Friday, January 25, 2019

Of Pricks And Red Hats

My next newspaper column:
Injecting local anesthetics, qua surgeon, I’ve used the term “here comes a little prick” without being accused of language unfit for publication. Would that I could employ it to describe that smug, entitled, MAGA-hatted, religious-schooled, self-satisfied, overindulged white kid and his pals, recorded mocking a dignified Native-American tribal elder who spends his time advocating for people in need. How I wish someone had asked those smegmatic anatomic analogies what “MAGA” means to them, and in what way they thought they were accomplishing it.  
After seeing video of the encounter, I wrote the preceding paragraph, and several less-deferential ones. Later, I read other accounts, including one attributed to the central kid in the video, and began to reassess my initial reaction. The man says he stepped in to defuse a situation. The boy, in a statement crafted by RunSwitch, a PR agency with roots in the Bush administration and ties to Mitch McConnell, claims he was the defuser. There’d been prior provocations by nutty “Black Hebrew Israelites.” Right-wingers unfurled their “paid-actor” flag. Left-wingers uncovered prior transgressions at the boys’ school. Other contemporaneous videos show those same boys harassing passing girls. They were, or weren’t, chanting “Build the wall.”  
Like many people on either side of America’s political chasm, I live in a sine-wave of outrage; but I should know to take a breath before wording off. Had this column included my entire jeremiad and nothing else, I’d have embarrassed myself. But I also know that no matter what or how I write, I’ll hear from people denying facts presented, asserting falsehoods, calling me a lying communist, and changing the subject. Because that’s what we’ve become: a country irreparably fissured.  
Whatever else is true, those boys wore their MAGA hats proudly, and one wonders what defines the greatness they espouse. The only measures by which we’re “greater” now than when Trump took office are the stock market and unemployment, neither of which represents a change in the direction they were heading, breaking records monthly, under the stewardship of President Barack Obama. Otherwise, we’re deeper in debt, more polluted, more divided; fewer Americans have health insurance, carcinogens are deregulated, the Senate is more dysfunctional, middle class people are falling behind even as the rich get richer. Putin is rising, Kim is cheating, allies distrust us. Even Ann Coulter is discovering nothing Trump says is believable, including when he denies suborning perjury. So it’s easy to decode the secret of “MAGA.” It’s not really a “G.”  
My fuse was easily lit; but if each side is capable of misconstruing the intentions of the other, it doesn’t mean blame is equally shared. Trump does lie, several times daily. Democrats do want border security. And capitalism. Climate change is real, and entering a dangerous positive-feedback loop. Putin did interfere on Trump’s behalf. Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves. Most illegal immigrants are decent people. Walls don’t stop smuggled drugs. And yes, coming here illegally is illegal.  
When Trump teased his speech on the wall and the shutdown, leaking that he’d offer to support DACA and TPS in return for receiving ransom for his wall, I thought, okay, that’s what compromise is, and I hope Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will accept it. Maybe it can be the beginning of the end of perilous impasse. Good for Trump. 
Then we learned the plan was concocted with McConnell, Miller, Pence, and Kushner, without input from Democrats; at which point we knew it’d be more of their usual cynical politics, crafted for rejection, purposed to shift blame to where it isn’t. Which it was. 
Of all his unfulfilled, preposterous-yet-believed campaign promises, Trump is going to the mat for a wall. Not something that would help millions of Americans, like replacing the Affordable Care Act with something “cheaper, with better coverage for everyone.” Not raising taxes on the wealthy to fix infrastructure. That beautiful wall, Trump’s favorite lie and base-distractor. 
Post-confrontation dudgeon remains high. The right is up-armed about liberals being mean; liberals, as expected, are falling upon themselves. But, under settling dust, I’ve circled back. Even if having an exemplar in the Offal Office explains their behavior, it doesn’t excuse it. Those leering boys, now heroes of the right, wore the hats of a liar, and, fair or not, it impacts their believability. Which shows why, if they’re to restore lost credibility, adult Republicans must spurn their pathologically dishonest “president.” 
And tell their kids.
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Friday, January 18, 2019


My next newspaper column:
FBI worried. Turkey threats. Secret meetings, missing transcripts. Racism gestures. Removing sanctions. William Barr. A weekly columnist must cull the heard. So here’s but unum e pluribus: 
If that meeting between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and Trump was as described, one wishes the Speaker had replied differently to Individual-1. It’s reported he asked whether, if he reopened the government, Speaker Pelosi would fund his wall. No, was her answer. If she’d said, “Donald, I haven’t read Art of the Deal, because I don’t have time for fiction. But I doubt it recommends laying down your cards at the start of negotiations,” would he have still made a show of walking out? Probably.  
Ever unreliable, Trump had agreed, only days earlier, to sign funding legislation without the wall. Then came marching orders from Fox “news” and that was, and still is, that. Did Putin pipe a tune, too?  Our chaos is his fortune. Also, Trump had promised to accept “the mantle” and not blame Democrats. Trump’s promises: good as fools’ gold. By a margin of nearly two to one, though, Americans blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown.  
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is Trump’s perfect antagonist: a smart, savvy, tough woman, unfazed by his fact-free bullying. Neither wants to cave to the other: Trump, because he knows it’d reveal his tough-guy fakery; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi because she knows she can expose his tough-guy fakery. She’s playing chess to his tic-tac-toe, leaving him only one way to avoid humiliation: declaring a national emergency. Checkmate.  
Consider the implications: egged on by such mental masterpieces as Sean Hannity and righteous lip-quiverer Lindsey Graham, Individual-1 would execute exactly the sort of power-grab haters of President Barack Obama claimed would happen tomorrow, every day of his presidency. If Republicans excuse it, when there’s clearly no emergency, on what basis could they complain when a Democratic president declares an entirely justifiable national emergency due to climate change? (They would, of course.) If the number of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants triggers a national emergency, why not the tens of thousands of Americans killed yearly by guns? 
Giving any president unlimited rights to declare a national emergency is a prelude to dictatorship. Or is it only when a president is of the other party?  
If presidents should have the authority to declare a national emergency, mustn’t it be limited to when circumventing normal legislative processes is necessitated by the need for immediate action? For reasons obvious to everyone but the contentedly deluded, building a wall, or a sawable series of slats, to address a situation ongoing for decades, steadily becoming less of a problem, which will take years, and which, notwithstanding Bill Barr’s lie, won’t impede illegal drug importation at all, falls outside that category. And taking the Jade Helm of our military to accomplish it? Would our patriotic militiamen, so vocally virile not long ago, rush to oppose the tyrant?  
Among the kinds of Trump supporters from whom I hear regularly, his declaring an emergency would be welcomed with cheers and chants of “Lock (we’re-not-sure-who-anymore) up.” But maybe Speaker Pelosi figures it’d be the catalyst that causes a handful of Republican lawmakers at last to find their missing integrity. It’s a gamble. But if assuming unrestrained power by deception wouldn’t do it, the Constitution, and governance by and for the people, become moot; so let’s get it over with and take to the barricades. Are you with us, Sovereign Citizens?  
After three years of telling his crowds Mexico would pay for his beautiful concrete wall, Invididual-1 denied ever saying so. Then he clarified: he never said they’d write a check. But he did. Both. Google it. Imagine: a liar of that magnitude essentially declaring martial law. There’s no way in hell Trumpists would stand for it in a Democrat, yet they’re all but drooling over it now. 
At this point, besides wondering what Putin has on Trump, one must consider what Trump has on servile Mitch McConnell and fawning Lindsey Graham that explains such dereliction. Incriminating tapes? Horse head in their beds? Lindsey has flipped like a flounder, and Mitch knows the original funding bill passed unanimously. The votes are there for overriding a veto; if was right then, why not now? It’s how checks and balances are supposed to work. 
In the dimness of receding time, they once did.
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Friday, January 11, 2019

We Live In Fascinating Times

Hoo boy.

Dear Leader held his first cabinet meeting of the year, featuring a ha-inspiring poster of himself, suitable for hanging in the Kremlin and Pyongyang. None of the Secretaries goose-stepped around the room, but his acting Attorney General came close, setting a record for supra-sphincteric osculation, lipping well past the Valves of Houston. In doing so, he bared the role his Department of Justice will play in enforcing laws and protecting Americans from executive overreach: None.

As if reading a manifesto supplied by Vladimir Putin, Trump proceeded to rewrite the history of the USSR’s past invasion of Afghanistan, lauding their adventurism. It was a bridge to Red Square too far even for the editorial staff of The Wall Street Journal, not typically purveyors of news Trump and his ilk and ilkettes like to call fake. “Right to be there?” they exclaimed. “We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.”

Delved they not into what’s behind Trump’s cravenness toward Mr. Putin, though. That, one supposes, they’re leaving to Robert Mueller, as are we all. In a rational world, such slavish defense of a global adversary, coincidentally being enriched by Trump’s tariffs on China, would give pause to Republicans fighting hard to maintain excuses for a lying, uninformed, capricious “president.” Who appeases dictators.

Speaking of lying, even Fox “news” had enough of Sarah “Remember-me-as-transparent-and-truthful” Sanders’ whopper about four thousand terrorists crossing our southern border. That’s the number detained across the entire planet, mostly at airports. There’ve been six apprehensions of non-citizen watch-listers on that border, stopped, as it happens, at legal crossing points; far fewer than at the Canadian border. Then came Trump, claiming support for his wall from former presidents, followed swiftly by denials from all of them. Now he’s hearing voices?

And he never said Mexico would pay for it!

Tuesday’s speech, reprising every lie from every Trump rally ever, plus one new one about steel, was a made-for-TV fundraiser, complete with deceptive emails to supporters before, and creepily threatening ones after. But it fogged the day’s revelation of actual collusion with Russia, of which more will surely follow. It’s no longer speculative.

Trump’s fabulist fence was never about security, for which a wall is all but useless. Speaker Pelosi is right: it’s an erection between Trump supporters and reality. For example, illegal drugs arriving from Mexico do so through established checkpoints, hidden inside vehicles or the fusty hollows of humanity’s bowels.

Illegal crossings continue the decline begun during Barack Obama’s presidency. The true emergency is gullibility. Trump’s wall-talk is intended to distract Trumpists from his pollution of their air and water, his planned damage to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and to future generations. The humanitarian crisis is real, though, and entirely of his making.  

Meanwhile, as our right-wing brethren and sistern worried over a possible contender for Trump’s world-championship vulgarity belt, tried to forget Reagan’s tax rates, argued the dancing chops of the youngest-ever member of Congress, and waved Foxified ignorance of Democratic Socialism like a Confederate flag, new-majority House Democrats introduced HR1, a sweeping voting-rights and anti-corruption bill. Were true conservatives to read it, unaware of its origin, they’d enthuse. As should everyone favoring honesty among politicians and a meaningful, listened-to voice in electing them.

The bill has less than an Inhofian snowball’s chance in Senate Hell, as Mitch “It’s-not-about-you-it’s-about-me” McConnell egested that it’s “not going anywhere.” But it draws an indelible blue line across the ethical gap between Democrats and Republicans, affirming the intensifying importance of electing Democratic majorities in both Houses, and a Democratic president, if ever we’re to reclaim governance by and for the people. Polling shows eighty-percent of Americans favor reforms in the bill, which makes precisely zero difference to Senate Republicans. (One recalls a recent column about that.)

Included in HR1: serious campaign finance reform; tough ethical standards for all government officials; ending “dark money;” increased oversight of foreign agents; making available more poll workers and places; ending partisan gerrymandering; requiring disclosure of ten-years-worth of tax returns by presidential and vice-presidential candidates; even, get this: prohibiting the use of taxpayer money to settle Congressional sexual harassment claims!

There’s a great deal more, discoverable by searching “HR1.” It’s hard to imagine any Constitution-loving American finding fault.

Which is to say, given our current politics, it’s not hard at all.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Democracy, Nearing The End

Saturday's newspaper column:
If current trends continue, it’s predicted that by 2050, seventy-percent of Americans will live in just fifteen states. Which means they’ll be represented by thirty members in the Senate, while the remaining thirty-percent of Americans will have seventy. Not insignificantly, the thirty-five states in which that thirty-percent will reside are mostly Red. 
The implication is obvious: minority rule becomes permanent. Rule by those who think climate change is a hoax, who’d rather get rid of immigrants than see their schools improve, who’ll settle for limited access to health care as long as those schools don’t let trans people use the “wrong” bathroom. People who think Trump is God’s prelude to sending Jesus back; who consider freedom of the press their enemy and liars their friends. Who’ve been convinced those warning how widening wealth disparity threatens America are communists. It’s the opposite of original intent. People who'd rather have a wall than clean air and water.
We’re about there. Our twenty smallest states have fewer combined inhabitants than California’s forty-million. Californians have two senators; those others have forty.

Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, et. al., were brilliant, but theirs was a country of thirteen states and four-million people. If their compromise on a bicameral Congress was largely to protect smaller states, they can’t have foreseen the enormous imbalance that would ensue. If they envisioned a Constitution that would allow their democratic republic to function forever, they failed. When the views of a distinct minority wholly supplant those of the majority, democracy is no longer.

Nor is the scale-tilting limited to the Senate. In the House of Representatives, legislators from small (again, mostly Red) states speak for far fewer citizens than those in larger states, giving the former voters proportionately more influence over laws that are made. 
Then there’s the Electoral College, whose creation, it’s claimed today, was to keep larger states from having too much clout in the choice of president. But historians know it was less about size than slavery. And it worked as designed: for thirty-two of the nation’s first thirty-six years a white Virginian slave-holder held the presidency.

In those Made-America-Great days, there were no political parties, no presidential campaigns. Each state selected electors who, unconstrained by voter preference, chose the president and, separately, vice-president. In large part, this was because, in the age when information traveled slowly and not everyone was as literate as they, those dazzling dads of democracy didn’t think the masses could know enough to be entrusted with direct voting. How ironic: information, such as it is, now speeds across the land, embedding like brain-eating amoebae, before thought depolarizes a single neuron. 
With the Twelfth Amendment, allowing political parties to choose their candidates and to hold national elections, those founding concepts became moot. Logically, ending the Electoral College should have been included; instead it’s become even more counterproductive, now a mishmash of rules among the states for how electors’ votes are distributed.

Given the outsize grip minority views have on each house of Congress, the concept that large states must be kept from undue influence on the presidency is indefensible. The president and vice-president are the only federal officers chosen by everyone who exercises their vote. Why should the preferences of, say, Washingtonians, have less impact on the process than those of North Dakotans? How does it make sense that the only officer beholden to and representing all citizens can win with a minority of votes, an outcome impossible for all other elections? 
The train of American-style democracy is heading off the rails, and our Constitution, designed to preserve liberty, is pouring coal into the hopper. To restore a semblance of equality, the Senate, whose Republican members have, for the last ten years, been purposefully (and successfully) destroying normal political processes to maintain their personal power, would have to vote for its own elimination. Would a Mitch McConnell (who, amazingly, just announced his legislative irrelevance) ever place the interests of most Americans above his own?

Inevitably, there’s a breaking point. Democracy is meaningless when a majority of people have no power to affect their future, when they see opinions held by a distinct minority holding sway. We’re already there, of course, as polls show far more Americans agree with liberal ideas than those of today’s Republican (non-conservative) Party. 
Thus we understand what’s really behind Trumpism’s attacks on immigrants, minorities, and their voting rights: the only Constitutional means for restoring majority rule is by Red states turning Blue. It wouldn’t be White Christian Americans who’d make it happen.
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