Making Plans?

resolutions

A new year means making resolutions, those weak promises you make to yourself that you have no intention of keeping. You’re probably not going to exercise more, or lose the weight, or watch less TV, or spend more time with family, etc. I hate to burst your well-intentioned bubble but if you didn’t make all the lifestyle changes you had on your list last year, you’re not about to fulfil those wishes this time around. 

But go ahead anyway. There’s no harm in making an effort toward self-improvement. That is, as long as the goals you set are healthy, uplifting, and not designed to lead to mass murder.

There’s something happening here

There’s a disturbing trend making waves in recent weeks: the notion that a civil war is on this nation’s horizon. That’s right, we’re apparently heading toward a bloody, destructive real shooting battle pitting American against American. Everybody’s talking about it, from television preachers to the President of the United States. 

As devastating as another war on the homefront would be, it seems this war won’t have as clear-cut battle lines as did the North vs South conflict of the 1860s. No, this one will be impossible to define in geographical terms. Rather than separate armies made up of regiments from this or that state, the civil war that might be on our 2020 calendar will truly see neighbor challenging neighbor. While the ultimate reason depends on who you talk to and their mood at the time, it sure seems like the majority of the crowd that is breathlessly calling for the shooting to get starting has one thing in common: a feverish devotion to President Trump.

Oh, you’re overreacting, you tell me. It will never get that bad. Sorry, but I don’t share your false optimism. Remember, we’re talking about people who laughed when this president made fun of a disabled journalist. People who follow the lead of the president and refuse to believe what our law enforcement and military experts tell us. People who repeat the president in questioning the patriotism of battle-wounded soldiers and Gold Star families. The same people who would never have accepted any of this coming from the previous president.

So if a civil war is inevitable, we need to know the rules of engagement.

I’ve got questions

Who will you shoot? Can you at least provide a simple answer?

How do you decide who amongst your fellow Americans is the enemy? Is there going to be a Sign-up Day? Do we all have to declare which side we’re on? Or are those of you who are cheering for a bloodbath get to be the ones who make up the rules as you go along? 

Do you grab a voter registration list and separate us purely along party lines? Do you monitor our posts on Facebook or Twitter? Do you look for political bumper stickers or identify us by whether we wear one of those silly MAGA ballcaps? 

Will we be declared as Good Guys or Bad Guys because of the churches we attend? Or where we were born? Or the color of our skin?

Do your enemies have to wear badges or would you prefer tattoos or brands?

You might think these are silly questions, but threatening a domestic war just because we don’t all align politically is a matter that calls for serious thought. The NRA puts it right on top of their gun safety rules: “Know your target and what is beyond.” Let there be no doubt when you aim.

These aren’t water balloons, after all. People are calling for a real-life killing war if they don’t get what they want, and they’re getting ready. Take, for example, the angry guy at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania last month who insisted that the president would not be removed from office by impeachment and backed it up by saying, “My .357 Magnum is comfortable with that.” Relax, cowboy.  No one believes the Mitch McConnell-led Senate would ever convict the president on any articles of impeachment, no matter how obvious the wrongdoing.

And then there’s the Oath Keepers, the extremist militia group that brags about its abundant weapons and willingness to use them, which seems to be begging the president to give them the go-ahead. They don’t need a reason to aim their guns. All they want is someone to tell them that their thirst for blood is justified.OathKeepers

We all know people who can’t control their anger. For some, white-hot hatred has led them to the point of solving every problem with violence. Are these the people you can trust to be on your side? To follow your orders, or to lead you into battle?

A grim reality

It’s just talk, you might say. They’re only joking, you claim. No one wants violence, you insist. Take this as a warning: it’s more than words, no one is laughing, and it’s clear that a growing number really do want to start shooting. Whether you choose to believe what the rest of us can see or you prefer to continue denying the truth, that’s on you. 

If you’re willing to shoot to kill, you better be able to legitimize that decision. And if you’re willing to stand by and let things get to the point of random murder in the name of politics, you need to make sure you can live with that as well. If they let you.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald January 2, 2020.)

Occupation: Foole

jester

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Most of us are familiar with that proverb which assures us that we can blame the trickster who catches us in a con the first time, but the fault belongs to us if we allow ourselves to be misled by the same deception a second time.

But what if we still don’t learn from our experiences? What does it say about us if we fall for the fraud over and over again? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me yet again, shame on… Facebook?

 

The real “fake news”

Perhaps nowhere today is there a more prolific source of foolishness than social media, particularly those websites that encourage users to share pictures and videos but without the benefit (or, some would say, hindrance) of a guide or editor, someone who would guarantee that the information posted for our viewing entertainment is also honest and truthful.

It’s one thing if we start off with the knowledge that the thing we’re about to see is a work of fiction. After all, no one really believes that there really are little orange men who work in a chocolate factory or that an evil clown with a red balloon is hanging out in the storm sewer. That’s just make-believe, and we can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, right?

Or so we think.

And hope.

Sadly, we’ve all heard stories of sweet little old ladies who received a phone call from the “police” with the news that their “grandson” was in trouble and were conned into giving credit card information to the caller to pay a hefty fine. It’s along the same lines as those random email requests from a so-called Nigerian prince who needs your help to pay a routine transaction fee to help release several million dollars from a locked bank account for which you will be handsomely rewarded.

Those and many other stories are nothing new. People have been cheated and swindled since the dawn of time. What’s changed are the methods used and the motivation. What once was an effort to steal money and property from the unsuspecting now is often replaced with seeking to confuse the victim in order to spread rumors. Much of the time, the goal seems to be to provoke fear and anger, often tied to politics. 

Not surprising. These days, everything is tied to politics.  

 

It’s really not that hard, people

What’s truly surprising is how quickly people can be convinced to believe the most outrageous claims. Take for example the multitude of tall tales that flooded the internet before, during, and after the 2016 presidential election. (You KNEW I was going down that path, didn’t you?)

You probably heard the story claiming that there was a certain pizza shop in Washington DC tied to a child abuse ring and that there was a hidden tunnel leading from the restaurant’s basement to various locations around the city. Without reading any further, most people would call such reports utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately, the story was amplified throughout social media, embellished with even more lurid details. Major media outlets joined in — Some, perhaps, treating it as a joke but others? Not so much. — and repeated the story enough that many people started to accept it as truth. It didn’t help that some reporters labelled the story “Pizzagate”, thus giving the public an easy title for the non-existent scandal. Of course, it only takes one lunatic with a gun who believes the lies and decides to play judge and jury, and that’s what happened in this case as an armed man who was motivated by the news reports fired several shots inside the restaurant. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it wasn’t the first time that innocent people were placed in danger over a foolish prank. And it wasn’t the last.

That’s just one example of the misuse of the internet to quickly spread a lie. If you want to see more, just open up your favorite social media site. There’s probably a few in your timeline right now.

(SIDE NOTE: I strongly urge my friends in the news media to stop thinking they have to give every little thing a cutesy name ending in “-gate”. Watergate was a real criminal event that disrupted our nation and led to the embarrassing resignation of an American president. Let’s stop trivializing real news stories by making these phoney tales sound legit.)

A matter of choice

Let me be clear: I’m not calling for the elimination of social media. But I am saying that we need to be more responsible about what we say and what we post online. Look at it this way: we pay entertainers to lie to us. We expect them to tell us a story, to pretend they are someone they’re not. That’s the kind of lie that’s harmless. 

It’s when we allow people with bad intent to flood our brains with lies in order to manipulate our lives and the way we vote, that’s when things go downhill. Unfortunately, it’s up to each one of us to prevent propagandists from controlling our thoughts and actions with false information. As Mark Twain once said, “How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”

*A special tip of the hat to the late George Carlin whose work provided this month’s title.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald September 5, 2019.)

We are better than this

dog whistleThose of us who dabble in the occasional do-it-yourself project eventually learn a few ‘rules of the road’, so to speak. We know that you should always “Measure twice, cut once” and “If it can’t be fixed with duct tape, you’re not using enough duct tape”. And then there’s the one about the old man who explained to his grandson why he had so many tools: “If the women don’t find you handsome, they’ll at least find you handy”.

The key to a job well done is having the right tools and knowing how to use them. To build my column, my tools are my words. It makes sense to know which ones are right for the task. For this one, the important words are not pleasant but are certainly getting a lot of work these days.

 

Here’s where things get ugly

First, let’s flip through the pages of our handy dictionary and get a clear sense of the differences of three key terms: bigotry, prejudice, and racism. Now, each of these words can be used to attack based on a person’s words, thoughts, or actions. It isn’t my intention to single out anyone here, but to get a better sense of how we can define and understand the world we live in.

According to Merriam-Webster, bigotry is ‘obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices’. Words like narrow-minded or intolerant come to mind. People with a “my way or the highway” attitude could easily be described as a bigot, but general usage of the term seems to be much more harsh.

Prejudice is ‘preconceived judgment or opinion; an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge’. To me, that sounds like what you get with the previously mentioned bigot who makes up his mind without bothering to check his facts.

And then there’s the big word that is bouncing around in many current events discussions these days: racism. The language experts describe it as ‘a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race’. That’s some serious heavy lifting in a single sentence, so let’s see if we can expand on that a bit.

 

Truth isn’t always comfortable

In his book “Portraits of White Racism”, David Wellman defined racism as a “system of advantage based on race”. He went on to explain, “Race is still a deadly serious category in America; how one is designated racially profoundly affects the experience of being an American.” That is, how society – and especially, how government – defines you is a primary force in determining how much of your inalienable rights are available for you to enjoy.

Paula Rothenberg, in her study “Race, Class, and Gender in the United States”, writes: “Racial prejudice when combined with social power… leads to the institutionalization of racist policies and practices.” In other words, if you choose leaders who have strong personal opinions about people of different ethnic backgrounds and they use their position of power to negatively affect the lives of others, you are contributing to a society fueled by racism.

In 1970, Patricia Bidol-Padva wrote that racism is “prejudice plus power”. It’s important to understand that power can be as simple as holding enough influence to affect the outcome of someone else’s actions. Examples would include making hiring decisions or approving a home loan. The greater the power, the more opportunity to derail the lives of others.

Our legal system has a mottled history with race; one only has to consider the Jim Crow laws of the not-too-distant past to see how our courts have been unfairly used to disadvantage non-whites. While it’s tempting to say that things are better now, a recent study by the Brennan Center finds that 24 states right now don’t have a single person of color serving as a Supreme Court justice, hardly a true reflection of our nation’s population. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we need a mandatory quota system to force diversification. But if our courts are that much out of touch with reality, can we be assured that those justices are as impartial as we expect them to be? 

 

A matter of choice

Each and every one of us can decide: be driven by feelings of superiority over others who look different, or be accepting of all in spite of those differences. No one is born with hatred, but humans are fast learners. I once sat at a baseball stadium and overheard a young – and clearly drunk – white man shouting his disgust over an African-American umpire’s call of a close play. Turning to one of his buddies, the guy proclaimed, “And that’s why I don’t like black people.” While I’m confident that this belligerent fan isn’t currently serving in office, recent elections have taught us that anything is possible. 

Let me be very clear: a racist can be any color, from any ethnic background, and have any religious belief (or none at all). No particular demographic has exclusive rights to racist thoughts or behaviors. So if I’m pointing fingers here, rest assured. I’m not placing all the blame on one group over another. Systematic hatred of others based on their looks is not limited to one race, and one newspaper column isn’t going to give sufficient space to explain all the reasons for that hatred. 

As a Caucasian male of European descent, I only know what it’s like within my own skin. But I also know that I wasn’t raised to think that I was better than those with different skin tones. And I’m not about to stand in silence while the privileged few try to turn this nation back into a land of oppression.

You see, whether it’s our government using authoritarian means to suppress the rights and privileges of large segments of our population… or it’s the ‘dog-whistle’ catchphrases that pepper the public comments by America’s most prominent political voices…we are seeing prejudice plus power in action. And that, my friends, is racism amplified to the highest volume.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald August 1, 2019.)

“Those who cannot remember the past…

are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

the time machine

Buckle up, buttercup

Let’s talk about those who hate. Now, you may not be comfortable using that term to describe those around you (or yourself), but you might recognize a few things in the following paragraphs. And what you discover may make you squirm in your seat. That’s okay: self-realization isn’t a bad thing, especially if you work to change.

Now, you’re probably not among the worst and you may not be actively pursuing a life of hate, so there’s hope. But by being willing to accept the words and actions of others, whether by agreeing in full or in part, means that you are enabling the spread of hate.

And you certainly don’t want that on your conscience, right? 

 

Fiction, not fact

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve certainly noticed that people are growing angrier at the world around them. Egged on by talk radio, social media, politicians, and even preachers, it’s safe to say that Americans are generally more upset with each other with each passing day.

Sure, there’s plenty of reasons (or excuses) for this downward slide of personal behavior, and there’s no one cause. But it isn’t hard to find a few instigators, those who are actively spreading the disease. One of the more prominent of these Typhoid Marys of Hate is Alex Jones, the star of the website InfoWars. You may know him as one of the primary corrupters of truth on the internet. Jones eagerly pounces on tragedies like mass shootings, labeling them as “false flags” – a government-run covert operation intended to mislead – and insisting that what we see on the news is not real. Jones has repeatedly insisted that school shootings like those at Sandy Hook Elementary and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were fake and that the children murdered in those events never existed. Taking advantage of the rising tide of anger in this country, Jones has made a career out of fueling that hatred, convincing many of his audience to fully believe every word he says despite the obvious facts available. 

I will note here that Jones has, somewhat reluctantly, admitted that at least some of these mass murders are not staged events and that the victims are real. Of course, he only changed his tune after he was named in a lawsuit by families of the victims, so I would question his sincerity.

 

No easy answers

Part of the public acceptance of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones has to be the willingness of more and more people to take as truth whatever they hear from the people they like, know, or trust. That’s an unfortunate level of indifference that I’ve discussed on these pages many times before. And I’ve also highlighted the growing eagerness of many Americans to shed the shackles of what they call “political correctness”. People are more comfortable being public with their prejudices. I don’t hesitate to say that many are proud to show off their true selves after hiding their feelings for much of their lives. 

Such levels of intolerance are not new, of course, and are not limited to the USA. Although we have a disturbing history of institutional racial and religious bias with the targets being of many different backgrounds – Native Americans, blacks, the Irish, Eastern Europeans, and many others – we eventually find a way to overcome the differences and, at least officially, grow to be more accepting. Smarter, cooler heads will prevail – they always do – and we as a nation will be better as we move forward.

For now, unfortunately, we have become less than we should be and there are indications of a worsening trend. Take, for example, the results of a recent survey that points to an alarming rise of intolerance in which one’s own religious belief is used as a defense. We’re familiar with cases of business owners who have refused service to gay couples. This survey found the percentage of Americans who support that form of discrimination rose from sixteen percent in 2014 to thirty percent this year. While that’s still a minority, it’s also a near-doubling of approval in just five years, a tendency that could easily climb much higher.

That same survey found similar spikes in the number of Americans who are comfortable with these businesses also refusing service to Jews and African-Americans. What’s notable and troubling is that this support is rising along nearly every political and religious demographic. It may come as somewhat of a surprise, sadly, that those who consider themselves Christians – specifically evangelical and mainline Protestants – are leading the way in this wave of intolerance.

The people who declare to be followers of the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, and the Light of the World are more and more becoming less of a reflection of the Man they worship.

 

I think you can see what’s next

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, I can’t help but draw comparisons to the Nazis’ policy of Untermensch, a term to describe people whom they deemed as unworthy and inferior. (The word is a direct translation of ‘under man’, a description employed by T. Lothrop Stoddard, an American journalist and author – and Klansman – whose writings on eugenics and race are seen as a major influence in the establishment of the racial purity politics of the Nazi party.) Much as whole races were devalued in the eyes of those in control back in those dark days, we can see parallels today. 

As Holocaust survivor and Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel once said: “…indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never his victims, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten…”

We need to find a way to convince our friends and neighbors to reverse the trend of hatred and intolerance before we repeat the mistakes of the past.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald July 5, 2019.)

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.)

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.)