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.

The price is right

Groucho glasses

There’s a famous joke that’s been told in various forms for at least a hundred years. Usually it’s attributed to a famous personality such as George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill or, in the version I’m using here, Groucho Marx. It involves the individual having a somewhat naughty conversation with a woman, and it goes something like this:

Groucho turned his attention to a lovely young lady and, in his usual style, asked her, “My dearest desert flower. What would you say if I offered you a million dollars in exchange for spending a romantic weekend with me in Paris?”

Taken by surprise, she replied, “Why, Mr. Marx! I’m flattered! Of course, I’d love to be your travel companion.”

Without hesitation, Groucho then said, “My darling. What if I wined and dined you and invited you to spend the night with me in my New York penthouse and gave you $100,000 for your troubles?”

“Mr. Marx, you’re such a flirt! Most certainly I would accept your invitation,” she replied.

“Well, then,” Groucho said with a wide grin, “how about I give you ten dollars and we sneak off for a little fun in the next room?”

“I’m shocked,” the young lady snapped. “What kind of woman do you think I am?”

“We’ve already established that,” Groucho responded. “Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

 

Yes, it’s a bit risque. But it suggests that people can be convinced to do things if they expect a reward in return. The greater the pay-off, the more likely someone will agree to activities they would otherwise avoid. And that brings us to our present political climate.

Are there limits?

You’d have to be in worse shape than the Pinball Wizard himself to not realize that our president leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to maturity and leadership. Even being deaf, dumb & blind, I still think Tommy would have had no problem recognizing that President Trump falls far short of the standards set by our founding fathers.

 

I’ve made it clear that I’m not a supporter of this president. I have great respect for our nation and the office of the chief executive, but I simply cannot hide my disgust for the words and actions of the current White House occupant.

 

I would take some reassurance if a few prominent men and women provided a counterbalance for Mr. Trump. That is, people in leadership positions who would step in and steer Trump on the right path, showing that cooler heads are in charge. But that’s not the case.

While President Trump is attacking cable news hosts on Twitter, or leering uncomfortably at a female reporter from Ireland, or sharing an altered video that portrays the president tackling and pummeling an entire news organization… the Republican leadership in the House and Senate do little more than offer a “tut-tut”. We would expect the adults in the room to step up and tell Trump that his behavior is disturbing, embarrassing, disrespectful, and most certainly beneath the dignity of the office he holds.

Instead, those members of Congress, along with media commentators and employees of the Trump administration, are often found making excuses, telling Americans that this is the type of president they voted for so they should just accept it.

How much?

There has to be a reason that otherwise clear-thinking people would enable someone so lacking in maturity and decency, and there is. You see, all people like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan want is a huge tax cut for the richest people. That’s the brass ring they’ve been reaching for over the past several years. If that means the less fortunate Americans are going to lose health insurance or government services or other benefits that should be expected from what has been the richest nation on the planet, then so be it.

And while we’re on the subject of tax cuts for the rich, I’d like to draw a distinction. Republicans try to tell us that cutting taxes on the super rich will result in better jobs and higher income for the rest of us. The thing is, those rich people aren’t the employers. It’s the corporations they own that actually hire and fire us. And those corporations already do a great job in avoiding paying taxes. No, the millionaires and billionaires want tax cuts on their personal wealth. Granting their wish is not going to help the working class at all. But the GOP has been trying to sell their trickle-down economic plans since the days of Ronald Reagan.

Reagan. You remember him, right? He’s the guy who pointed at Moscow and called it the “Evil Empire”. Back in those days, Vladimir Putin was a KGB agent, one of the guys President Reagan despised. Today, Putin is the leader of Russia and the chief organizer of efforts to tamper with ballots worldwide, including our own recent presidential election.

I have a feeling that Reagan would not approve of President Trump, especially his efforts to block investigations into Russia’s actions.

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

He ain’t heavy

unabomber

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

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

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

 

Mailbomb murder mystery

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

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

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

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

Kaczynski

A matter of conscience

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

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

Congress should do the same.

Which way will they choose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not a hard choice. Ask David.

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

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.)

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.)