Friday, February 24, 2017

All That's Needed Is To State The Obvious


In this, the future-storied (assuming there's a future) Dark Times Of Ignorance we see many articles announcing what Democrats must do to regain authority. I don't entirely disagree with any of them. Become "the party of freedom," unite disparate factions, redistricting, and more and more; all of which fall, to varying degrees, into the category of "duh." Who can argue?

But the most basic "duh" of all is simply pointing to the effects of Republican policies, and making the obvious case of whom they hurt, and whom they help. That's all there is to it. It's there, it's undeniable, it's real. And by the time the next election rolls around, it'll be all but self-evident. Calling attention would be like stating the current weather.

Which is not to say, of course, that Democrats, who've never been able to stay on message or make a strong case for anything, will be able, finally, to do it, even when the target is so easy: average people are being screwed, the affluent are being gifted. From my upcoming newspaper column, which I published here yesterday:
... It’ll again be legal to dump coal sludge into rivers and streams; it’s no longer necessary for oil companies to report bribes they provide overseas. Mentally ill can once again get guns. Anew, methane leaks are okay. Banks will be deregulated back to pre-recession status. Borrowers under the FHA will pay hundreds more in interest payments. Financial advisers will no longer have to act in the best interest of clients. Clean air and automobile mileage standards will be removed, climate research defunded. School breakfast programs for hungry poor kids are cut, because who cares? A touted hiring freeze will harm veterans. 
Once more, banks are free to raise overdraft fees. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is gutted. The agency that helps ensure accuracy of voting machines: gone. We’re even back in the blood diamond business, because why not? Who benefits from this, other than the moneyed, the greedy, the dishonest, and the vindictive? How does any of it help average Americans? ...
This ought to be shooting ducks in a fish barrel after the horse has left a piece of cake in the barn. Which explains the constant Trumpian claims of "fake news" and the attacks on the press. The only way to counter facts like the above is to make people ignore or disbelieve them.

So the question is, can Democrats overcome a massive and decades-long disinformation campaign? Can people, made gullible and information-averse by endless and highly effective right-wing propaganda, be shown the light and not turn away from the unfamiliar brightness? Can anyone in the Democratic Party turn party history around and get their message-shit together?

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Minority Rules


My next newspaper column:
After failing to stop even the most conspicuously unsuitable of Trump’s nominees, Democrats clearly have zero power in our national government. Thanks to a Constitutional anachronism, voter suppression, and opprobrious gerrymandering, we have a president who lost the popular vote by millions more than any electoral winner, and who’s approved only by an intractable but greatly outnumbered group of citizens. Democrats are the minority in Congress despite receiving more total votes than Republicans. 
What’s remarkable is that on nearly all issues most Americans agree with Democrats. Abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, refugees, climate change, social programs, environmental protection, energy, economic fairness, minimum wage, health care... By popular vote and public opinion, America is in the unexpected predicament of minority rule. 
Unexpected, maybe, but not unintended. Not, at least, in terms of Republican efforts over the past several years. If the Electoral College is a relic from a time of no political parties, no popular vote, and not even campaigning, it is what it is. Voter suppression, though, is another matter. There’s evidence that more than enough legal voters to have swung the election were kept from the polls in several states Trump won narrowly. Which is exactly what those states’ legislators intended, as they’ve affirmed. Targeting likely Democratic voters, they made it difficult as possible to obtain certification. Some states that issued ID at DMV offices removed those offices from minority districts. For those who overcame and obtained ID, voting hours were limited to the most inconvenient for them. It worked. Gerrymandering, as always, put countless districts out of reach. 
Letters appear here repeating Foxian falsehoods: Obama banned Iraqi immigrants just like Trump. The Clinton Foundation shut down after the election. And more. Will future writers repeat Trump’s lie about bused-in voters in New Hampshire, or his claim that the First Amendment created an enemy of the people? Cultivated credulity, too, won the day. 
So there they are, Republicans in Congress and Trump in the Gold House, enjoying unrestrained (except, for now, by courts) power. How are they using it? Virtually without exception, by taking actions that hurt average Americans, and the air they breathe, water they drink, children they raise, loans they receive, medications they require, while enriching the wealthiest people and corporations among us. Free from the need, they’re not even pretending their government is for us: it’s for affluent benefactors of today’s Republican Party. Have a look: 
It’s again legal to dump coal sludge into rivers and streams; it’s no longer necessary for oil companies to report bribes and other overseas payments. Mentally ill can once again buy guns. Anew, methane leaks from drilling are okay. Banks will be deregulated to pre-recession status. FHA borrowers will pay hundreds more in interest payments. Financial advisers will no longer have to act in the best interest of clients. Clean air and automobile mileage standards will be removed, climate research defunded. School breakfast programs for hungry poor kids are cut, because who cares? A touted hiring freeze is harming veterans and closing military childcare centers. On drug prices, Trump caved to Big Pharma. Limits on prepaid credit card fees are lifted. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is being gutted. The agency that ensures accuracy of voting machines: gone. They’re pre-cooking the books on economic plans, and refusing to investigate Trump's Russia connections. We’re even back in the blood diamond business! Who benefits from this, other than the moneyed, the greedy, and the vindictive? Not ordinary citizens. 
Last Sunday this newspaper ran commentary from some guy in Illinois stating he’s happier every day with his vote for Trump. Providing a litany of resentments, toward liberals, immigrants, “intellectuals” (meaning “facts”), he cited nothing he was for; and what he was against was born of Foxolimjonesian fantasy and simplistic stereotyping (especially of protesters.) Does he prefer poisoned air and water, hungry children, and bad financial advice? Didn’t say. 
Such people will never turn away from Trump or stop attending his post-election self-glorification rallies. Their regressive views will never be shared by a majority of Americans, yet in our putatively democratic society they’re in charge, harming people they don’t like and enriching themselves at the expense of them and our planet. 
We in the majority must continue speaking out until it becomes undeniable, and hope it’s not too late.
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Monday, February 20, 2017

Good Choice for NSA



Sounds like this General McMaster guy is an excellent choice. So why the fk did Trump go first with an obvious nutjob like Flynn?

There's a certain amount of irony in Trump's leaning on generals, given his previous claims that he knows more than them. But what the heck. If McMaster is as smart and level-headed as is being said, it can only be to the good.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

How It Begins? It's Begun!


My upcoming newspaper column:
One of my favorite surgery teachers used to say, regarding therapeutic decision-making, “Keep your eye on the donut, not the hole.” Good advice. By design or not, Donald Trump has gotten us to concentrate on the holes in his leadership instead of the baker’s dozen donuts of danger. It could cost us our country. 
We sometimes laugh but usually recoil at his mercurial tweets, his inaugural apparitions, his blaming a judge for any future terrorist attacks. We find it inexplicable that he repeats his lies about millions of illegal votes, about skyrocketing crime rates, and a judiciary “gone rogue.” And then out of the fryer comes this crisp confection, and it becomes clear: Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, says on a Sunday show, referring to judicial stays on that mal-executed executive order: “… [T]he whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” 
Will NOT be questioned! “Ze hull vorlt vill zoon zee … zat ze powvers uff ze prezeedint … vil NUT be KVESHtunt!” (He also claimed Trump is 100% correct, always. Trump immediately tweeted love for the performance.) 
Many Americans saw this coming, for it’s the despots’ playbook which far predates Trump: instill existential fear, intimidate and suppress opponents, distract attention, produce a flood of lies repeated until believed, convince citizens that only their new leader can save them. Promote distrust of the media and of experts, denounce as traitors all who resist, accuse judges of corruption. Thus are seeds of autocracy sewn, efficiently, deliberately, and, in the case of Trump’s supporters, with ease. Unless his devotees stop believing the lies -- which, so far, appears unlikely -- Trump will continue to tell them. 
With his perseverative claim of voter fraud, Trump modernized the script. Willingly, believers believe, so when the next wave of voter suppression rolls around, disguised, per usual, as innocent ID requirements, those supporters won’t blink an eye. But, in the blink of someone else’s eyes, voters of the opposition, at whom those laws are specifically and admittedly aimed, will find themselves robbed of the franchise. And then, the means for his removal gone, resistance rendered futile, truth twisted on its head, enabled by self-serving acquiescence, Trump, like those before him, could be empowered without limits. 
As Trump and his collaborators attack “mainstream” media, they cynically promote Fox “news” as the true source of information. If Trump hasn’t yet banned other news sources, he’s refusing to take their questions, while making Fox the Pravda (which, amusingly, means “truth”) of our age. Based on vituperation I receive, Trumpists are fully on board. After the restraining order on the “travel ban” was upheld, Fox did what Fox does, trumpeting a lie that the Ninth Circuit is the court most frequently reversed by the Supreme Court. That’s not only false on the facts; it reveals fundamental misunderstanding (or deliberate deception) about the tiny percentage of appeals the Supreme Court accepts, and how they’re chosen. Civics lessons? Not on Fox “news.” Following the pattern, I’ve heard from Trumpophiles who swallowed the lie. (Fun fact: a court with nearly the lowest reversal rate is the one of which Merrick Garland is Chief Judge.) 
Wonder why Trump and his new attorney general are lying about soaring crime rates? Why the plans to militarize police, the talk of vague, easily abused and physically dangerous rules against protesters? Why, indeed. It’s the embryonic police state right-wingers hallucinated under Obama, now actually gestating under Trump. Russian collaborators and Nazi-sympathizers in the White House? Hey, look over there: refugees! 
Is this paranoid hyperbole on my part? Against the evidence, I’d prefer to think so. Then again, Trump just offered to ruin the career of a State Senator whose ideas he dislikes. And, concerned more about who leaked than about the disturbing revelations of Team Trump’s Russia connections, Congressional Republicans, whose investigations of Hillary Clinton broke records for time and money spent, show little interest in investigating. How bad must it get before enough Trumpicists open their eyes? Those of us who value democracy can only keep trying to help them see, I guess.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

He's Better Than God


Well, okay. Now I'm on board.
"... We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that's going on," Trump said...
And not just EVERY thing. Every OTHER thing. I mean, this is an agenda for all of us. If anyone can do it, it's a business guy and a couple of Nazis.

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Blinded By The Right


Nope, nothing to see. And neither the Senate Intelligence (!) Committee nor the House government oversight committee will investigate.

WASHINGTON — Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election...
This is way beyond worrisome. It's fking insane. Who are these guys? For whom are they working? And what about those piss-tapes?

Guess they're all tuckered out after all that Benghazi 'vestigatin'.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Truth Will Out, Unless They Suppress It



In other words, he didn't give a shit until the truth became public:

WASHINGTON — President Trump was informed weeks ago that his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had not told the truth about his interactions with Russia’s ambassador and asked for Mr. Flynn’s resignation after concluding he could not be trusted, the White House said on Tuesday...
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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Trump Hates America


My upcoming newspaper column:
Not that I’m the sort to be repetitive, but let me ask everyone who voted for Trump, “What will it take to make you wish you hadn’t? Anything you could imagine in the future? Nuking California?” (Okay, bad example. We know the answer.) 
Mere months ago most of those now defending Trump were complaining about Barack Obama’s “authoritarianism,” his executive orders, his vacations. OMG, he played golf! Insisting Obama hated America, they claimed he’d gone on an “apology tour,” was trashing the Constitution. Now, as those apocryphal Obama abuses have become real Trumpic ones? Silence. It’s one thing to approve the man’s policies, even though, so far, they’re bringing harm to everyone but polluters and the very wealthy. It’s quite another to overlook or excuse his wild claims, outright lies, and undisguised, premeditated attacks on the foundations of the republic. Like his latest: our independent judiciary. 
After a Federal judge, right here in Washington, issued a temporary restraining order on his immigration ban, Trump did what Trump does: Besmirch. Threaten. Blame. Sean Spicer claimed the judge had “gone rogue.” Counterfactually, Trump tweeted “people [are] pouring in. Bad” and that future attacks at home must be blamed on this “so-called” judge. Manifestly, neither Donald Trump nor his most avid supporters have much use for our Constitution, especially when it requires following laws or respecting processes they don’t like. But this is as fundamental as it gets, the very heart of Constitutional law. Judicial review. Coequal branches of government. When a couple of Obama’s executive orders were limited by the courts, their glee was unchecked and unbalanced. What changed? 
Observe Judge Robart, and decide for yourself if he seems to have gone rogue. Then, if you have the stomach, read comments accompanying the referenced video to see whether Trumpists understand how our American legal system works. 
Without judicial checks on unlawful orders and unconstitutional legislation, the path to tyranny is downhill and unimpeded. Our founders knew that. Throughout our history, Americans have known and understood. But history stops with Donald Trump, his Svengali, Steve Bannon, and, it seems, Trump’s most vocal supporters. The danger is obvious. 
Not being a legal scholar, I won’t opine on the constitutionality of Trump’s hasty and scattershot executive order. I do, however, understand the indispensible role of an independent and co-equal judiciary in our system of government. It shouldn’t be as hard as it seems to be for Trumpophiles likewise to understand. Nor should it require an act of courage or the ability to withstand hateful attacks for a judge to issue a restraining order. 
But, okay: let’s give Trump unchecked power. Then what of his passing off Putin’s murderous acts, claiming the US is no better? Interviewed by Bill O’Reilly, he did just that. While Russia praises his silence, he’s said nothing about Russia’s renewed killings in Ukraine. Given the unknown depth of his Russian indebtedness, and the lack of interest of Congress’ former Benghazi-chasers to apply similar (or any) scrutiny, you’d think anyone who loves our country would be worried. I do, and I am. 
And here's another Trump attack on America: his declaration that “negative polls are fake news.” News he doesn’t like: fake. The voices of the people to whom he promised to return our government: fake, if they speak against him. On vacation, playing golf after two grueling weeks of signing orders he barely read, he alleged the media aren’t reporting terrorist attacks, because “they have their reasons.” The White House later produced a predictably dishonest (and misspelled) list. In the O’Reilly interview he re-hallucinated millions of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton.  Asked for confirmatory data, his response was, “Forget about all that.” And he’s still lying about crime and murder rates. 
Pretty much covers all things America, doesn’t it? Trump distains the judiciary, the press, the opinions of citizens, the integrity of voting, and reality. He’d have us believe (because HE does) he’s the sole knower and dispenser of truth, and plenty of his followers are obliging, taking us downhill, picking up speed. This isn’t America-hating: if taken root, it’s America-destroying. We know his most devout apologists don’t care. Are none on that side starting to worry? If so, what will it take for them to speak up? 
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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Ass In The Morass



Assad. Putin. Trump. This is the guy Putin, Trump's BFF, is helping to retain power. The guy who calls Trump his "natural ally." Who committed mass murder of what appears to be largely peaceful opponents.

 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government secretly executed between 5,000 and 13,000 people in just one prison as part of its campaign to eliminate opposition to his rule, a new report by the watchdog group Amnesty International has found.
The killings took place over a four-year period between 2011 and 2015 in the notorious Sednaya facility outside Damascus, and the bodies were later disposed of in mass graves, according to the report released Monday by Amnesty... 
... The majority of those executed at Sednaya were political prisoners, including many of the ordinary people who joined in the peaceful protests against Assad, the report says. ... [F]or the most part they were “doctors, engineers, protesters,” one former prison official is quoted as saying. “They were somehow understood to be linked to the revolution. Sednaya is the place to finish the revolutionaries. It’s the end for them.”...

The situation in Syria is awful in all ways. And complex. Which, if any, of the rebels are good guys? Are all enemies of ISIS our friends? Are enemies of ISIS's enemies friend or foe, and how can we tell? Whether the US could have done more or should have done less under President Obama, I have no idea. But it's not hard to understand why he was reluctant to intervene bigly at this point.

Comes now Trump, to whom thoughts arrive in 140 characters, and who thinks there's a way for the US single-handedly to end ISIS militarily. (Whatever happened to his oft-claimed, pre-election, secret plan?)

... Trump’s response to the Syrian Civil War has been nothing short of flippant. He has repeatedly voiced support for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s military intervention. He has suggested that the United States work with the tyrant Bashar al-Assad against ISIS. And even a charitable observer would conclude that he has shown little interest in the country’s refugee crisis, which to him is less a matter of burning humanitarian need and more an opportunity to demonstrate American strength... 
Hard to believe anything Trump decides to do can make things better. But, you know, give him a chance. 

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump The Destroyer


Donald Trump's career as a businessman is characterized by bankruptcies from which he's managed to escape profitably while ruining the people below him. And it's been one of seeking vengeance on those who've crossed him. Many, including me, have pointed it out, and have wondered how that will translate now that he has the power of the US government to seek and destroy. Not that it was ever a mystery; but now we know:
WASHINGTON — There's a Texas state senator with a new target on his back, courtesy of President Donald Trump and the Rockwall County sheriff. 
At a meeting Tuesday with sheriffs from around the country, Sheriff Harold Eavenson complained about a state senator who wanted to make it harder for law enforcement to get control of assets forfeited by drug traffickers.  
"Do you want to give his name? We'll destroy his career," Trump offered...
That senator's effort, by the way, was to require conviction before assets are taken. Because "civil forfeiture" has been abused across the land by many a police agency, and people are finally catching on. Not Trump, of course, because it's a little complicated.

Meanwhile, does anyone really think he was kidding about destroying the guy?

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The Dickhead Is Wearing Me Down


If my ones of readers have noticed I'm mainly posting my weekly newspaper column lately, it's because so much news and opinion, all of it more salient than mine, is out there. Also, it seems almost foolish to concentrate on one outrage among the daily flood of so many. Which, I guess, is the desired result of the outrages. Mea sucka.

Which is not to say I'm planning to stop the column, nor am I ending the blog. (A sigh of relief, loud enough to be heard for inches, is raised.) But firing off a statement about something as it happens, while possibly de-stressing for me, has started to feel a little self-indulgent. Why read me, for example, when Charles P. Pierce is out there? At best, I feel I'm only paraphrasing or repurposing what smarter and more connected people than I have written.

That said, I liked posting the title picture.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Man And The Man-Child


My latest newspaper column, to appear Saturday:
Trump voters got one thing right: he’s running the government like a business. Regrettably, it’s Trump University, Trump Airlines, casinos, and the rest of his inept undertakings. 
Or maybe not. It’s unclear that Trump is the one in charge. After all, he brags he doesn’t read and doesn’t need briefings. As protests against his Muslim ban unfolded, he was holding a private screening of (not kidding) “Finding Dory.” The appellation “man-child,” it turns out, might be understated. 
No, this presidency seems to be the work of chief adviser Steve Bannon, proud white nationalist, and, reportedly, a self-described Leninist who wants to “destroy the state” and “bring everything crashing down.” Imagine his delectation at ensnaring Donald “You-Do-It-I’m-Watching-Cartoons” Trump. Court orders? Ignore them. Acting Attorney General willing to take a stand against unconstitutional regulations? Fire her in the nastiest way possible. If irony hadn’t died in November, I’d mention that in 2015 Trump’s nominee for A.G. asked that same woman if she’d refuse an illegal order, because, he said, that’s what an Attorney General must do. On what basis shall we believe Mr. Sessions, a full-throated cheerleader and high-level political adviser to Trump, would do so? 
As practice for what’s coming, though, let’s ignore legality. Let’s talk about the wisdom of a ban on Muslims entering this country. We needn’t address the incompetence of implementation because that’s obvious. Let’s just point out that, absent cooperation with Muslim people and Muslim countries, we have no ability to “wipe ISIS off the face of the Earth,” as Trump promised. Everyone prefers preventing terrorists from entering. But it seems desirable not to create more or lessen the likelihood of finding them in the process, and there’s a substantive argument that that’s exactly what’s happening. 
Trump insists his order is about protecting America. Having lied so much, is this another? Why did his ban exempt every country from which participants in the 9/11 attacks came? Is it because those countries are also ones in which he does business? At best, this is cynicism. At worst, it’s scattershot and ill-considered endangerment of our country, the fruits of unchallenged conflicts of interest. There have been, let’s recall, no acts of terrorism committed here by refugees from the banned countries. As security experts have predicted, ISIS and al-Qaeda are already recruiting by touting the actions as proof America is at war with Islam. 
Some suspect the chaos created since the inauguration is intentional distraction from the arrival and entrenchment of autocracy. If Trump’s not clever enough for such multilayered planning, Bannon surely is. It seems he’s taking charge, eliminating dissent, and leaving no paper trail. He wants us to live in fear. He’s called press “the enemy” and said they should “shut up.” (In another epitaph to irony, Trump calls them “fake news.”) There are plans afoot to criminalize demonstrations, to make internet access harder, and further to limit voting rights; there are increasingly ominous warnings to anyone who questions White House actions. Do no conservatives find this alarming? 
If these efforts succeed, the carnage to democracy will be absolute. Constitution-supporting, checks-and-balances-understanding conservatives, only a few of whom seem to exist anymore, need to step up. Removed from every Republican Congressperson, there’s a pile of backbones that’d fill the lobby of money-losing and illegally leased Trump Hotel in D.C. Having just steamrolled approval of Trump appointees despite their lies in hearings, such ethically challenged hypocrites will be of no help. 
We must hope for more patriotic and brave Republican voters to see the light. Trumpists never will. A friend says he’s happy seeing the “whole thing” burn down. Missing the indispensability our founders invested in a free and adversarial press, he considers them useless liars, just as Bannon would have it. A man I recently met for coffee after he criticized a column said his vote wasn’t for Trump but against Hillary. Having chosen Trump’s incompetence and mendacity over personal dislike, his view is unlikely to change. Finally, confirming everything I’ve ever said about Trump’s most thoroughly Foxified supporters, here, in its entirety, is an email I received in response to my column about Trump’s pathological lying: 
“Another sicko opinion from a d**khead.” 
Not very promising, is it, America-wise?
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