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.

Advertisements

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.)

I hear the train a-comin’

train track

Here we are, in the final stages of the aftermath of the 2016 election. The votes have been tallied, and the electors have made it official. As our nation’s founders wished, our country once again, for the 44th time in its history, finds itself in the midst of a peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. The future of the United States is now in the hands of a brash, boisterous man of huge ego. A man of questionable character and even more questionable ability. A man who puts on airs of being a leader but has a dubious track record when it comes to actually leading. And yet, like it or not, Donald Trump will be President of the United States of America.

You may like it. I do not.

However, there is only one chief executive position established by our Constitution. There can be only one president. And despite our concerns, regardless of our wishes otherwise, Donald Trump is that one president.

I will not be one of those detractors toying with the “He’s not MY president” mantra. Many foolish people have tossed that phrase about since Mr. Trump’s November victory, and each of them is acting just as ignorant of reality as those who have tried to deny President Obama his own rightful place of honor these past eight years. That silliness is disrespectful to the office and the wise individuals who forged this nation more than two centuries ago. So, yes, he will be known and referred to here as President Trump. I respect the office too much to say otherwise.

That is not to say, however, that I hold much respect for the man himself.

I’ve made it very clear in this column that I’m very distrustful of many elected officials. I’ve also made it very clear that I have not patience with dishonesty. But, as I’ve also written, they all lie. It’s up to us, the stakeholders of this nation, to keep them as honest as possible. We must hold them accountable for their actions, and use our powers — free speech, independent press, the ballot box — to either reward or punish them as we see fit.

But for us to do that requires knowledge. And a backbone. And common sense.

We need a good, strong news media to keep us informed of everything our politicians do, from the positive achievements to the clumsy missteps. We need to stand strong in support of those working in radio, television, newspapers, magazines… even those who tweet and those who blog. We may never see another Deep Throat, but if someone like that comes forward, America needs to know that there will be a modern version of Woodward and Bernstein ready to listen, to write, and to break the news to an otherwise unsuspecting public.

We cannot tolerate the bullying of the press we saw from Candidate Trump… a tactic that President-elect Trump has continued to employ. Sure, he may not like what they report, but he must stop attacking the messengers. And he absolutely must no longer encourage others to verbally and, in some cases, physically assault members of the press. A president must want to uphold the First Amendment. A dictator would want to destroy it.

Of course, I have little hope that Donald Trump will change his tone. Why should he? After all, he criticized Secretary Clinton for making speeches to Wall Street tycoons, but then he hired several of them to serve in his administration. He claimed that his opponents were dishonest, but refuses to release financial documents to prove that other nations can’t influence his decisions. He ran an anti-immigration campaign, but he and his family have a long history of hiring non-citizens. And there’s great concern over why Mr. Trump seems to have more faith in the Russian leader than in our own intelligence agencies.

It will take a lot to convince me that Donald Trump will stay true to the Constitution, that he will govern with our country’s best interests in mind, and that he will demonstrate the level of maturity and wisdom that best befits the person who sits in the Oval Office.

Right now, he’s still not much more than a petulant child, the playground bully who steals the ball and runs away. He’s the boy who would be king, but won’t take the time to learn how to do it right. Probably because he’s afraid to admit that he is in over his head.

But we have only one president and, for a while, he will be Donald Trump. And so, I will be watching him. Studying him. Challenging him. And so should you.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald January 5, 2017.)

And the winner loses all

loser

Imagine you’re watching the Super Bowl. It’s the New England Patriots taking on the Dallas Cowboys. Although it’s an exciting game, it’s a bit one-sided. Dallas scores one touchdown in each of the first three quarters while limiting the Patriots to a single field goal in each stanza. At the end of three quarters, the Cowboys hold a 21-9 lead. The fourth quarter, however, is a different story. While the Cowboys’ offense seems to have run out of gas, Tom Brady is suddenly able to pick apart the Cowboys secondary, leading his Patriots down the field again and again. Final score: New England 37, Dallas 21. The Patriots are the champs of the NFL.

Well, not exactly.

You see, the league decided that the actual score isn’t the best way to decide the winner. Instead, the team that outscores the opponent in each quarter is awarded one gold star, and whoever racks up the most stars is declared the winner.  So, since the Cowboys managed to score more points in each of the first three quarters, Dallas has three gold stars and the Patriots, who dominated the fourth quarter, have just one. Despite the final score, under the established rules the Cowboys are declared the winning team.

That, my friends, is how we elect the President of the United States.

As I was preparing to submit this column to the editor, Sec. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote (the actual votes cast) was a bit more than 2.3 million. That’s roughly equivalent to the population – every man, woman, and child – living in the city of Houston, Texas. In other words, if we simply counted how many people voted for which candidate and used that method for selecting our nation’s chief executive, we would not have a President-elect Donald Trump. But Hillary Clinton’s votes were concentrated in a few states, while Trump was able to claim victory in more, though less-populated, states. And, by nature of the point system that is the Electoral College, Trump earned the win even though he was out-scored.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the top vote-getter failed to grab the brass ring. It was just 16 years ago that George W Bush received less votes than Al Gore. Bush’s advantage in the Electoral College, however, was the determining factor of his success. Three other presidential races also ended with the keys to the White House handed to the candidate who fell short in the vote tally: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

And now, barring a monumental recount that would flip the results in a handful of states — not likely — Donald Trump will take the oath of office next month.

As we prepare for our country’s first Reality Television President, we need to take a serious look at what to expect. Or rather, what not to expect.

First, there will be no wall on our southern border. Sure, Trump promised he’d build one. He bragged that it would be very tall and very beautiful… and that Mexico would pay for it. But in the first few days after the election, Trump was already backpedalling. Interviewed on “60 Minutes”, Trump admitted that the ‘wall’ will probably be more of a fence. Not exactly the impenetrable masterpiece his fans expected, is it?

Candidate Trump also pledged to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. President-elect Trump, on the other hand, told the Wall Street Journal that he likes several provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and is interested in leaving large parts of it in place.

When running his campaign, Trump led chants of “Drain the Swamp”, saying that he wanted to get the special interests out of government. But when you look at the people he’s likely to add to his administration, that’s just another broken promise. A Goldman Sachs banker with deep ties to Wall Street as Treasury Secretary? An Education Secretary who not only promotes for-profit corporate schools but also sits on the board of an organization — headed by Jeb Bush — that supports Common Core?

And while we’re on the subject of the Trump Cabinet, let’s not forget that he has considered naming Gen. David Petraeus to head the State Department. This is the guy who, while serving as CIA Director, shared classified information with his mistress.

But considering that Trump has spent more time on Twitter than he has on learning how to be president — avoiding important things like security briefings — it is clear that he lacks the desire to put in the hard work necessary for the job. I think that he also lacks the ability to learn, preferring instead to shove the hard stuff into somebody else’s hands.

Trump the candidate talked big. Trump the president has to live up to that talk. I don’t think he will, because I don’t think he can.

In a few weeks, he’ll have the chance to prove me wrong.

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

Lately it occurs to me…

kaleidoscope

…what a long strange trip it’s been.

One year, eight months, 3 days. That’s how long this presidential campaign has been. From the first candidate to officially announce his run for the office on March 5, 2015 — Republican Mark Everson, for what it’s worth, and you’re forgiven for not knowing his name — until Election Day on November 8, 2016… 614 days of what is undeniably the strangest trip to the White House this nation has ever witnessed.

I’ve written here before about the flaws of the two major party candidates and, I admit, I’ve spent a great deal of that time pointing out the wide range of negatives swirling around the Donald Trump campaign. Let’s be honest, Mr. Trump is deeply flawed on so many levels, most notably on matters tied to his personality. The fact that the media spotlight on Trump’s campaign has focused so much more on his antics — past and present — than on a more serious discussion of policy is a good explanation for the success of his campaign. Trump entered this race as an entertainer and treated every speech and debate as an episode of an unscripted reality TV show. We, the audience, watched and listened with amusement and disgust… and we never truly believed that he would take it this far.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, a statistical genius with a highly successful track record in the realm of political predictions, admits now that he didn’t take Trump seriously from the beginning. Failure to do so caused Silver to ignore the very polls that he otherwise swears by and, as a result, now is hesitant to be as bold a predictor as he was in previous elections. But who can blame him? Never in our lifetimes — perhaps, never in American history? — has a presidential election boiled down to two candidates who are so incredibly disliked by such large shares of the population.

Hillary Clinton has run a much lower profile campaign, a strategy involving fewer public events than her opponent, but that hasn’t made her immune from trouble. In fact, choosing to spend less time in public view may have caused Sec. Clinton more woes, since it meant she gave herself less chances to counter bad publicity. Considering that she has been a non-stop target of an aggressive media since her husband’s first national campaign in 1992, you would think she would have developed a better plan. Time will tell if she has any regrets.

But this much is certain: no matter the results, this year’s Election Day will not signal an end to the hostilities. And I’m not talking about the harsh barbs traded back and forth between candidates.

Two weeks after all votes are cast and counted, Americans will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner tables that could turn into battlefields, with family members at odds over their political preferences. Wouldn’t it be nice if arguments at the holiday feast were limited to who gets to battle over the wishbone… or which giant balloon was the parade favorite? But not so likely this year, thanks to an election so polarizing that relatives have stopped talking to each other… that has turned Facebook into a war zone… that has even caused regular churchgoers to skip services in order to avoid people with opposing views.

I have used this space to bemoan the lack of civility in our society, brought on primarily by our political partialities. It doesn’t have to be like this.

In the Eighties, President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill had vastly different views on policy. But both men were smart enough to realize that they needed to find a pathway to agreement on enough issues to make our federal government work for all of its citizens. The two men would have regular, private lunches… and more than a few social drinks… and talk in a manner that was respectful and mature. They didn’t have to end up completely on the same page, but they knew that the country was better off with leaders who could work together.

Some will point to the lack of such private engagements between President Obama and Republicans in Congress. Yes, Obama isn’t prone to the same degree of socialization as Reagan and others who preceded him in office. That could be because, unlike many recent presidents, he had two young children living with him and chose to spend more free time with them. It could also be due to those Republicans not wishing to be on friendly terms as that would be frowned upon by their constituents and donors.     

Once thing I think is certain: this election is destined to result in even more disharmony, unless we the people choose to rise above our differences and act like adults once again.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald November 3, 2016.)