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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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.)

Buckle up! It gets worse.

buckle-up

It’s not possible for me to update this blog fast enough to keep up with all the wrongdoings of our president.

But here’s a brief rundown.

 

Let’s review:
 
1. Trump gave Russia, an adversary, highly classified information… gathered from intelligence sources from a nation friendly to us, an ally.
 
2. Trump administration officials spent most of yesterday in Deny, Deny, DENY! mode, claiming that this never happened.
 
3. Trump this morning tweeted… yeah, it happened.
 
4. Trump administration officials are spending most of today telling us that it’s all hunky-dory, that it wasn’t classified but was common knowledge stuff, and it was “wholly appropriate” to give that information to Russia.
 
5. The intelligence came from Israel.
 
6. Russia is on very good terms with nations that are sworn enemies with Israel… Iran, for one.
 
7. Trump administration continues to tell us that it’s not a BFD that the president gave Russia the intel. What really matters, they say, is that knowledge of what happened in the meeting was leaked to the media. In other words, it’s NOT a concern that Trump is giving out secrets like candy… the problem is that someone TOLD us he did it.
 
What I need to know is: how is this going to play with evangelicals? You know, the folks who voted for Trump and who claim that they REALLY LOVE Israel (even though they sure don’t care much for Jews).

 

 

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.)

Whoa, cowboy!

whoa-horsey-russell-ellingsworth-canvas-print

Let’s take a deep breath, cowpokes.

Yes, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey today. What this means is yet to be determined. BUT…

… this is NOT a Constitutional Crisis. We are not at the same level as what this nation experienced during the Nixon administration. Our nation is in a solid place, far from any sense of crumbling into chaos.

BUT…

 

We are seeing amazing things happening… deeply disturbing things… in and around an administration that seems to have absolutely no idea what it is doing.

 

Let’s be honest: now-former FBI Director James Comey was destined to be fired. His handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails… and his handling of Russia’s obvious hacking of otherwise secure computer files of both the Democrats and Republicans during the 2016 election AND the certainty of Russia’s attempt to influence the election… all are justification of removing him from his position.

The question we must be asking now is: why today? Why now? What explains the timing of Comey’s firing?

Is it possible that Comey and the FBI were getting close to something… a real bombshell… some previously-rumored event that is about to be confirmed… the “Smoking Gun” that will finally, completely show collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and agents of an adversarial government?

The real question: when will the Trump administration fold upon itself? When will President Trump vacate the office rather than face prosecution? Will Vice President Pence fall on his sword as well, or will he try to rise above and assume the presidency?

There are way too many questions right now.

Stay tuned… and keep demanding the truth.

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.)

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.)