars in the budget, money that could pay for those gigantic tax cuts for the most privileged Americans.

And that, friends, is exactly what Paul Ryan hopes to do.

The goal is to take away services from the poor and middle class, those of us barely making it paycheck to paycheck, in order to reward the very, very rich.

Ryan and his buddies couldn’t pass an Obamacare repeal. Or, perhaps, that was never the plan. It was just a smokescreen, a con game designed to make Americans focus so much attention on healthcare that they wouldn’t notice when the safety net was yanked away.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald April 6, 2017.)

I hate myself for loving news

tv news

As far back in time as I can remember, I’ve been incredibly curious. From exploring the wilderness of my back yard to watching rockets launch men into space on a small black & white television screen, I was infatuated. Given the opportunity to watch the evening newscasts with my parents, I became aware at a very young age of the good and bad of the world. I watched Walter Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley as they explained about the tragedies of our fallen soldiers in a war halfway around the globe and the deaths of a couple men brought down by assassin’s bullets. Presidents gave speeches and reporters told me about other men who wanted to get elected. I watched, listened, and learned… and wanted more. Fortunately, I had plenty to keep me interested.

Not only did I pay attention to what I watched and heard, but I started digging deeper into the news of the day. With the help of radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, and several well-worn volumes of my trusty encyclopedia, I threw myself head first into what has become a lifelong passion for politics and the people who seek elected office. Since my coming of age was during the Nixon years, I had plenty of fresh material. As I was learning about how our government is structured and the duties of various offices, I was also watching a presidency collapsing, brought down from within.

President Nixon was his own worst enemy, causing his own fall from grace because of a pattern of illegal activity and efforts to keep the wrongdoings secret. But thanks to a few determined members of the news media — many of whom were subjected to not so subtle threats by Nixon and his team — the lies and the crimes were uncovered.

I am a self-professed news junkie. More specifically, I am addicted to politics. I read a couple daily newspapers and a few of the weeklies. I watch a fair amount of politically-themed talk shows, and study many magazine articles. Nearly everyone I follow on Twitter is either a member of government or a reporter on the political beat. I’ll admit: sometimes it results in information overload, and I’ll need to turn away from it all to decompress. It isn’t long, of course, until I’ll back for more. I guess I crave the punishment. But, like I said, I’m very curious.

Today, we live in a 24/7 news cycle. Thanks to the internet, we have many more options to be informed about the people whom we have voted into positions of power, as well as the staff members they bring along for the ride. As I’ve written before, we have no excuse for not knowing what the politicians are saying and doing. But too many of us choose to be under-informed, relying on family members or Facebook friends to filter the news, rather than seeking out the facts for ourselves. Social media has its place in keeping us entertained, but it’s no substitute for factual reporting.

In these early days of the new administration — and in the campaign that led us here — we’ve seen members of the news media come under assault for nothing more than doing their jobs. Much like Nixon nearly a half century ago, President Trump is using the power of his position to attack reporters, commentators, and even entire news organizations. Trump and his staff regularly label any non-favorable reports as “fake news”, telling supporters that these media outlets are villains. The president even went so far as to declare on Twitter (and in various public appearances) that certain networks and newspapers were the “enemy of the American people”.

Now, it’s fine to have your own opinion. It’s perfectly okay to vent your feelings. But when the President of the United States points his finger and calls someone the enemy, that’s crossing a dangerous line. There are many unstable people in this country. What if one of them hears the president make such an inflammatory remark and decides to attack a reporter? Reporters have needed the assistance of police officers to escort them safely from the events they are covering. NBC’s Katy Tur even received Secret Service protection when she was singled out by then-candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally.

And let me just say this: if President Obama had made that kind of threatening remark aimed at the news media, Republicans in Congress would have wasted no time in calling him anti-American for attacking the First Amendment. But I guess things are different now.

When it comes to the news, you don’t have to agree with everything you read or hear or watch. But at least you should respect the need for a free and accessible press. After all, our forefathers did.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald March 2, 2017.)

The wrath of Don

Shatner

A month ago, I expressed my hopes that our newly-minted president would prove me wrong, that he would assume the office with the best intentions, and would begin the task of governing the world’s only superpower with dignity and distinction. Instead, he entered his term by amping up the same childishness and petty behavior that he thought was necessary throughout the campaign.

President Trump wasted no time. On the day he was inaugurated, in his very first official act, Trump signed an executive action that cancelled a previous-approved interest rate reduction for homeowners all across the country. The rate cut on FHA loans, which had been authorized by President Obama, would have meant an estimated annual savings of $500 for these Americans. You can imagine those families using that money to buy furniture or clothes or groceries. But thanks to our new president, that money will go to the federal government. Funny, isn’t it? The man elected by people who insist that government is too big turned around and took money from the pockets of so many moms and dads who are struggling to give their kids a nice home.

The next day, right after the president woke up for the first time in the White House, he returned to Twitter and began yet another needless battle with the news media, this time over the size of the crowd that gathered in Washington and saw the president take the oath of office. Let’s face it: anyone with at least one good eye could see that attendance at Obama’s 2009 swearing-in was much larger than the audience for Mr. Trump. The grown-up thing to do in that situation would be to acknowledge the difference, make a joke about it, and move on. But that’s not what happened.


The president chose to deny the facts, then directed his press secretary to repeat the same falsehoods during the live broadcast of his very first press briefing. The president’s people continued the assault on reality on the Sunday talk shows and beyond. The result? America’s (and the world’s) first impression of President Trump is of a man who cannot tell the difference between fact and fantasy. How is that supposed to give us confidence in the competency of the person given the codes to our nuclear arsenal?

In the days immediately following inauguration, President Trump and his handlers unleashed what can only be described as the first wave in an all out attack on the First Amendment. In addition to continuing his attacks on the news media (freedom of the press), including calls by his staffers for reporters to be fired because they weren’t favorable to the administration, the president’s team tried its best to demonize the multitudes of women (and men) who gathered and marched in peaceful protest against the policies and actions of the president (freedom of assembly).

Then, to cap off a raucous first week, President Trump rushed together an executive order that calls for a ban on refugees and other immigrants — and even just visitors — from seven Muslim-majority countries… an order that had little to no input from people in Homeland Security, the State Department, or the Pentagon. An order that was deeply flawed because of that rush to implement… as it even prevented permanent residents (“green card” holders) from returning to their American homes. As much as the administration tried to pass it off as a means of protecting the country, the fact that Christians and Jews are to be exempt makes it very clear: the president wants to use the power of the federal government to target members of a particular faith (freedom of religion).

In just one week, President Trump acted to override the protected rights set down over two hundred years ago. At that rate, he could easily circumvent the rest of the amendments before the Fourth of July.

Friends and family have been telling me, “Give him time. Give him a chance. Show him some respect.” To them I say, “Just look at the damage done in just a few days.” As for respect, I need only to look back at the past eight years with a combative, do-nothing Congress for an example of disrespect.

Trump managed to be elected by distracting his audience with catch phrases. He made outrageous promises punctuated with even more outrageous language, all to get laughs and applause. He wasn’t running for President; he was just out there doing very bad stand-up comedy.

Unfortunately, because too many people decided they wanted a game-show host in the White House, we’re stuck with him until he either grows tired of the pulling the con… or he’s removed from office.


Either way, our nation has been deeply wounded.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald February 2, 2017.)

The end is near

arguing beagles

It just so happens that I like happy endings. I like stories where good triumphs over evil, when the down-on-his-luck guy finally catches a break, and when star-crossed lovers beat the odds and live happily ever after. Okay, maybe that last one is too much of a stretch, ‘cause the one place you won’t find this guy is plopped down on the couch all wrapped up in some romantic comedy. But I do like to see when conflicts can be resolved and everyone is pleased by how everything turned out. In books and movies, that can happen. In the real world, it’s not that easy.

If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s this: I’m not an optimist. That doesn’t mean that I’m always looking for something bad to happen. But after you’ve spent a few years dealing with all the highs and lows that life can send your way, you tend to get a feeling for how the story is going to end. And this year, my friends, we’re caught up in a real page-turner.

This presidential election was destined to be like none before it. There was no doubt who was going to be the main contender among the Democrats. From the moment that Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama in 2008, it’s safe to say we all knew she was going to run again. And it was also clear that she would not have to face many competitors. This is due in part to the view from within the party that Clinton’s previous run gave her the advantage of already having built a national campaign, and that experience coupled with a solid network of endorsers and operatives meant that she would hit the ground running while any rivals would be starting from scratch. And so, despite a rather impressive challenge from Bernie Sanders, Sec. Clinton succeeded in becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major US political party.

For the Republicans, their nominee took a much different path. Sure, Donald Trump had plenty of name recognition, but he never bothered to form any real organization. Instead, Trump relied on a loosely concocted strategy of winning a popularity contest rather than gaining votes based on the usual method of establishing a meaningful stance on policy issues. True, Mr. Trump entered the race as one of a large crowd, but it’s not like most of his competition was all that formidable. Some were poorly funded. Others never seemed to be putting in much effort. (I’m looking at you, Jeb.)

And so, here we are. The next president, the person who will hold the most important elected office in the world, will either be a woman with a very large unfavorability ranking… or a man with, coincidentally, a very large unfavorability ranking. No matter who wins, our nation’s next leader will be greatly disliked from day one. That’s unfortunate, but it could also be a great opportunity. Imagine if our next president takes the oath of office and immediately sets out to gain the trust of all Americans, even (and, for that matter, especially) those who voted for the other candidate. We could be in for a new era of healing and cooperation. But I just don’t see that happening, not for a good while. Like I said earlier, I’m not an optimist.

Never before in my lifetime has there been so much bitterness connected to a national election. We’ve allowed anger to overtake common sense. Family members can’t talk to each other without name-calling. Friends are distancing themselves from each other, all because of whose name they plan to select on the ballot.

Is this what we’ve become? A society that’s willing to throw out all the conventions of kindness and civility? And if it’s this bad now, how much worse will it be after the election?

We need to turn off talk radio and cable TV, and learn how to sit down and discuss our differences like reasonable adults. No name calling, no finger pointing, no threats. I’m not going to tell you that we all need to hold hands and say only nice things to each other. That’s not reality. But we need to get out of this rut we’re in.

The great cartoonist Walt Kelly once worked for Disney, helping to create such masterpieces as “Dumbo”, “Pinocchio”, and “Fantasia”… but he’s best known for his comic strip, “Pogo”. Kelly often used his drawings to comment on social issues, particularly politics, and in doing so condemned extremism on both sides. The most famous quote from his strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us,” can honestly be used to describe our current political climate.

I won’t say we’ve hit rock bottom, because that would suggest that things can’t get worse. Based on what I’ve seen over the past year, it probably will.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald September 1, 2016.)