“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.)

He’ll never grow up

baby child close up crying
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Once upon a time, it was fun being a kid. We spent our summers playing ball, swimming, riding our bikes, and hanging out with our friends. With the coming of fall and returning to the classroom, our brains still turned occasionally to thoughts of what mischief we could stir up over the next weekend. We could afford these leisurely lifestyles because, after all, the adults were in charge. They gave us food, made sure we had clothes and a place to sleep, and did all the important things that are expected from grown-ups. We could afford to be carefree because the responsible people were taking care of things. But that was then. The adults are no longer in control.

This is now

From the moment President Trump took the oath of office, he has tossed aside any semblance of the maturity and even-temperedness that one would hope to see in a world leader. Instead, he has continued along the same path that he chose to follow during the 2016 campaign: distract, distort, and disrespect. Trump has never bothered to have a meaningful discussion on policy. No, the president would rather hover over a microphone, telling stale jokes and attacking anyone in sight like the bully on an elementary school playground.

“Don’t worry,” they keep saying, “he’ll pivot.” The president will show his mature side and our allies and adversaries will take him seriously. Only he hasn’t pivoted, and I think it’s obvious that he never will. Mr. Trump isn’t going to change his ways because his fans get a kick out of the name-calling and the inappropriate comments that he makes anytime he finds a camera and microphone pointed in his direction.

We don’t need a president who is energized only when he’s on stage in front of cheering crowds. We need stable leadership from someone who can handle anything from a weather disaster here at home to a military action overseas. We need a president who can make wise choices when faced with any crisis, not someone who’d rather hide at a golf course than take control in the Situation Room at the White House.

No, there is no incentive for President Trump to start acting like an adult, not while his fans are rewarding him with all the laughter and applause.

A Different Breed

The pundits kept telling us that Trump was a different kind of candidate, and that lack of conformity would continue into the Oval Office. It’s refreshing, they tell us, to have a president who’s not afraid to speak his mind. The problem with that, my friends, is that in the high-stakes game that is international diplomacy, you can’t demean and insult players on the world’s stage and not expect them to retaliate.

Yes, I have no doubts that North Korea’s Kim Yong-un is a madman who is a threat that needs to be dealt with in no uncertain terms. But when someone like that is threatening you with nuclear weapons, taunting him with a silly nickname is not a logical strategy if your goal is to keep the world safe.

On the home front, we also need a person in charge of his own administration. Someone who won’t stand by while Cabinet members waste taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on private jets, or who want to use government aircraft for a honeymoon trip.

But all this is to be expected when the nation’s chief executive lacks any semblance of maturity. Ironically, we Americans and the people of North Korea are in the same boat. Both are under the thumb of a petulant man-child.

Help, I Need Somebody

I’m sure that President Trump is unnerved by the ongoing investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller. While it’s not yet clear if a connection between Trump’s team and the Russian government will be uncovered, it is likely that many higher-ups from the campaign and the administration – including the president himself – will be shown to have actively participated in attempts to obstruct the investigation.

While impeachment is not possible with a Republican Congress, the stain of such wrongdoing will be one that Trump will never erase. His most devoted fans may forgive everything right now, but when his decisions affect their own health and well-being – when their taxes skyrocket and their government-subsidized utility rebates disappear – maybe then the scales will fall from their eyes.

It seems that President Trump’s only guiding force is whatever he sees on cable news and whatever he decides to tweet that moment. Considering that most of his attention these days is taken up with which pro athlete he doesn’t like at the moment and rolling out new insulting nicknames for anyone who dares to challenge him, our hopes for adult leadership will have to rest on the future.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald October 05, 2017.)

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.

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.)

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.)