Wednesday, September 28, 2022

What's At Stake

Come November we’ll be voting in yet another “most important election, ever.” Not to be the wolf who cried “boy oh boy,” but if this isn’t THE one, it has a heck of a lot more riding on it than any in memory. Like, you know, survival. Literal and figurative. Republicans, especially the MAGAfied ones, are making no secret of what’s in store if they take control of Congress. Let’s remind ourselves who they are:

Rick Scott (R-FL), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is responsible for getting Rs elected to that body. It’s he whose healthcare company paid the largest fine, ever, for Medicare fraud, BEFORE he was elected governor and then Senator. He just sent emails to Republicans, seeking suggestions for where “illegal immigrants” should next be sent: Barack Obama’s house, the White House, San Francisco, or “other.” 

Funny, right? In fact, the already-sent aren’t illegal. They’re legitimate seekers of asylum, having escaped with their lives, allowed in, legally, to pursue their quest. The kind of people whose life-risking commitment to freedom has made this country great; whose presence in America angers Trumpublicans. Threatens their ability to feel superior, maybe.

But that’s not the issue. The issue is, in what way does loading desperate people onto planes, lying to them, shipping them off in hopes they’ll be mistreated and abandoned, differ from loading people into cattle cars? Sure, there are a few details. But anyone who thinks it’s hilarious, who isn’t appalled by the dehumanization and the oh-so-clever poll, isn’t far removed from those who stood silent or cheered, 75 years ago, in Germany; arms raised like Trumpists in Ohio.

Can anyone still believe “it can’t happen here”? It already is. Cruelty is the point, acquiescence the propagator, Trumpism the fuel. It’s who they are, and, if put in charge, what they want America to become. 

Also who they are: Ted Cruz (R-TX). If they take over, he said, Republicans would impeach Biden “whether it’s justified or not.” To anyone with more brain cells than the number of MAGAgonists giving that Q-anazi salute, there’s no legitimate reason to impeach President Biden. There’s plenty for MAGA Republicans to disagree with. That’s okay. It’s policy. But “high crimes and misdemeanors?” Maybe there’s a copy of the Constitution in one of the boxes Trump stole. That, he'll get back. After he reads it for the first time, maybe he’ll share.

As justification, Cruz floated “failing to enforce the border,” despite the record number of arrests under President Biden, and hundreds of thousands of drugs being interdicted. If scaring people about “rainbow meth” and fentanyl deaths (which tripled under Trump) is good campaign strategy, “rampant crime” is better. Which makes right-wing outrage over the FBI’s arrest, at his home, of a man who punched and knocked down a 72-year-old who was escorting women out of a Planned Parenthood Clinic. Punched twice, till he fell and was injured. “Outrageous FBI overreach,” said Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of many. 

Back the Blue. Blue lives matter. Unless they’re retrieving stolen documents, arresting Trumpists storming the capital or punching protectors of women. If MAGA Republicans take over Congress, there’s reason to believe only white, male, Christian Trumpublicans will be welcome in America.

Okay, Sid, calm down. Stick to the facts.

Flanked by climate-change-, vaccine-, and election-deniers (and a few not-completely-nuts Rs) Kevin McCarthy announced the Republican “Commitment to America,” pending their ascendency to power. Containing many words forming sentences, it promises to solve everything, by spending lots of money (ironic) while making no mention of where it’ll come from. For that, we return to Rick Scott, whose economic plan features a requirement to subject government programs (Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, etc.) to re-approval every five years. One doesn’t need insurance-covered cataract surgery to read between those lines.

The rest of the “Commitment” is full of focus-group-tested promises. “Fight inflation and lower the cost of living.” Hey, who isn’t for that? Double hey: who needs actual plans? Energy independence is on the list, too. Based on their accompanying video, via more drilling. In Russia, evidently, since the video showed pumping there. Climate change? Who cares? Fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes? Fake news. 

How ‘bout this: “Expand parental choice so students can receive the education their parents know is best.” Translation: so long, public education. No child having to learn American history, read challenging books, or become empathetic. And this one is especially good: “Personalize care to provide affordable options and better quality, delivered by trusted doctors.” Any idea what that means or how it happens? Seriously. Read the “document.” Think beyond the headlines. 

And then, unless you believe the election was stolen, climate change is a hoax, and you want a national abortion ban, overcome any inclination to vote for any Republican. Including a pretty lady who says Democrats are “working overtime” to raise prices, and who, after winning her primary, scrubbed her website of election fraud claims and abortion bans.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Belief Relief


“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated.” George Washington, 1792.

To the dismay of many religious and political leaders, increasing numbers of Americans, especially Christians, are becoming unchurched. Which is ironic: it’s the actions of those worried leaders, their attacks on people who don’t believe or love like them, forcing their zealotry into legislation, that younger generations find off-putting. Plus the hypocrisy, as political proclaimers of Christian faith, and their voters, treat people in need in the most un-Christlike ways.

Children born into religion follow suit. Eventually, some will raise questions; for example, given the misery so evident everywhere, the Biblical descriptions of God. Of course, opinions about the literal truth of the Book vary from absolute to not at all.

At birth, we’re atheist. Humans aren’t born believing, any more than they’re born racist. They have to be taught. Awareness of mortality preceded religion and still does. “Am I going to die,” children ask before wondering about gods. “What happens when we die?” The answers they receive depend on accidents of where, when, and to whom they’re born.

To relieve that existential angst, immutable – if untestable -- credenda are a human longing. And, since no truths are manifest, the need produces them. “If you’re good, you go to heaven. If you’re bad, hell.” “We’re reincarnated till we get it right.” “We were, and rejoin star dust.” “We get our own planet.” “Your thetan forgets your past life and starts you over.” “We live on in the hearts of those who cherish our memory.” “We needn’t fear death, because we experienced it before we were born, and it’s that to which we return.” Each offers comfort to some.

Polytheism was a logical first invention: forest gods, specialist gods, enough to explain the fearsome: volcanoes, earthquakes, thunder and lightning, disease. Good things, too: love, food, intoxicants. No god fully in control, lesser ones tormenting each other and us, creating havoc because they can. But, at the end, a promise of life beyond death.

To many millions, that celestial chaos comports better with life’s vicissitudes than one all-powerful, all-knowing, loving god who allows, or causes, boundless pain and suffering, even in innocent children; born in sin, eons removed from a disobedient apple-eater, doomed unless forgiven. Meting out, to the unforgiven, eternal roasting on the coals of hellfire seems unloving, too. Not everyone agrees.

For every person accepting religious doctrine with unquestioning certitude, there’s a billion others who believe completely differently and with equal certainty. Since they can’t all be correct, absent objective criteria of rightness, there’s little reason to assume all but one are wrong.

The same applies to holy books and texts, multiply translated and revised; one at the behest of a seventeenth-century king; others appearing only a few decades past. Contradicting each other, unquestioningly accepted, summarily dismissed. Which speaks less of truth or falsehood than of the inescapable urge, across all cultures, to make peace with life and death. That’s the origin and purpose of every religion. For most people, their choice satisfies. Which is good.

Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman said, “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” Me, too. But I don’t consider it superior to certainty: it’s a state of mind. My skepticism, however, harms no one, except, some insist, me; whereas, as America moves ever closer to punitive, far-right (un)Christian theocracy, its lawmakers and judges are intentionally harming different-believers.

Ron “Full armor of God” DeSantis got stick-it-to-the-libs laughs for treating desperate asylum-seekers, including children, told they were following the rules, in the most dehumanizing, unchristian way imaginable. Tucker Carlson was tickled red. He, DeSantis, and the MAGAwful who loved it, make one wish hell is real. And, for the stuck-it-to libs who gathered, lovingly, to provide, heaven.

The point isn’t whose religion is right or wrong, for, in this life, we’ll never know. In our corner of a vast, unknowable universe, we Earthlings have produced widely divergent responses to mortality; each of which, objectively, has as much claim on truth as any other. Therefore, one ought to be humble about one’s personal choice, accepting that others settled upon theirs for reasons that deserve the same respect as yours. Which means public policy should be kept separate from all religions: yours, mine, theirs. THAT is the point.

Those who need to legislate their beliefs into secular law must be so insecure in their truth that knowing others disagree frightens them unto death. Pour souls: they have it backwards.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

In The News


There’s no foreseeable end to the formerly respectable Republican Party’s disappointing descent. Here’s some of the latest evidence:

Louis Gohmert, R-TX, who’d lose a debate with a box of rocks, just greeted Dr. Simone Gold with a ceremonial American flag upon her release from prison. She’d been incarcerated after pleading guilty to charges related to participating in the Trumpist defiling of our nation’s capitol.

Prior to that, she’d acquired infamy for vaccine lies and touting useless, debunked cures. In addition to the flag, Gohmert graced her with the designations “American hero” and “political prisoner.” Decried the fact that her “cures” had been called out for their ineffectiveness. Glossed over the fact that when one confesses to a crime, punishment is apolitical, except to the extent that our laws derive from the politics of democracy, as they should. Ted Bundy: not a political prisoner. Nor would be someone convicted of stealing government secrets, keeping them unguarded in a basement, and lying about it.

Gohmert’s stunt preceded the anniversary of 9/11 by only a couple of days. The day, we might remember, when several brave and actually patriotic Americans, one of whom was MAGA-reviled gay, sacrificed their lives by downing their Flight 93 before it crashed into the capitol. Louie thought it quite appropriate to make a hero of a person who’d done pretty much the opposite. In his party, he’s no outlier.

The Congressman decided to retire to run for Texas Attorney General, but he’d have been reelected as long as he chose to stay on the dole. He is, after all, the archetypal MAGA Republican. That he came in last for AG shows the power of gerrymandering Congressional districts: the state rejected him, but his district loved him and will, no doubt, produce a comparably clueless clone.

Fully MAGAfied, Mr. Gohmert pushes the big election lie. And, until he got the Covid-19 virus, made a show of not wearing a mask. Then, required to wear one on the floor of Congress after testing positive, blamed the mask for giving him the disease. Evidently a time-traveling mask. A favorite Fox “news” guest, his appearances were marked by insane conspiracies (terrorist babies) and other lies. His role as America’s dumbest congressman will soon be up for grabs. MAGAuspiciously, there are plenty of others ready, willful, and able to step into the void.

If Gohmert’s buffoonery has provided occasional comic relief for our over-slapped foreheads, there’s nothing funny about Chief Justice Roberts’ disingenuous attempt to defend the integrity of his hyper-partisan court. Echoing Justice Thomas’ prior comments, but, considering the latter’s spousal activities, less ironic, Roberts suggested that people are questioning the Court’s legitimacy because they dislike decisions that don’t go their way. “Simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court,” he declared.

Astoundingly, he also posited, “You don’t want the political branches telling you what the law is.” Really? Isn’t that exactly the Constitutional purpose of the legislative branch? What he said, as they say across the pond, is “all bollocks.” Smart enough to know better, he said it anyway, thus lowering people’s estimation even further.

To the extent that people characterize the court’s current lack of legitimacy, an activity as old as the Constitution, it’s because of the court's current lack of legitimacy. All of its Sanctimonious Six, for instance, were hand-picked by the far-right Federalist Society, specifically to overturn the Civil Rights Act, Roe, and environment-protecting regulations. Which they have. Its two most recent occupants warm the bench because of Mitch McConnell’s spectacular, even for him, hypocrisy about appointments in election years.

And, contrary to Roberts’ insistence that the Justices are impartially interpreting the law, we were treated to Mr. Justice Alito’s smug braying, in Rome, about his brilliance in overturning Roe. Sneering at the reaction to it from world leaders. Particularly proud, was he, of the snark in his majority opinion. If that’s legitimacy, so’s this.

SCOTUS’ illegitimacy is mirrored in the judge who approved Trump’s request for a special master to review his pilfered papers. Appointed after Trump had lost the election, raising McConnell’s hypocrisy to stratospheric heights, she’s a lifelong member of the Federalist Society and now a lifetime MAGA on the bench. Judge Cannon found herself criticized from all sides for a clearly ridiculous decision. Bending the law to conform to the wishes of the guy who appointed her after being resoundingly voted out of office. Legitimacy? By no measure.

Republican judges have been hired to approve a hard-right, antidemocratic agenda: nationwide abortion ban, discriminatory voting laws, reversing marriage rights, degrading public education, promoting pollution. They’re exceeding expectations. Illegitimately.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Strait Talk


Though everything President Joe Biden said last week in “The Speech” was true, he could have put it better. “Fascists. They are fascists. Not all of them… but we are getting closer. We have to win this election.” 

Oops, sorry. That was Trump, two years ago

So let’s not feel sorry for MAGA Republicans. They threaten democracy exactly as President Biden described. Their hurt comes from hearing truth from a presidential podium, rather than the lies they’ve lapped for years. What Trump campaigned and “governed” on was purposefully divisive. He’s still at it.

Oh, but Joe said he wouldn’t. Right. Before seeing MAGA Republicans dismantle, brick by brick, the walls protecting voting rights, Constitutional rights, public education, elections; while they build one around their lawless leader.

But President Biden could have made it less of a campaign speech. Knowing his words would send MAGA Republicans into elephantine dudgeon, he reached beyond them, positing (questionably) that most Republicans aren’t so extreme and anti-democracy. If his intent was to convince those people -- enough of them to defeat candidates who promote Trumpism, such as refusal to say Biden won fairly, which includes one from our state -- he could have left out the list of accomplishments, impressive though they are. Made it exclusively about real, not-Trumpic patriotism, democracy, and the now-or-never need to rise above partisanship.

As MAGA Republicans continue to nominate election-denying, regressive candidates, real conservatives must recognize the need to stand against the party. For America. For now. Even if only this once. Send the message that Trumpism is poisonous to conservatism.

President Biden’s speech was divisive only to those who don’t share his commitment to preserving American democracy. Will not-oxymoronic “reasonable Republicans” do what’s needed? We’ll see. Not if right-wing media and current R leaders hold sway. Their tears insult crocodiles everywhere.

Which, in a non-sequitur sort of way, brings us to the historically consequential question our country, our democracy, and our Constitution will soon face: to indict or not, the Fifth-pleading (like his family and lawyers), undeniably law-breaking and, as facts are revealed, not-impossibly treasonous former “president.”

Ominously, documents seized by the FBI included details about another country’s (Israel?) defenses and nuclear capabilities. Wouldn't Trump's Saudi pals love that?

Any other public employee would already be in jail. Misappropriated sensitive documents. Lied about it. Kept them unsecured. Obstructed a legally-warranted investigation.

And now it appears Trump still has more, somewhere. Shared – could it be? -- with our adversaries? He does have a history. And what about those empty folders, marked as having contained classified material? Coincidence or not, since Trump departed D.C., a record number of US overseas operatives have been compromised, arrested, or killed. 

Recognizable to anyone not employed or deceived by rightwing media, or not an elected Republican, Trump engaged in criminal behavior. Guilt isn’t’ the question; what to do about it is. Like movie mobsters, Trump, Lindsey Graham, et sycophanti, warn of riots in the streets. Rioters who'd include Trumpists who called BLM a terrorist movement and decried the violence that accompanied some of their rallies; much of which, according to the FBI, was instigated by rightwing infiltrators.

Compared to what Trump’s well-armed, flak-jacketed, lawbreaker-lovers would attempt to deliver, BLM was nothing.

Even without rioting, indicting Trump would stir righteous but wrongeous anger; the viewer-attracting outrage from Tucker and his similars would be red-hot. “How dare liberals enforce our laws? We, not they, decide which ones are breakable, and by whom. Because we’re the law and order party. Like that Special Master ruling: Trump’s judges work for us.” 

For any non-MAGA, historically conservative Republican, it’s a brainer. If anyone commits crimes that put at risk or actually compromise national security and isn’t indicted, our laws mean nothing. This especially applies to a “president,” because presidents are above the law only in the dictatorships Trump loves. Prosecution would be like chemotherapy for America: a challenging, worrisome, unpleasant, but necessary process to rid the body politic of a cancer. There’s too much at stake not to.

If riots there be, and painful disruptions, no matter how transiently destructive, when the blood dries there will have been cleansing. “But no president has ever been indicted,” say the adulators. “It’s deep-state overreach.” Well, unprecedented begets unprecedented.

Indict him. If a jury agrees, convict him. Then, in deference to his brief, rejected “presidency,” slap on an ankle monitor and confine him to Mar-a-Lago. Golf course excluded.

For the moment, though, as he’s demanding immediate reinstatement as “president” and pushing Qanon conspiracies on his “Truth (anti-)Social” platform, the more pressing question is whether he ought to be restrained and medicated, for his own good.

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