Saturday, August 27, 2016

Can't We All Just Get Along?

My latest newspaper column. This one is particular to readers of the particular paper, featuring a friend and former local conservative columnist who saw the light and switched to telling tales from his mariner days before hanging it up altogether. The paper occasionally features letters saying he's missed; usually in the context of an unfavorable comparison to me:
Like some recent writers to The Herald, I miss Larry Simoneaux’s column. Happily, he’s a good friend, and we get together often enough to fill the void; some might be surprised that it was he who originally recommended me to the paper. Our friendship began years ago, when I emailed him disagreeing (respectfully!) with something he’d written, suggesting a point of view he hadn’t considered. Which led to a phone call and, eventually, meeting for coffee and good discussion. We’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve even helped sight his deer rifles, if you must know. 
So, as a public service to those who’ve written letters begging for Larry’s return and to the many more who haven’t but miss him just as much, I invited him to today’s column. And, yes, it’s real. 
Sid: Hey, Larry, your fans are clamoring for your return. Any chance? 
Larry: No. It was time to stop and I knew it when, all too often, I found myself up against a deadline with not an idea within a light-year of my brain. 
Sid: Figured. But do you ever miss the column? 
Larry: Not so much the column as the people who took the time to write, call, or e-mail me. Even those who disagreed were fun to correspond with as, once we got past the disagreement, we found that we agreed on many (MANY!) other things. 
Sid: I’ve always considered you one of those increasingly rare (in the public sector, anyway) thoughtful conservatives. Would you care to share your thoughts on the current state of our politics? 
Larry: As others have pointed out. It’s an unmitigated disaster. No one can tell me that, out of a country of 300+ million souls, these two are the best our political parties can come up with. 
Sid: Hard to disagree. How about telling readers who you’ll vote for president? I’ll give you ten bucks if you do. Make it twenty. 
Larry: A few weeks ago, I purchased my first-ever political bumper sticker to put on my beloved, 18-year-old pickup. It shows my support for “Giant Meteor” in 2016. “Meteor” promises to “end it all” immediately. And, so, to paraphrase another recent political slogan, “Feel the Blast, Sid. Feel the Blast.” 
Sid: Fine. I keep the money. Any comments to readers, or to me? 
Larry: We’re better than all of this. Look at how you and I get along. We have differences but, and this is a big “but,” when good people sit down to talk (and listen, dammitall) to each other, we generally end up respecting - maybe actually liking - each other. We want the best for ourselves and our kids and grandkids and, given time, were our politicians to ever consider doing the same, it’s a certainty that good ideas that could help would come to the fore and, actually, be implemented. 
I’ve never been a believer in hyphenated Americans of any stripe. Those who foisted this foolishness upon us have also herded us into camps - blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, gays, straights, trans, rich, poor etc. They’ve done this to divide us into blocs of voters. And that ain’t good. That trite old phrase: “United we stand. Divided we fall” pretty well points to where we’re headed. The only “bloc” that I care about is “American” because that bloc is based on an idea. And, if we lose that idea, this nation is gone. 
As for comments about you, I keep wondering when you’ll finally figure out that political commentary is hard on your blood pressure. I went to “sea stories.” Give us more “surgeon stories.” You know, “There we were, knee deep in bandages, no anesthesia left, my last sharp scalpel broken and useless, and my tee-time only 45 minutes away.” 
It’ll do you good. 
Sid: Noted. Thanks, Larry. 
It’s only in the past couple of decades, starting with Newt Gingrich, maybe, that people with political differences have such a hard time communicating. With a few happy exceptions, finding common ground with critics has been nearly impossible. In forgotten times, a friendship across differences, like mine with Larry, wasn’t rare. But he and I disagree on less than you might think.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Scandal Of Scandal

We'll never hear the end of the Clinton email "scandal" and of the supposed grift involving the Clinton Foundation. In part, admittedly, it's because of poor handling of the issues from the outset by the Clinton camp. Mainly, though, it's the usual cynical attempts to discredit them by a party willing to do and say anything to accomplish it.

The latest, reported with the usual "we must be balanced" mainstream media and the "balance? We don't need no stinking balance" right-wing media, suggesting there were special priveleges granted to donors, is, like the rest, much ado about very little. Here's a good summary:
... Take, for example, the imbroglio over newly released e-mails regarding interactions between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state. These exchanges, primarily between Clinton’s assistant Huma Abedin and Clinton Foundation top honcho Doug Band, have become Exhibit A in efforts to brand Clinton as a corrupt figure and the Foundation as a pay-for-play operation. The evidence, however, speaks to a different reality... 
... So what happened? Abedin told Band she’d reach out to Jeffrey Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs at the time. Yet, according to a Washington Post article, Feltman says he never met or spoke to Chagoury, and “No one ever told me he was seeking me out.”  
So: Clinton Foundation asks for help with donor, and doesn’t get it...
Charlie, as usual, get to the meat of it, too, worth reading in full:
 ...Well, that's certainly a smoking popgun right there. The crown prince of Bahrain needs to buy access to the Secretary of State of the United States of We'll Buy Your Oil? How would you like to prove that in the Court of Public Ridicule? It also is to be noted that the  AP discovered an e-mail in which Muhammad Yunis was seeking an audience. Yunis, of course, won a Nobel Prize for inventing the microloan. Dens of thieves!...
I have to admit I feel a bit whipsawed by Hillary. One day I'm angry at how the media are flogging b.s. like the above, because it's easier to be simplistic than to stand up and say what's what. On some other days, I'm annoyed by something Hillary did or didn't say.

Sometimes I consider it to be, as everyone says, "baggage." Mostly, though, I see the cynicism of the attacks and the laziness and fecklessness of the press. "Liberal" press? Hardly. Lazy, scared, corrupted by the profit-through-eyeballs motive. More like.

The undeniable fact, though, is that this stuff has wounded her. Insights like those referenced above will be ignored by or completely lost upon committed haters, the well-Foxified, and the "Trump says what's on his mind and I don't care if there's no mind there" crowd. The latter will never get past it. The question is how many of the Bernie folks and the self-righteous and narcissistic far left will refuse to see it, too.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Courts Call Bullsh*t

My latest newspaper column:
Nearly swamped by the daily news of Donald Trump’s serial flailing was the recent spate of judicial rejections of voter ID laws around the country. There’s much to learn from considering those laws, the rationalizations offered by legislators, the details revealed during the court proceedings, the facts regarding in-person voter fraud, and the persisting truthless belief by the fully Foxified that it’s an actual thing. Mostly, it confirms how deeply uncomfortable today’s elected Republicans are with unrestricted voting by people who disagree with them. Like a mismatched transplant, their rejection of the heart of democracy threatens the life of its bearer. 
Revelations in the smack down of the North Carolina laws are illuminating. Before writing it, Republican legislators demanded data on the voting patterns of various demographic groups: specifically, African-Americans. Then they designed the law, manifestly, blatantly, to obstruct those patterns. Not just which kinds of ID would be accepted and how to obtain them; it also restricted the most common times for voting by those groups. The court saw through it. Who wouldn’t? 
Similar laws were struck down in Texas, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. In Georgia, a clear attempt by a community to purge the voting rolls of presumed Democratic voters was exposed. In every case, it was Republicans who enacted the laws. While pondering that bit of factual nescience, it’s helpful (or would be, if facts mattered) to begin with a nod to reality. 
Voter ID requirements address only in-person voter fraud, because where else would you present ID but at a polling place? The most comprehensive study of the phenomenon, routinely ignored by writers and supporters of such legislation, found thirty-one potential cases among nearly a billion votes cast in many elections over many years, all over the country. Here’s how that looks as frequency percentage: 0.0000031. Still, people ask, if people are legal voters, what’s the big deal? What’s so wrong with requiring ID? Nothing, of course. Except, as the courts determined, when the laws are constructed specifically to make it hard for certain groups to obtain required forms of identification, and to limit their access to polling places. Here’s a link to a compelling article. (Yes, I know it’ll be nothing new to people opposing ID laws, and that those in favor won’t care. And no, I don’t know why I bother.) 
Split along predictable lines, in 2013 the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Nothing to see here, declared Chief Justice Roberts, magically disappearing racial bias like glaciers in Greenland. In the past few weeks, several federal courts have contravened that indefensible Supreme activism, the wrongness of which was unmasked within days of the decision by disingenuous legislation in Republican-led states. Ironically, maintaining their universal obstruction of all things Obama, the Senate still refuses to allow the replacement of Antonin Scalia on the Court. Ties revert to the lower court rulings. Mitch McConnell has ensured that the tossing of those transparently cynical laws won’t be reversed by November’s elections, if ever! Fun, huh? 
But here’s the real point: rooted deep, at the very the core of our democracy, is the precept that politicians make their best case and then let voters decide. You win by persuading enough people, not by preventing dissenters from having a voice. Acting otherwise shows either that you have no confidence in the merits of your arguments, or that you disavow the indispensible American ideal of free and fair elections. Mysteriously, only Republicans have produced voter ID laws. Which party, then, believes in democracy? Which has the more legitimate claim on patriotism? Surely not the one that denies the most important doctrine in our Constitution. (Along with press freedom and separation of powers, both of which are under regular attack by the current nominee of that same party.) 
The conclusion is obvious: today’s Republican leaders believe their core concepts, especially trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy, which have never worked as claimed, can’t win elections without tilting the field. Amusingly, Donald Trump’s cynical and possibly illegal ( call for poll-watchers would only serve further to confirm the lack of fraud, and make his loss even more convincing. To the non-Foxified, that is.    
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Friday, August 19, 2016

If Truth Were Money, He'd Be Bankrupt

Two thoughts on Donald Trump's sudden pledge always to tell the truth:

1) As of when?

2) Will he be rewriting his stump speech in its entirety, or just the stuff after "Thank you."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Man Of The People

Donald Trump has spoken out against lobbyists and larding up legislation with porkosity that enriches the legislators and lobbyists and their clients at the expense of taxpayers. Sounds like a winning argument.

Other than the fact that it appears he's avoided paying taxes for most years, leaving taxpayers to pay for those things he uses: roads, police, the military, post office... And what about that $30 million tax bill he owed the state of New Jersey, reduced by pal Chris Christie, to $5 mill. Who's on the hook for the rest?

Yeah, he's a populist, all right, always looking out for us taxpayers. I'm gonna guess right-wing media aren't gonna take him on over the hypocrisy, though. Let's hope Hillary does.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Still Not Convinced?

My latest newspaper column:
“I’m for Donald Trump because he says what’s on his mind,” they say. “He didn’t mean that,” they say. When he suggested murder. 
Watch him, how he tossed it off, the body language, and tell yourself he intended something else about how “Second Amendment people” might deal with a Clinton victory. Listen to the former Rudy Giuliani scream his excuses. Convince yourself Trump meant working together to prevent a win. The context, plain as his business scams, is AFTER a Clinton win. His justifiers have given up making sense. By now, they’ve run out of it. 
So where’s the endpoint for enablers? A “joke” about killing Hillary Clinton or judges she’d appoint isn’t it? People from the stage at his convention, calling for shooting or hanging her? He’s the best standard-bearer for your frustrations? Oh, but there’s much worse: seeking to pre-delegitimize a Clinton win. Undermining the very thing that makes democratic societies whole: accepting election results. This is profoundly un-American, deeply damaging cynicism at its very worst, going well beyond the past eight years of Republican obstruction of the president at every turn, even when, in their own words, his proposals would be good for the country. 
Donald Trump is way past that. He’d do his damage not for political gain, which is bad enough: he’d do it because inside his never-matured brain there’s no way people could reject his perfection except by cheating. Only a “rigged” election could yank him out of the limelight. In at least one state, over forty-percent of his followers already express certainty that a loss for Trump would have been rigged. This is the shame of Trump, and of the deliberate efforts of right wing media, at the behest of such people as Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove for decades: creating an endless supply of infinitely gullible voters. To ignore Trump’s destructive implications for a functioning democracy is no longer excusable. It’s to disregard what our country has always, until recently, been about. Adding injury to insult, he’s all but encouraged violent uprising if he loses.  
Contrast with Al Gore, in the twilight of our two-party system, after the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented intervention in a state’s election results, arguably handed the presidency to his opponent. Urged to protest, to bring further court challenges to the process, he refused, citing the good of the country, the need for healing. He placed his country above himself. Donald Trump? Does one need even to ask? 
Whether Trump actually believes a loss would indicate “rigging,” much less has an idea of how it’d be accomplished across fifty states, is immaterial: it’s clear he draws no line between reality and making stuff up; has no recognition of, concern for, or connection with facts. His are worse than lies, as others have said. Liars know the truth, choosing to ignore or mischaracterize it. To deceivers like Trump, truth is immaterial. He says whatever he considers in his interest at any given moment, later denying it, changing it, or doubling it down. Makes no difference to him, because it’s only about him. This defines a pathological liar. To call him a narcissist, while true, is too kind, implying something mildly amusing. There’s nothing remotely funny any more. The last politician to call for “Second Amendment remedies” lost her election. It’s time for Trump supporters to wake up, admit their error, and make sure he does the same. They’ve chosen the worst possible avatar for their concerns. 
I share their political frustrations, if for different reasons. I want the lowest possible taxes, the smallest possible government, and an effective military. But no sentient American who believes in democracy should countenance the continual attack, overt or hidden in pretense, on what our Constitution means and what citizenship requires, by a damaged egoist so clearly in it only for himself. Even as many horrified conservatives are announcing support for Hillary, I understand why others can’t. So vote for Gary Johnson. Be honorable. The only consistent thing about Donald Trump is his rudderless mendacity. 
For all patriotic Americans, this latest atrocity, despite the desperate spin by worried acolytes, should raze the wall.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Oh God

I know I should just let stuff like this go, but, given the ever-increasing influence of religion on our politics, I can't. So when I see calls for prayer after tragedy, it drives me nuts. How about actual action, I think. How about praying for god to keep this sort of shit from happening in the first place, if you believe prayer works in some way.

So there was a horrible incident of a woman accidentally killed by a cop in a demonstration of police work. Totally sad, for everyone. Beyond sad, for everyone.

“Our entire police department and all of our city leaders are absolutely devastated for everyone involved in this unimaginable event,” Lewis said. “I am asking that if you pray, you pray for Mary’s husband and family and for all of the officers and witnesses involved in this incident.”
They're all hurting. I understand. I don't know how I'd deal with it if I'd been part of it. Somehow, though, asking for prayer is a little like rushing to defend Donald Trump when he suggested "second amendment people" could deal with a Hillary Clinton win. At some point you just gotta stop defending the guy, expecting something different, on Earth or as it is in heaven.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Verily, They're Stealing My Stuff

For the first time in its 128 year existence, the Harvard Republican Club won't endorse its party's nominee for president. (Which means, of course, that they did endorse Nixon and Bush, Jr.; so it's not as if they mind setting the bar pretty low.)
... The group also criticized Trump's "vicious" temperament, a common critique of the GOP nominee. 
"In response to any slight –perceived or real– Donald Trump lashes out viciously and irresponsibly," the post read. "In Trump’s eyes, disagreement with his actions or his policies warrants incessant name calling and derision: stupid, lying, fat, ugly, weak, failing, idiot –and that’s just his 'fellow' Republicans." 
The Harvard Republican Club went on to give possibly the sickest burn it could deliver to a fellow Republican: that former President Ronald Reagan himself would be ashamed of the party's nominee. "(Reagan) called on us to maintain decency in our hearts by loving our neighbor," the post read. "He would be ashamed of Donald Trump. We are too."
"He isn’t eschewing political correctness," the group wrote. "He is eschewing basic human decency."
That is, of course, exactly what I've been writing about Donald Trump since he entered the race. (I'm not claiming unique wisdom here; pretty much anyone with half a brain and willingness to see him for who he is has concluded the same.) I've wondered how any true conservative could countenance the guy, so it's nice to know that a group I'd assume is fairly described as "true conservatives" agrees.

Besides, my wife went to Harvard, in the same graduating class as Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones: '69, famous for its anti-war activism. For the family connection (a niece went there, too) I give a certain amount of respect to Harvardites, despite the fact that I declined a scholarship to the joint. So I'd argue that the non-endorsement is worth consideration by other intelligent conservatives. The few I know who fall into that category have already made the same decision.

Not, of course, that any Trumpist would value the opinion of well-informed people, not even Republican ones. The opposite would seem to be the case.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Night And Dei

My latest newspaper column:
Is anyone out there still undecided? To those who saw the conventions, the differences couldn’t be more glaring. Of course people who watched the DNC on Fox “news” won’t have seen it so clearly. Predictably, they cut away from some of the most compelling DNC speeches, including, on the last night, the immigrant Muslim father of an immigrant Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, who offered to lend his copy of the Constitution to Donald Trump. Every time a speaker was putting the lie to the lies they like to tell, Fox “news” pulled an O’Reilly and shut it down. Which helps explain why the Foxified believe the half-view of liberalism and of America they’re constantly fed. And why Trump’s imaginary wall is such a perfect symbol of what keeps the parties separated so widely. 
The contrasts between the two parties and between their chosen candidates are as clear as the Cascade Mountains on a crisp winter day, so it should be easy to decide on which side of the chasm one resides. Some third-party vote-wasters still claim there are no meaningful distinctions; yet, presented with information, certain judgments must be made. If you get anaphylaxis from bees, you carry an EpiPen. Not a “maybe” thing. Similarly, you ought to know whether you think diversity makes America strong or weak, or whether Jesus called for love or hate. Is the climate changing or not? If so, is mankind playing a role, and is it a threat? Does wealth inequality threaten capitalism or enable it? Can ISIS bring down America or not? These are binary questions. No middle ground. 
By observation, the RNC was about excluding, the DNC about including. The RNC presented America in decline, in existential peril, and it served up a delusional, fragile, carnival barker who’ll thinks he’ll fix it all by himself. The DNC was about people working together, especially when they disagree, to make it better. America is already great, they affirmed, but still could use improvement. It’s in the cauldron of differing opinions, it was insisted, that our best ideas are brewed. At the RNC, disagreement meant disloyalty, and not just to party: to America. That divergence of views isn’t subtle. Pick a side.
Look at the audiences: the RNC was virtually all white. Some like what they saw, a representation of the America they long for. The other was a mélange of color. For many, that’s precisely the problem with Democrats; others consider it reality from which there’s no going back, wall or no wall, and welcome it as a source of our exceptionalism. No neutral ground there, either. 
Still can’t decide? What about the people, including police, you saw at the DNC (unless you watched Fox “news”) calling for healing the loss of trust between cops and minority communities? Praising officers and the job they do while appealing for listening to one another. Speakers included families of cops killed on duty and families of victims of violence. At the RNC, healing didn’t fit; as in all matters, it’s zero-sum. Screaming Rudy Giuliani reminded me of the guy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” whose face, moments after he said, “It’s beeyoootifullll,” melted. Assessing the DNC, Donald Trump concluded there wasn’t enough talk of terrorism. Of course he did: mainlining fear is his game. And, reducing patriotism to stagecraft, he said there were too few flags. He hugs them, after all. 
Contra expectations, religious values were more evident at the DNC than the RNC, appealing to the best of Christianity (and others): promoting love, forgiveness, charity, and acceptance, even of other- and non-believers; as opposed to the perversion of religion used by today’s Republicans to justify hate, marginalization, and selfishness. Relevant? 
If you took the convention speakers at their word, you must know where you stand. I doubt Republicans were lying about their dark view and preference for a narcissistic bully. I assume the Foxified believe Democrats were lying (or misguided) about their hopeful, inclusive outlook. Given their decades of laying the groundwork for him, it’s unsurprising that today’s Republicans selected Trump. But I have no idea how true conservatives could vote for him. (I know some. They’re not.)    
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Friday, August 5, 2016

Anniversary Of Amazing

My friend Dougie sent me this today, on the anniversary of the event. Among the many takeaways: science. Is it cool, or what? Too bad an entire policial party and millions of its minions reject it.

Also, look at the names and faces of the scientists, and tell me why immigration is a bad thing.

But, mainly, wow.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

For The Sake Of Security In The Face Of Insanity

I don't know the legal status of the security briefings given to presidential candidates; that is, I don't know if it's mandated by some law or other, of if it's "just the way it's done." Assuming it's something on the order of the latter, I think something needs to be done to prevent the pathological Donald Trump from getting those briefings. He just blurted about seeing "top secret" video of Iranians off-loading a planeload of cash after the nuclear agreement and release of those prisoners. (Either he's lying about seeing it, or he's breaching security.)

I further assume it'd be politically impossible to cut him out of the process while allowing Hillary (and, depending on how it works, the third-party candidates) to be briefed. So the whole drill needs to be suspended for this campaign. The man couldn't be trusted to keep his mouth shut if his wives' life depended on it. Or even something he cared about.

Somebody tell the people who do the briefings. They don't listen to me.

[Update: he was lying. Or hallucinating, maybe. The point, however, remains. Giving Donald Trump classified information would be like putting it on Facebook.]

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Long Game

Someone smarter than me (hardly narrows it down) posited on some site I read somewhere and can't recall, that President Obama was playing a very clever long game when he called on Republican leaders to denounce and renounce Donald Trump.

Since they've made a business of blocking, denying, and criticizing everything Obama has done, every word he's spoken, every breath he's breathed, the last thing they can do is follow his advice and rescind their endorsements of Trump.

So the president has hung their nominee around their necks like a half-ton chain, permanently, knowing with the certainty of tomorrow's dawn that Donald will do worse and worse; and that Rs -- especially those running for reelection -- will have to explain it, duck and dodge, never able to unlink the chain.

I like it.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Believe The Beggars

Couldn't be true, could it? Could a person make such a clueless, ironic, self-canceling statement and be serious? Surely someone made it up.


Donald Trump, unable to stop beating a dead horse and ride it into the setting dawn, had this to say about Mr. Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the DNC:
"While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr. Khan who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things. If I become President, I will make America safe again."
No need to point out the obvious obliviousness. It loquiturs the res gooder'n I could ipsa. But, just to frost the chickens on their roost, I must point out that Mr. Khan did not accuse the leader of the Republican Party of never having read the Constitution. He asked if he had. And as long as we're loquituring, how 'bout sequituring? What do his preceding claims have to do with "making America safe again?"

Also, I think we all know he couldn't give less of a shit about the man's son.

In the same conversation, as has been reported, he also accused the NYT of not being able to write good.

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