Wednesday, August 30, 2017

No One Saw It Coming

Once again, CPP tells it. The waters are just the beginning; and whereas there's blame to go around (not to mention that much is blameless, other than God, that is) in many ways Houston is the result of rampant deregulation and anti-science that have become the mainstays of Republicanism. It's all, including the floods, been predictable. And predicted.

But, you know, experts...

The linked article ends thus:
... Once, long ago, the conservative activist Grover Norquist famously said that he wanted to shrink "government" to a size at which it could be drowned in the bathtub. Well, people actually are drowning in Houston now, and so is the political philosophy that reached its height when Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural that government wasn't the solution, but the problem itself. We all moved onto a political flood plain then, and we're being swept away.
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Monday, August 28, 2017

The 411 On The New 911

Anyone see a pattern here? Trump speaks to cops, tells them it's okay to rough up people they arrest. Trump calls people who protest him (or Nazis) lawless thugs. And now he reverses Obama's restrictions on the military giving offensive weapons to police forces. Tanks, grenade launchers, bayonets (!). Not only rescinds but makes it easier. This, after pardoning a lawless sheriff who bragged about that very lawlessness.

Anyone remember when Foxolimjonesians were warning that Obama was coming for us in tanks? That he'd suspend our government and impose martial law?

Railing against the press, against those who oppose him, against free and fair voting. Invoking all manner of conspiracies meant to frighten people into relinquishing the protections afforded us all in a democracy. And now, turning police forces around the country into extensions of the military. "Serve and protect" becomes "seek out and destroy."

Nope. No pattern at all. Nothing to worry about. Move along. Now. Or you'll get a bayonet up your nose.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Taking It For Granted

Tomorrow's newspaper column, today:
Readers of the letters portion of this paper were recently treated to the reanimation of a well-worn Foxolimjonesian climate change denial trope: climate scientists are in it for the grant money. If appealing to logic were effective, such letters might never be written, but let’s talk about it anyway.  
If the argument makes sense, its logical (sorry) extension would be that we should only believe scientists who work for free; even more so, maybe, if they paid for the privilege. In fact, when you think about it, the writer and those who accept that silly argument are communists: researchers should give us what they can and take what they need. Amazing. Foxolimjonesians: commies. It’s a relief to have figured it out.  
I have a niece who’s a world-renowned (among scientists in her field, anyway) researcher in immunology. A PhD professor at a major university, she’s published by the most highly regarded scientific journals, shares her findings at symposia around the world. She’s knocking on the breakthrough door, with work that will likely have enormous benefits in treatment of auto-immune disease and (maybe already) certain childhood leukemias. And she spends a ridiculous amount of time writing grant proposals. Time that’d be far better spent in her lab. Time, were there a more sensible system, wasted.  
I know other academics, and they too spend valuable time applying for grants. Most live well below the high parts of the hog. My niece lives in a small apartment with her husband and two kids. It’s close to her lab because she needs to go there day and night. (Mice, mainly, are the reason. I understand. For me, in college, it was fruit flies.)  
Bad research doesn’t win grants. Tough-minded committees review applications and money isn’t awarded to poorly-done investigation. When researchers succeed in getting them, grants pay expenses of running a lab, salaries of their post-doc assistants, and, in some cases, part of their own salaries. Unlike Trump’s cabinet of climate-change deniers, they’re not wealthy. But that’s our system. And now, as our short-sighted, science-denying leaders (science-fearing, as it threatens their economic and environmental dishonesty) are cutting funding for all sorts of important scientific inquiry, their situation will only worsen, their scrambling for private money even more distracting from the good they do. 
Republicans hate paying for anything other than tax cuts for their benefactors and for military equipment. (Stop the presses: more troops to Afghanistan. Again. Defense stocks surge.) You’d think it’d be a priority to spend public money on the kinds of research that has and will continue to make life healthier and safer. But you’d also think we wouldn’t have a science rejecter as president. 
From the letter-writer’s argument it’s a short hop to another claim of the hypo-rational: we doctors are suppressing cures for diseases. Like cops encourage crime and firemen fires. (The existence of some letters suggests educators have been creating ignorance for the same reason.) As to doctors, well, we and our families get sick, too. Die, even, from the same diseases that kill other humans. And whaddya know? Cancers, and more, that were considered incurable in my day are being laid low by newer discoveries. 
I don’t know whether it’s the insult or the gullibility that’s the more depressing. But I do know how dispiriting it is to see evidence, every day, of how easily fooled so many of today’s Republicans have become. Fox “news,” or Alex Jones, or Rush Limbaugh, or any of the crazy wing of today’s Republican Congress say something ridiculous, imagine a nutty conspiracy -- count on reading or hearing someone regurgitating it on these pages and elsewhere. Including the Gold House. 
It’s ominous. Society can’t long function with one of its major parties so loosened from terra firma; when lying from the very top and from a well-planned disinformation media campaign has created masses of credulous people no longer able to recognize falsehood, nor interested in re-learning the skill. 
It’s not the specific assertion of that letter that’s so sad; it’s what it portends for the future. If people can dismiss the validity of climate research because scientists earn a living doing it, what’s next? Defending a man who claims some American Nazis and white supremacists are “very fine people?” Could it ever get that bad?
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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Long Game

Admittedly a thought not entirely original with me, it's something I've been thinking and finding entirely worth considering: another reason Putin was so anxious to help Trump attain the presidency.

Yes, I think Putin figured he could manipulate Trump into doing what he, Putin, wanted. He already has. Very possibly because he has "stuff" on him that Trump wants never to see the light of day. But I see Putin as much more of an evil genius than that.

I think he took the measure of Trump and the people with whom he's surrounded himself -- Nazis, xenophobes, Islamophobes, anti-Semites, wealthy people with no regard for those Americans in need of help -- and concluded, rightly, that a Trump presidency had the potential to render our country asunder. To divide us and cause us to fall upon each other with brutality and hate unlike any we saw during the Obama presidency. To begin the end of democracy, the end of America itself. By civil war: figurative at minimum. Literal, very possibly.

(Need it be said: with each president it's been the same people fueling the division: the haters who hated Obama and now, who feel empowered to crawl out from under their anonymous websites and march in the streets. In the Obama presidency, it was reactive racism. Under Trump, it's racism unfettered.)

And, while that would be brewing, Putin figured Trump would very likely cause America to be reviled by the rest of the world. We'd sink one way or the other, with our former friends glad to see us go.

Is Putin that Machiavellian, Trump that much of a tool?

Is carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas?

Besides which, it seems to be working. Putin must have watched the events in Charlottesville, Trump's stupid responses, the outrage in response to that, the subsequent braying of the alt-right, and rubbed his hands together like you-know-who.

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Friday, August 18, 2017


Because I'm sure I have the ears (or eyes) of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, I've written a simple and easily memorizable statement for them to make together:
Mr. President, it's time for you to resign  your office with "dignity" or be removed in disgrace. Your choice. 
There. Wasn't that easy? (They can use air quotes for "dignity," or not.)

And, no, the departure of Steve Bannon doesn't suffice. Especially since the White House statement, as delivered by Sarah "Going to hell for sure" Huckabee "And not coming back, ever" Sanders, tried to pretend Trump wasn't involved. To, you know, keep the racists happy.

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Good For Mitt

Mitt Romney rose to the occasion. I take back some of the stuff I've said about him.

Unlike the mealy responses of other Republican leaders, who bravely said some words suggesting they don't like racism and Nazis all that much, but failed to address the "president" directly, he had this to say, as posted on Facebook. In full:

I will dispense for now from discussion of the moral character of the president's Charlottesville statements. Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn't mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unravelingof our national fabric. 
The leaders of our branches of military service have spoken immediately and forcefully, repudiating the implications of the president's words. Why? In part because the morale and commitment of our forces--made up and sustained by men and women of all races--could be in the balance. Our allies around the world are stunned and our enemies celebrate; America's ability to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world is diminished. And who would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?  
In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence? 
The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis--who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat--and the counter-protestors who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute.

And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association. 
This is a defining moment for President Trump. But much more than that, it is a moment that will define America in the hearts of our children. They are watching, our soldiers are watching, the world is watching. Mr. President, act now for the good of the country.

Good on ya, Mitt. You crystallized the deeper and future impact of having a president who claims there are "very fine people" among Nazis and white supremacists. The world, and, more importantly, America's children are listening. The ones, that is, not already brainwashed to ruination by their parents of the Charlottesville marching kind.

Online and elsewhere, people still defend Trump. Either they're too stupid to see the implications, as Mitt Romney stated, or they don't give a shit. More important to them to be able to make up for their self-loathing by hating everyone else.

The "president" of the United States has, yet again, branded us as a rogue nation, a stupid, hateful nation. We need a hell of a lot more than lip service from Congressional Republicans. They need to rid us of him.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

If There Was Ever Any Doubt....

My latest newspaper column:
Last Saturday a call for greatness came from Charlottesville. Trump didn’t answer. 
The poisonous racism and 1930s anti-Semitism flaunted at that Nazi, KKK, white-whine rally confirmed the self-evident. Likewise Trump’s cowardly first reaction and the gloating words of Klansman David Duke, characterizing the rally as “fulfilling the promises of Donald Trump.” This is what “take our country back” has always meant, and who Trump really is. None can claim they didn’t know. 
In his initial remarks, Trump began, as usual, bragging about the beautiful things happening since his tainted victory, because he hasn’t yet bent downward the trajectory of the Obama recovery. Of the vile hatred, the Heil Hitlers and heil trumps, the Nazi slogans and brandished weapons, Trump’s first thoughts were about Trump.

Then came vapid greeting card words about joining together, followed by refusal to name the marchers, who carried torches he might as well have lit himself. The self-pitying white men, filled with hate for everyone else, simulating manliness by packing armaments: about them, Trump was, in effect, silent.

Two days later, he spoke again. At critical junctures, some presidents’ words soar. His were leaden. Recognizing the need for eloquence and moral clarity, any president worthy of the office would have spoken very differently about Charlottesville. In an archive of orators rising to an occasion, Trump’s page would be blank.

“Very fine people on both sides,” he declared a day after that. No, Donald, only one side. White supremacists and Nazis aren’t fine. These are people who speak of killing Jews and Blacks, who consider them “filth” and “vermin,” Donald. But it’s always been clear your amoral sentiments lie with them. Everyone who voted for you bears responsibility; none can feign surprise. The Gold House has become base camp for the Nazis with whom you have surrounded yourself, and Mecca for the ones who love you for it.

Some Republicans (they knew who he was and voted for him anyway) implored Trump to speak against the horribles basketed in Virginia. It’s almost courageous in today’s Republican Party to condemn racism, and it had an effect. The man whose campaign explicitly encouraged violence and unmistakably dog-whistled racism read some words. Nearly in monotone, unconvincingly. And has been taking them back ever since.  
After the car ran down those anti-hate marchers, comments on right-wing websites ran from claims of “false flag” and “self-defense” to disappointment that he hadn’t taken out more protesters. And people defend them. People who email me do. Trump does. People claiming racism is dead, who contend it’s whites who are persecuted. 
Trump may not have accomplished much for average citizens (his factually deficient claims notwithstanding), but he’s been hugely successful in finding the bottom of the barrel and dragging us all there. To Donald Trump, journalists and educators are America’s enemies, not the white supremacists and Nazis who put him in office. 
If any remain, true conservatives, Christian and otherwise, ought to be carrying torches, too; but up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, forswearing further complicity, apologizing, demanding their party cleanse itself of this stain and disavow his clientele. Liberals who didn’t vote (except the several-hundred-thousand prevented from it by red-state legislation) should admit responsibility, too. 
More than any from abroad, home-grown Trump-loving terrorists directly threaten our way of life. Watch interviews from Virginia, and hear them say it, proudly. Fine people, indeed. Excused by the president of the United States. From Trump we can expect only lip-service to American ideals, of which he’s functionally ignorant. He shows no desire to elevate himself, nor the intellect, energy, or even the common sense required by his job, preferring twice-a-day folders of flattery over the demands of leadership. Donald Trump, the putative moral voice of the United States, her image in the eyes of the world, passes time watching Fox “news,” golfing, tweeting, and basking in words of praise unctuously, pathetically, delivered by caterers to his needy narcissism.

Racists and anti-Semites are Trump’s truest base. Under pressure, he rebuked them. For a day. Then he equated hate and anti-hate; implied, in fact, the latter were more violent, worse. Everything that happened in and after Charlottesville was predictable. It’s who he’s always been, and those marchers have always been his people. They’re Trump’s America, the America, as David Duke said, he promised.  
By now, if you deny it, you’re blind. Or them.
[Image source: obvious]

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Worst Among Us

My upcoming newspaper column:
Proctor and Gamble just produced a video that’s become a minor sensation. Showing black parents talking seriously (and heartbreakingly) to their kids about racism they’ve encountered, or will, it’s affecting and realSurprising as sunrise, right-wingers online and elsewhere are outraged: it’s racist, they scream. Horrifying. Playing the race card. Boycott, boycott, boycott. To them, even to discuss racism is racist. Because there’s no longer any, if there ever was. Rug, sweep under.  
The video is racist the same way ones touting heart-healthy diets are coronary-arterist. 
When President Obama had the uppityness to talk about race and racism, sometimes very personally, they called him divisive. Most divisive president ever. “Deep seated hatred of white people,” opined an infamous right-wing screamer, locally rooted. No person of color may speak of such things, and, evidently, no Trump supporter will, other than to deny it.  
In another unhinged tweetstorm (so much for General Kelly), Trump assured us his base is “bigger and stronger” than ever. (It isn’t, of course.) Look at those rallies I hold for myself, he crows. Actual people show up. Cheering, chanting “Lock her up,” just like when my favorability was above 33%. A few thousand people showering me with love is all the proof I need. 
We can learn from this. First, consistent with his and his supporters’ unflagging avoidance of evidence, his need to believe he’s super-popular Trumps reality. Which explains why he holds those unprecedented self-congratulatory and compliment-fishing expeditions. Second, his voting “base” is the sole target for his dishonest rhetoric, which, third, reveals the superficiality of his regard for them. This president doesn’t even pretend to care about other Americans. He knows his zealots and what they want from him, which, to keep them from noticing his true base, he provides. But it’s the very wealthy to whose continued accrual of fortune his economic ideas are aimed, even as they’ll harm his enthralled ralliers. 
Thus, his abrupt, counterproductive announcement, widely unpopular except with his base, that transgender people shall no longer serve in our military (he lied that he’d talked it over with “his” generals). 
Thus his abrupt, counterproductive, and widely unpopular plan except with his base, to cut legal immigration by fifty percent (he lied that it’s about raising wages for Americans, which it won’t. (For the record, merit-based immigration is worth discussing, and not just because an immigrant Trump wouldn’t meet his own criteria; nor would have a majority of his wives or his mother.) 
It’s been a week since the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota. If Trump has had anything to say about it, I missed it. Since his election, incidents of violence against African-Americans, Muslims, LGBT, Jews, Sikhs, have increased significantly. I don’t claim Trumpism has created more racists and omni-haters than there were before his election; only that by his words and non-words, actions and non-actions, he’s made them feel empowered to act on their worst impulses. Patriotically. To the extent that he’s spoken out, it’s been a half-hearted “Stop it.” Like a napping parent to a mildly annoying child.  
Spend a minute or two online, see video of Trumpists vilely berating immigrants in public. Comments on those right-wing websites are, literally, sickening. Yes, on some liberal websites comments are disgusting, too. But they’re not aimed at minorities or defenseless people, nor do they repeat the equivalent of Foxolimjonesian lies, or have the equivalent of presidential approval the reddest ones do. Clear as climate change, both sides are not equal. Countenancing this kind of hatred comes from the top of only one. 
Now, having confirmed his duping of the basest, Trump moves on to threaten nuclear war, surprising our military and State Department, showing the world’s second most irresponsible leader who’s the more unbalanced. Mine’s bigger than yours, he says, claiming, eight months in, without allocating a dime or building missile one, he’s made our nuclear arsenal more powerful than ever. Trumpists who believe that are more delusional than he is.  
Excusing Trump the person, as he appeals to America’s worst instincts, careening between impulse and error, lying to himself and us, wagging war as his approval sinks: at this point, remaining defenders are demonstrating how empty their claims of “values” were, all along.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

When One Party Loses Its Mind

My forthcoming newspaper column:
Think we’re overtaxed? Overregulated? We can talk. If it’s your opinion public education has problems and you have ideas, it’s conversable. If you believe our country is heading in the wrong direction, let’s debate. Which direction, especially. We could have a conversation about military vs. social spending, and where the balance is; to what extent each protects us. I’ve even had almost room-temperature excursus about why, in successful societies, people care for one another. 
If you believe the planet isn’t warming, or humans have nothing to do with it, or it’s not serious, there’s no point in wasting either of our time. If you deny evolution or feel sure the earth is six thousand years old, or flat, I’ll defend your right to such beliefs, but they announce the impossibility of fruitful back-and-forth. Likewise if you think homosexuality is a choice. I suppose we could discuss whether tax cuts pay for themselves, but we wouldn’t get far.  
The need to reject indisputable facts is something that puzzles me about humans. In our evolutionary history, gut feelings no doubt played an important role in survival. React first, analyze later: it got us a long way. So, several hundred thousand years ago, did prehensile tails, the vestiges of which we all retain, occasionally causing coccygodinia. 
According to polls, forty percent of Republicans are certain Russian election interference is fake news created by liberals to distract Trump from his job. This they believe despite knowing every relevant intelligence agency has concluded otherwise and, shown the evidence, so has every member of involved congressional committees, Democrat and Republican. Of Republican voters who acknowledge it occurred, most seem undisturbed. (In a recent challenge, American hackers broke into voting machines in minutes.)  
In political fora, many Republicans insist our economy didn’t tank until Obama took over, and continued to decline throughout his presidency. Presenting them with indisputable facts makes no difference. The best hope is that such people are trolling. Otherwise it’s a serious mental defect of information processing, the same kind that rejects unwelcome news as fake. In theory, voting presumes the ability to evaluate data; this broad-based dismissal of evidence by a major political party is ominous. 
I don’t think forty percent of Republicans are innately stupid or unable to learn new things. In fairness, they’ve been victimized by intentional disinformation for decades, so it’s not entirely their fault. Whatever the explanation, because it requires both sides accept basic facts, rational discourse has become all but impossible. If political beliefs are a mutable hodge-podge, especially in a messy democracy like ours, facts are not. For propaganda to take root, there must be fertile soil. In that, Democrats are a raised-bed backyard garden. Today’s Republicans are a corporate farm. Our democracy was designed by men who didn’t imagine such a divide was possible. 
Aided by clever gerrymandering, Republicans dominate state and federal legislatures. In many red states, not unlike the US Senate (and the current president, thanks to the quirky Electoral College), Republicans received fewer votes than Democrats. And those elected tend to be the most rigid denialists. If it were true, as third-party nihilists argue, that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans, it wouldn’t matter. 
But when one’s adherents are consistently disdainful of facts, and when its leaders count on that instead of winning on ideas, a pathologically lying president who considers the White House “a dump” and lies about Boy Scout phone calls is what happens. The White House revolving door happens. An EPA following the law only by court order, its scientists resigning, happens. Incoherent foreign and domestic policy by tweet, Pizzagate, Seth Rich fake Fox “news” allegedly pushed by the president all happen; a president who’s made it impossible to believe anything he says. Happens. The Republican Prevaricare farce happens (Lindsey Graham called it a disaster and a fraud. And voted for it.)  
Ironically, the same information-processing deficiency that allowed Trump’s voters to disregard his lifelong moral and ethical failings, his businesses based on inherited (and laundered?) money and swindling, caused them not to reckon how incapable of governing he’d be. His ineptitude is the only thing saving us, so far, from dictatorship. Or worse. The arch-conservative NRO gets it. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, too. Who’s got next? 
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