Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Rare Ability to Piss Off Everyone

Party republicans here in SC are whining about the primary process.  It appears that they no longer like the open primaries that they have in the past used to great success.  In fact, they are so up in arms that they are finally moving toward changing to a closed system.  Democratic party officials, not to be outdone, are pissed off that a Democrat colored outside the line.

The big brouhaha is over former Bernie Democrat Dimitri Cherny, who has switched party affiliation in order to primary Mark Sanford in US House District 1.  The problem for republicans is that Cherny is using their own game against them.  The problem for Democrats is that he isn't playing the game by the rules.  The rules that republicans have consistently broken in order to win, and which has over the years given them control over all branches of government, including of late the Supreme Court.

Back in 2010, a smart and unscrupulous republican realized that if certain key state districts could be won and legislatures handed over to republicans, that would enable them to control the upcoming redistricting.  What resulted was the bizarre gerrymandering we have today, wherein most Democrats are swept into one huge district, and many other districts have a comfortable republican margin.  Read the brilliant book Ratf**cked by David Daley for the incredibly ballsy details behind Project REDMAP.  And note:  REDMAP 2020 is in the works.

Closer to home, and back to the republican snit over Cherny registering as a republican, we have indeed had our own questionable candidates.  Back when I was a new and naive blogger, there was Alvin Greene, who despite being totally unknown, handily defeated Vic Rawl in the Democratic primary.  Greene had no prior political experience or ambition.  A closer look (and there were lots of those) found him to have right-wing views on major issues and a couple of pending obscenity charges.  Before the primary he had done no campaigning.  Boy, were our faces red.

The media tried to come up with a number of lame excuses for why his candidacy -- and win -- were legitimate,  from Rawl only campaigned with robocalls and emails, to Greene's name was first alphabetically and on the ballot.  The most logical reason that an Alvin Greene could end up competing against Jim DeMint for the Senate is that he was a republican plant.

Then we have the twenty-year perennial candidate Ben Frasier, who popped up every couple years like Punxutawny Phil to primary a Democrat here in Charleston.  Each election season he dropped in with questionable residency and the ability to disrupt credible races and drain a candidate's financial resources.  He infuriated party elders like Jim Clyburn who accused him of being a plant, but was unstoppable.

Both the Alvin Greene and Ben Frasier fiascos left Democratic Party officials skittish, to say the least.  When Jay Stamper attempted to run against Lindsey Graham in 2014, rumors about his legitimacy had Dems running for cover.  He was not even allowed to introduce himself at a Charleston Democratic group meeting.  At the time, he seemed to me just the kind of candidate that could beat the republican:  fearless, smart, ballsy.  In other words, just the kind that republicans would fear and that Democrats... would also fear.

Stamper was running as a Democrat.  So it is not surprising that Dimitri Cherny would get at best the same kind of welcome as did Stamper.  Given that we actually do have two Democrats running in the primary for SC House District 1, it would make sense that we want our voters to show up for that particular primary.  Cherny has suggested it would be cool for Dems to choose to vote in the republican primary so they can vote for him.

I love you, Dimitri, but that's not going to happen.  What is more likely to happen, however, and what has republican panties in a bunch, is that he can throw a wrench into their primary, which with Dimitri now has three candidates.  I find that absolutely delightful.  Cherny is likely to appeal to younger and/or angrier voters, and given the third candidate, a woman, there is indeed a possibility that Sanford will not easily walk away with a primary win.  And even a win will leave him with republican voters who voted for one of the other candidates.  For once in his graced political life, Mark Sanford might end up breaking a sweat.

The neat thing about Cherny's run is that he just might get some people to get engaged on issues.  Sanford mumbles and bobs-and-weaves his way into sounding like he agrees with just about every stand, and then goes into Congress and votes 100% party line.  As a recent notable example, he happily showed up at town halls last year and expressed total understanding and sympathy over those who did not want to lose Obamacare, and then voted for each of the horrific repeal bills.  Most recently he voted for tax cuts for the rich, his true constituents.   And while he is smart enough to be against drilling off our own coast, he totally supports oil and gas company rights to drill every-damn-where else.  Leaving his supporters back home thinking he is on their side, with no one to challenge him.

The way I see this is:  Sanford wins, and has to go against a Democrat without as united a front as he has had in the past; OR, his republican opponent wins and without the name recognition leaves the Dems with a more level playing field.

OR, Dimitri Cherny wins.  And in the general election we have a Bernie Democrat running against... a Democrat.

No wonder republicans are so pissed off they are actually planning on changing the system.  But Dems, how about lightening up?  Take a page from the truly successful republican playbook and make lemonade out of this strange lemon.  You could just end up winning.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Ironic Cherry Reads... What's Up with James Comey?

The Unmaking of the President
Lanny J. Davis

I am not a fan of James Comey.  He is smug and smarmy and carries himself with the self-satisfied aura of Mike Pence and Neil Gorsuch.  I look forward to reading what promises to be a self-serving memoir entitled A Higher Loyalty much as I looked forward to the 60 Minutes interview with Stormy Daniels; that is, with a great deal of skepticism.

I picked up the book, The Unmaking of the President 2016, when it came up in my library search for Comey's book.  With all the Trump/Russia/election books out there, this one seemed to have gone under the radar.  Since I have less time to waste these days, I did a quick google search for the author and the book, and decided it would be worth the effort.  And I needed a more objective narrative before I tackled Comey in his own words.

It is a shame that we are reading trash like Fire and Fury while this book goes unnoticed.  It is a clear and well-documented record of the FBI "investigation" of Clinton's emails, and describes precisely how -- and why -- this incredible interference into the 2016 presidential election came to be.

Going way back to the reporting on the initial fake Clinton scandal known as Whitewater, Davis describes the biased and inaccurate reporting of the New York Times, and then the similar biased coverage in its misleading reporting of the FBI email investigation.  In a nutshell:  When the fact of Hillary's use of a private email server became news, she said, "I want the public to see my email(s).  I asked State to release them.  They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."  This routine "security investigation" to determine if any documents to be released were confidential was reported by the Times as a "criminal investigation."

Throughout, insinuations became headlines, and corrections and clarifications were buried near the bottom of the page.  Right wing media like Fox and Breitbart began the rallying cry and mainstream media led by the Times was all too happy to follow suit.  And it was Clinton season in the political hunting world once again.

The sainted Comey (self-sainted, I would like to add) may have been best known for the moral stance he took by standing up to Bush administration pressure to reauthorize illegal spying.  But, as recounted in The Guardian, Comey is not a huge fan of civil liberties.  He has backed torture, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention.  Davis claims that Comey's heroic act had more to do with "technical issues" -- and maybe also the fact of the Bush administration trying to do an end run around Comey to get to a hospitalized John Ashcroft -- than with principled opposition to the program.

Democrats have been heralding Comey as a hero once again since his firing by Trump.  Of course, the idiot-in-chief tried to con the Democrats by saying Comey was fired because of the bad things he did to Hillary --  even though he admitted on national TV that he indeed fired Comey because of the "Russier thing."  While we aren't buying that load of Trump manure, we should also be wary of the man who said during his Senate testimony:  "It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.  But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision."

There have been things about Comey and the FBI leading up to the election that have made me mildly nauseous as well.  I have wondered about Comey's anti-Clinton bias, as he was supposed to have been honorable and non-partisan.  I wondered at his extremely poor judgment and apparently partisan exposure of the Clinton investigation while keeping the Trump investigation under wraps.  And I wondered why on earth he would make the announcement that he was reopening the investigation on October 28, going against long-standing DOJ policy not to make public announcements that close to an election that might effect the outcome.

Which leads us to Rudy Giuliani and the New York FBI.  Ignorant as I am about the goings on of the New York FBI, there was just something squirrelly about Giuliani's gleeful and somewhat mad TV appearances days and even weeks before Comey's October 28 surprise.  Because "surprise" was exactly what Giuliani was crowing about.  Davis explains this puzzle in a way that makes all the crazy pieces fit.

Take years of a rabid republican Congress trying to dig up scandal against the presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, add to that the festering Giuliani and his New York FBI cronies, and top it off with a year and a half of Trump's paranoid harangue that everybody is out to get him and the election is being rigged.  The end result is Comey being twisted and influenced because of his own need to be seen as above the fray, morally and politically superior to those around him.

Davis ends his argument with an impressive chapter detailing objective measures that point to the effect of the Comey letter on the outcome of the election.  Yes, it is possible, and he does not just point to a single poll but several measures that show strong consensus in the dramatic changes that occurred after October 28.

The last chapter of the book is a strange one, in that it led me to ask:  "Why is this here?"  It is labeled "Epilogue" and details the impeachment process and twenty-fifth amendment:  the history, the process and the relevance.  Again, it is well-drawn and important, but really has nothing to do with Comey.  At all.  I couldn't help but imagine that the author was so impassioned by the need to rid ourselves of the scourge of Donald Trump (as are we all) that he just had to include this appeal.  Whatever his reasoning, I'm glad his editors let this tangential bit in.

I am also glad that I found this book before diving into Comey's memoir.

One last thought:

A better title might have been, "The Unmaking of the Presidency."

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lies and Liars

Quite a long time ago, I had my very first full-time job in the meat department of a supermarket.  When we had chickens on sale, there were times that there were crates of chickens left over after the sale.  We froze them.  Then, when they went on sale again, we defrosted them.  I recall one time when the department manager was running water over the frozen chickens to defrost them faster, and the word came down from the store office that the big boss had walked into the store.  There followed a Marx Brothers-like dash to get the chickens out of the running water and onto trays.

Because freezing and defrosting the chickens and then selling them as fresh was illegal.  The game was that everybody knew this was done, but it had to be done in the dark.

Around the same time, a friend who was a cook in an upscale restaurant was visiting, and he was working the grill in our backyard.  He was describing in Bourdain fashion the horrors that go on in the kitchen in a fancy restaurant.  He had just described how, if a piece of meat fell on the floor, the cook would pick it up, brush it off, throw it on the stovetop for another minute, and then serve it.  As he finished the story, the steak he was grilling dropped to the ground.  Looking just a tad abashed, he picked it up, brushed it off, and threw it back on the grill.

In a non-food related area, I was volunteering at my daughter's elementary school library.  The librarian was pulling books from the shelf and deleting them from the school's records.  I am sure I asked what would happen to them next, and she told me a story about how they would be stored in an attic in an administration building.  After many later years working in school and public libraries, I can assure you they were not being stored.  They were being discarded.  When you work in a library, you don't tell the patrons (or the parents) that books are being thrown out.

If you look back on your various jobs and careers, most of you will recall lies you were told, and lies you told.  Not too long ago, in congressional testimony under oath, White House communications director Hope Hicks testified that she had told "white lies" for the president.  The very president who on Day One made his press secretary tell us that "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration... period."  And then there are the convenient lapses of memory by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions during his confirmation hearing.  All under the watchful -- you might say, paranoid -- eyes of the liar-in-chief.

We once lived in a country wherein the business philosophy was "caveat emptor" -- let the buyer beware.  Buyers were taken for such a horrific ride that they rebelled, and laws were passed protecting them from harmful lies.  Of course, it did not take long for capitalists to fight back for the right to do whatever the hell they please, and we have had ups and downs in the area of consumer protection.  These days, Congress and Trump's swamp creatures are busy dismantling consumer protections and the Supremes are solidly behind the big bucks.  We seem to have returned to the carnival days of never give a sucker an even break.

In today's atmosphere of cynicism, it is surprising how naive we all continue to be.  We are watching Donald Trump and his cronies display in full screen the flagrant corruption and rampant lies of business in America.  This is the corruption of the real estate industry, and of the oil industry, and big pharma, ad nauseum.  From Bill Gates to the Kochs, the rich got that way by screwing others and telling us how lucky we are to have the opportunity to be screwed.

How do they get away with it?  They have learned how to frame their lies in a way that appeals to us.  Republicans won congress back in 2014 by well capitalized lies about Obamacare.  The Supremes, in Citizens United, gave their blessing to big lies told with the money of big donors.  Political ads tell more brazen lies than the most egregious drug commercial, and they work.

Diversion is the other tactic that keeps us fish biting through misdirection.  The magic is in making the mark look the other way while their pocket is being picked.  I know some very fine and caring Democrats who get rabid over food stamp cheats.  While there are going to be a few slick characters who don't need food stamps but have found a way to receive them, this is mostly a myth that goes way back to Reagan's food stamp queen driving up to the welfare office in her Cadillac.  The woman in the grocery store line buying that steak may have eaten pasta and beans for a week to afford that treat, and very likely lives a life of worry over making ends meet.

On the other hand, if a wealthy businessman pays no taxes you can be sure it will be painted as well deserved, because he contributes so much to the economy.  The worker who earns $20,000 a year?  Not so much.

I had a conversation with a guy repairing my washing machine a few years ago.  We were having an innocent, non-political chat about retirement and being able to afford it, and he went off on welfare cheats.  I said I was far more concerned about the billionaires that were cheating us via the government.  And he replied:  "Yeah, but you can't do anything about them."

So our entire economic system comes down to getting abused by your boss and coming home and kicking the dog.  It is all about feeling so helpless to fight the corrupt powerful that we are willing dupes in the misdirection that causes us to turn on those with less than us.

These days, the Trump swamp has stunk so much that it has even magnified the odors coming from Congress.  Paul Ryan's lies about health care and Trump's lies about tax cuts just may be what creates the prism that separates the lies from the reality.  It may not be so far between lies about inaugural crowd size to stealing those massive tax cuts.  Taking away consumer financial protections and affordable health care might serve to focus us more on the real issues than the diversions.  The outcomes of recent special elections may be the proof that we are waking up to the big con that has been perpetrated on us for far too long.

Today the liar-in-chief is rethinking his promise of just yesterday to sign the budget and keep the government running.  I heard everyone from Paul Ryan to Mick Mulvaney were surprised.  I try not to dwell on the creep's tweets, but I heard he was complaining that the Dems have abandoned the Dreamers and he hasn't gotten the full amount for his damned wall.  It would take another entire blog to unpack that load of crap.  As I recall though, it was the orange criminal himself who took DACA away from the Dreamers, and Mitch McConnell who has been refusing to bring it up for a vote in the Senate.  And we keep hearing about Trump fulfilling his promise to build the wall, but he fails to mention who he said was going to pay for it....  Lies and cons.

November is coming, and I hear that this year it is going to be swamp-draining season, in Washington and throughout the country.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Deciding Who to Throw Under the Bus

We know who republicans are fighting for:  the wealthy and the Christian right-wing.  That unholy alliance was formed to help Reagan get elected and was such a resounding success that despite seeming to be totally at odds, the two groups have gone on to be famous lovers.

On the Democratic side, we try to do the right thing, but we get so damned confused.  We want to win -- not for our own gratification of course, but because that's the only way we can do good.  It is easy to manipulate us by accusing us of, gee, almost anything; just toss out an attack and watch us scurry around in confused agitation, like a disturbed ant hill.

It is with some amusement that I have been observing David Brooks, who of late has determined to advise Dems on how to best succeed.  In a recent column he suggests that on gun control we blue people should be more empathetic towards those red folks, and let them take the lead.  In another special piece of mansplaining entitled "The Abortion Memo", he tells us that if we don't do some compromising on abortion restrictions, then we are letting Donald Trump win.  And, after all, going along with something like the twenty week abortion ban doesn't affect all that many women.

Democrat Conor Lamb just won a special election in a district that had belonged to Trump not too long ago.  In the wake of which, as described in a brilliant article by Charlie Pierce, David Brooks obfuscates into a win as a result of a move toward the center.  Pierce says, "This attempt to drag Conor Lamb into David Brooks' Cloud Cuckoo Land of Responsible Centrism is simply a load."

From the White House we have the brute-in-chief, who is always happy to tell "Schumer and Pelosi" what they need to do to make their party happy.

Enough from the republican chorus.  It takes second guessing from our own party and candidates' advisors to really put a damper on that whole liberty and justice for all thing.  If you plan on running for office on a truly progressive agenda, you are going to be facing a whole lot of squishy Democratic opinions about why you can't do that and win.  You are just going to have to hide those lefty beliefs, embrace those on the other side, and make some compromises.

What it all comes down to, this compromise business, is who we Democrats agree to throw under the bus in our race to the finish line.  And there are so very many Americans and issues to choose from.

For example, we might support Dreamers.  In fact, Dreamers are very popular.  But we might just want to be a little more agreeable about closing that Mexican border.  We could beef up security, spend more money on patrol agents and build just a little bit of a wall.  (And let's not make a big deal out of all those families being deported, and especially about the children being separated from their parents.  Oh, and let's not get into defending sanctuary cities; that's just too messy.) 

How about that Muslim ban?  We know it's a bad idea to close our borders, and it's not just the melting pot, "give me your tired, your poor" thing.  It's bad for business.  But the courts are fighting it out.  (And if our candidates make too big a deal out of it, it is just going to scare those Christians on the other side.)

Teachers.  We have heard our democratic candidates say all the same safe words about teachers.  It is so important that we praise teachers for their important hard work that there is even a website with "Words to Thank a Teacher."  (But we don't want to get into what it would cost to pay a teacher what they are worth, or provide them the environment and supplies and support that they need to do their jobs better and with less stress.)  In fact, one of our own SC Democratic candidates for governor is these days saying we should get rid of 1/3 of our teachers.

Which brings us to an even more explosive four-letter-word:  Unions.  (Oh, please don't let anyone ask about unions, please, please, please, please.  Because then I'll have to say I support unions, but people who don't "believe in them" shouldn't have to pay for them, and then union members will get angry at me and then...)

Taxes.  The republicans have long ago taken ownership of the phrase "lower taxes and better government services."  The fact that republicans that lower taxes invariably cut needed services doesn't seem to dispel the magic of the promise.  But does it?  Maybe candidates that fearlessly talk about the cost of inadequate taxation... (If I talk about taxes, I'll be called a tax and spend Democrat, so maybe I just won't say anything.)

Women's health care.  Health care.  Abortion.  If you recall, back during the Obamacare "debate," big republican donors paid for a huge astroturf campaign, much like the Russian trolls spurred in 2016, revving up the American people with fears that the government was going to kill their grandmas with their death panels, and the government was going to spy on their doctor appointments.  They even gave them bag lunches and put them on buses en route to protests.   Well, women are dying from inadequate access to health care, and our government wants to tell our doctors what they can say to us about our reproductive health and dictate and monitor our care.  Texas has closed so many clinics that over recent years the maternal mortality rate has been likened to that of a third world country.  The highest in the nation, they had no recourse but to... re-interpret the data.  Still the highest mortality rate in the country, but not as high as they thought.  (But I'll be very careful not to sound as though I'm "pro-abortion."  And make sure that I agree with the sanctity of life, and just get back to saying mothers and babies need better health care.  And hope nobody notices.) 

AND guns.  Maybe our Democratic politicians could stop prefacing every statement on gun control with, "I believe in the Second Amendment" or by telling us how old they were when they first went hunting with their daddy.  The numbers of  shootings in this country, mass and otherwise,  is obscene.  We can all agree that we have to do something about it.  We can take a tough stand against the NRA when it comes to bump stocks and AR-15's and background checks, because poll after poll has shown that this is supported by the vast majority of Americans.  (But stay away from registering guns, or making laws about safe use; we sure don't want anyone to think we are planning on restricting their God-given -- I mean constitutional -- right to carry a gun.) 

Oh, I could go on.  There are so many minefields, and so much opportunity for republican opponents to attack us Democrats for taking a stand.  And so much potential for in-fighting.  But there are minority rights and individual rights and constitutional rights being eroded, and we are the ones who must turn that tide.

If we don't stand up for every single one who is affected by those issues, if we are willing to sell out one woman who may at some future time need a third-trimester abortion, or ignore one immigrant whose family is being torn apart, if we allow our unions to be undermined and our workers underpaid and unprotected, we are not who we claim to be.

A smart candidate in Trump's failed America should be able to explain why it is good for us all to welcome immigrants, support women's reproductive rights, and restrict access to guns.  We should also be able to explain the difference between responsible taxation and burdening the middle class.

Yes, voters are often tempted to follow the shiny object:  the biggest mouth, the most brazen promises.  But we have had special elections this year where fearless candidates fought against the lies and the fearmongering, and they have won.

Don't let anyone convince you that the way to victory is through caution.  Let us not throw anyone or any group under the bus in the cause of victory.  Not this year. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I turned on the TV last night, and there was that crazed, ugly man screeching.  "And more people like me now than they did before the election."  Or some such bullshit.  I turned him off.  But I knew that, even though all the polls say otherwise, his lie about his popularity had its impact.  The ugly crowd loved it.  And because of that, it chilled the rest of us.

Oh, yes, we have laughed at the stupidity of those who believed his lies.  But they voted for him, and there he is.  Which makes us feel really vulnerable.  And when Dems feel vulnerable, we just might do some dumb things.

Yes, the Trump base is easily manipulated; his right-wing fans, led by their fear and envy will follow child molesters and indeed, continue to love Trump if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.  But we liberals are also easily manipulated, by using our values and our guilt against us.  We don't have to look farther than the Clintons to see the truth to that.

Way back when Bill was governor and running for president, the right wing tried to nail him on his obfuscations and infidelities.  When that didn't work, they shifted just a tad to his wife.  And they hit the jackpot.  Not because she was guilty of a damned thing, but because she was a woman, and a strong one who fought for the ideals the right wing hated.  They couldn't win on the sex stuff, or the not-inhaling business, but they scored with Hillary's legal career and business dealings.  And they took down as many people close to her as they could.

Again, not because she was found guilty of anything.  The attacks and innuendos worked every time, for thirty years.  Was she the smartest crook for getting away with the crimes they had been accusing her of all these years?  Or was she just the nerviest criminal, getting away with dirty dealings in plain sight?  The result of thirty years of accusations is that we Dems forgot who Hillary actually is and felt uneasy about her; we couldn't tell you why, but we just didn't trust her.  Or we remembered that we heard something about something she did that was shady.

Instead of remembering her lifelong battle for children's health and her fight to bring independence to women in third world countries, we remember that we laughed at her pantsuits and changing hairstyles.  We criticized her for staying with Bill, and you know we would have criticized her for leaving him.  But the fact that she had financial dealings made it so much easier to accuse her of crimes, to question her honesty in every sphere of her life.  To walk away feeling that there was just... something... we didn't trust about her.

And during the 2016 election season, instead of listening to her speeches, we listened to every damn pundit talk about how she was as unpopular as Donald Trump, and we watched as the media flooded us with Trump's campaign rants and Hillary's email investigation.  Remember when CNN and MSNBC carried Hillary's stump speech live?  No, you don't, because it didn't happen.  It didn't take a bot or a troll to turn our heads; whatever possessed James Comey to publicly carry water for the republican email witch hunt (and we have yet to find out what exactly motivated him to go so far against his principles and the law), the media was happy to spread the bad news. 

A few years ago, there was a guy who was beginning a campaign to run against Lindsey Graham.  He was smart, he was funny, he was unafraid.  And you know that he had to go.  It didn't take much.  Rumor had it that he wasn't even from here, and that he had had some shady financial dealings, and -- oh my god -- he had pranked some republican or other.

In the same circumstances, republicans would have ignored the "accusations," or laughed at them, or defended them.  But we Dems wouldn't let our guy run.  We couldn't stop him, but we damned sure wouldn't help him.  To the point, I am still embarrassed to say, that he was not allowed to come and introduce himself to a group where candidates had always been invited to stop by.

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend about the candidate who is running against Joe Wilson.  You remember Joe Wilson, the ignorant piece of work that shouted "You lie!" at president Obama during a speech to Congress.  He is being opposed by the most wonderful woman you could imagine:  smart, strong, activist, and someone who stands up for our values and our lives.  My friend's problem was that she had heard that she was once a republican.

If that is all it takes to back off from supporting a Democratic candidate, we can honestly say that we are doing the work of our opponents for them.

I can't get very excited about the bots and trolls crawling around Facebook.  The Russians aren't doing any more to us than actual republicans have been doing to us since Reagan's handlers brought together big business and the moral majority, the latter of which was neither moral nor a majority of anything other than bigots.

We could use a good dash of cynicism, and a lot more intelligence as we approach the 2018 election.

We have so much information at our fingertips, there is no reason we should be spreading rumors.  And when we run across something that sounds suspect, it takes seconds to go to Google and look for confirmation.  We know the major media outlets and, yes they have biases and make mistakes, but they are the fastest way to discount a blatant lie.  And when media gets a detail wrong, let them know it.

Candidates have Facebook pages and websites.  They are often on Youtube.  If you hear something about a candidate that makes you wonder, check it out, don't just spread it around.

And most important, we need to remind ourselves what we are doing here.  We are voting for candidates that will work to promote issues we believe are important.  We are not voting for the candidate with the least controversial college years, or the one who has never made a mistake.  We are voting for people who will go to county council or the statehouse or congress and fight for all of us.  And should our candidate lose the primary, we need to fight just as hard for second best, because second best is going to be a whole lot better than what the other party is offering.

The republicans know they could lose their power in November.  What republicans do when they are afraid they are going to lose is, they double down.  They fight with more viciousness and greater lies.  And because we are a country being ruled by billionaires, there is lots of money being funneled into the coffers of anyone willing to do their bidding.

We need look no further than the ridiculous and ugly ads that were run against Jon Ossof last year, when republicans realized the seat wasn't going to be easily won.  And, for those of us who weren't so easily manipulated by videos of college parties, they horrified us by pointing out that Ossof lived just outside the district in which he was running!

Archie Parnell's special election campaign ran pretty much under the radar, and to our delight, he lost by only 3 points.  He is running again in November, and now he has the attention of the republican party.  And they will throw everything they've got at him.  I imagine they will start with attacking him for being a Goldman Sachs elite.  Oh, the irony, but it works every time.  Just like accusing someone of having been a republican works just as well as accusing someone of being a liberal.

Much as the right wing has promoted the fiction that Hillary is crooked, they have spent years frightening republican voters with the image of Nancy Pelosi and her liberal -- read, evil -- agenda.  Mark Sanford did it when he had to run against a smart woman a few years ago.  Couldn't have possibly beaten her on the issues, so he ran against Pelosi.  And NOT the issues Pelosi represents.  He ran against a woman that the republican party had invented over the years as a symbol of the devil.  You know, like they do with Hillary and Elizabeth Warren.

I recently watched supporters of accused pedophile Roy Moore state proudly that they would support him over a Democrat, the word spoken in a tone that clearly implied sins far worse that pedophilia.  I see that we have tried to move away from the word "liberal" and we on the left are preferring to call ourselves progressives.  Until the right-wing focuses their laser linguistic experts on it at least. 

We have let the right wing control our message through their  attacks and innuendos.  Yes, those repeated attacks make their supporters more unthinkingly and rabidly loyal.  And they make us on the receiving end defensive and queasy.  We find ourselves backing away from Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, two of the strongest defenders of Democratic values.  We also lost Congress because candidates backed off from Obama, believing the hype that the Affordable Care Act fight had rendered him toxic.

We don't need to convert Trump supporters to win in 2018.  We need to find candidates that will fight for all of us and throw our support behind them.  That means we need to know where they stand on the issues, and not be manipulated by the rumor mills, whether they come from Russian trolls or republican trolls.

We need to encourage debate throughout the primary season, because here in South Carolina, that is the way we Dems will be heard.  We need to cheer on the candidates who have the courage to step up to run knowing that they will have to fight rumors and lies, and knowing how hard it will be to even be heard.  And after the primaries, dammit, we need to get together and fight for the winner.

Hone your instincts.  If you hear something that doesn't sound right, check it out.  And keep going back to the reason we are doing this.  We aren't voting for best looking or best personality.  This is about our values.  This is about rights that have been decimated, and about taking them back.  This is too important for us to allow ourselves to be manipulated.  And we are better than that.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Being Pro-Life

Last week I read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for the first time.  It was published in 1985, and found itself suddenly on the best seller list after the election of Donald Trump.  In this dystopian future, corporate greed and science run amok have caused massive infertility.  Religious extremists have banned pornography and forced those women who are capable to breed for the higher class of women who are infertile.  Ironically, Mary McCarthy reviewed it in the Times in 1986 and found it "powerless to scare."  I imagine if I had read it in '85 it would have made me angry.  Now that I am older and have an adult daughter, in the era of Trump when every day results in another horrific attack on liberties, it made me enormously sad.

At the same time, I happened upon an essay by Gloria Steinem from 1980 entitled, "If Hitler Were Alive, Whose Side Would He Be On?"  Gains by women in the Weimar Republic, increased freedom to work and access to abortion, were immediately eradicated by Hitler.  In the U.S. in 1973,  Roe v. Wade produced an immediate backlash, with the first anti-abortion law, attacking the poor by denying Medicaid funding for abortion.  We have seen that the anti-abortion movement, which never goes away, becomes more fervent whenever women's rights grow.  During the Obama presidency, we saw gains in access to contraception along with victories in the fight for employment equality.  The Trump backlash, led by old white men like Lindsey Graham, grows in fervor as the women's rights movement has taken on renewed energy, and the #MeToo movement seeks to hold men responsible for sexual assault and harassment.

So here we are in 2018 with minorities and the poor being attacked by the federal government, from DACA to Muslim immigrants, to attempts to do away with the minimum wage.  And front and center are the legislative assaults on women's reproductive rights.  Right-wing states' rights advocates are pushing federal twenty-week abortion bans, falsely named "pain-capable."  Personhood bills are cropping up like kudzu, along with new and improved twisted bills like "dismemberment abortion ban," which would prohibit second trimester abortions.  Be horrified but don't be surprised to learn that Trump appointee Scott Lloyd proposed something called an "abortion reversal" in order to stop a teenage detainee from completing an abortion already in progress.

And conservative darling David Brooks weighed in last week, offering his unsolicited advice to Democrats, suggesting that we go along with the twenty-week abortion ban because it affects so few women and we could trade them for something else we wanted to get done, I assume something more important than those few women wrestling with the tragedy of fetal abnormalities.  

Under the heading, With Friends Like These...: Bernie Sanders campaigns for an anti-abortion candidate.  And in 2018, we in South Carolina have a Democratic candidate for governor who proposes registering pregnant women "so the state can track their offspring and offer services if their children are not thriving."  This in a state that refused Medicaid expansion and wants to enforce work rules for anyone seeking public assistance.  I shudder to imagine what "services" would be offered.

I have talked ad nauseum about the twenty-week abortion ban, and its basis in false science.  I have ranted about a movement that calls itself "pro-life" but opposes health care for all and gun regulation.  A movement that claims to be for the family but cheers on the separation and deportation of immigrants.

How did we EVER allow this movement to get away with calling itself "pro-life" anyway?  The evil wordsmiths of the right wing have created fabrications of language that would make George Orwell blush.  Paul Ryan's "American Health Care Act" was designed to take health care away from millions of Americans.  Whenever you hear a republican talk about "gun safety" you can bet they are going to get behind whatever jackass bill the NRA hands them, and that bill will allow (or require) more guns in public places, across state lines, on college campuses, in elementary schools.

And you can bet that they all call themselves "pro-life."

It is time to take back the label "pro-life."

I am pro-life.  I believe women and children -- and men for that matter -- should all have good health care.  We live in a country of great wealth, that few of us see.  Without leaving the Koch brothers homeless we could increase their taxes and provide health care for all.

I am pro-life.  I believe that guns and gun owners should be registered, that background checks should be required.  I believe that guns do not belong on the streets, and assault weapons do not belong anywhere outside of a licensed shooting range.  I believe that police officers as well as children playing in their front yards or attending school as well as someone drinking in a bar deserve the right to be safe from an unstable individual with a gun.

I am pro-life.  I believe that women have the right to decide how to care for their bodies, privately and with the advice of a licensed physician.  Period.  In a country where "a man's home is his castle" and George Zimmerman was allowed to "stand his ground" and shoot an unarmed teenager and collect his gun on the way out of the courtroom, you are NOT allowed to legislate a woman's contraception or pregnancy.  There is not an abortion epidemic; there is an epidemic of violence against women, and attacks on reproductive freedom are part of that assault.  There is nothing "Christian" about the "Christian right."  They more resemble the Taliban than Christianity.

I am pro-life.  I respect the right of women to choose to give birth.  I completely respect and admire women who choose to give birth despite fetal abnormalities, or other hardship.  It takes a strength I don't have, and nobody has the right to make that decision for the pregnant woman.  I do not respect those few who have said that they made a mistake by having an abortion, so they choose to prevent other women from making their mistake.  Likewise, if there is a God, she/he made it so that if you choose to have an abortion, you get to do it again when you're ready, so stop talking about all the babies we could have had in the world.  If I had not had an abortion in 1973, I would not have my two wonderful children today. 

There are a lot of different rationales for being anti-abortion.  Those billionaires who fund our right-wing legislators mostly don't really care about abortion; they mostly like the distraction it causes while they pillage and plunder workers and the environment.  Lindsey Graham knows it is a dog whistle that will keep his right-wing base from championing a more extreme primary opponent and keep the big donors happy.

Right-wing Christians entertain so many twisted rationales for their beliefs that it would be impossible to generalize.  Fact free and projected from their own needs and fears, you can find the Rapture Ready, those that believe pregnancy is God's punishment for sex, and those that believe that the fetus is a little tiny baby with an erection that can pleasure itself and feel pain and that is going to be cut up into pieces with full awareness during an abortion.  If that latter image horrifies you, that is exactly its intent.

The anti-abortion movement is mostly powered by those who will keep poor and minority women -- and girls -- from being able to determine their own lives.  This is why, despite all the moaning about killing babies, these same people oppose free contraception, accurate sexual and reproductive health education in the schools, and health clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide reproductive care apart from abortion.  It is the 21st century rendition of keeping them (us) barefoot and in the kitchen.

And this is not just about women.  Smart men know that preventing women from controlling their own reproductive lives can throw an entire family into turmoil.  Not able to work to their potential.  Inadequate time or finances for the rest of the family.  The stress of having to live with a pregnancy; the stress of knowing there are options out there, but you have been prohibited from taking them.

In America, we are prohibiting women from options that are available to the rest of the developed world.  In Canada, Justin Trudeau has recently reaffirmed his commitment to reproductive rights, despite conservative protest.  When we take part in the phony dialogue about when abortion is acceptable, we are agreeing that women are incapable of determining their own paths.

When I was young, Catholics were taking a lot of crap for their large families, and Prescott Bush worked to support Planned Parenthood; later, George H.W. Bush crusaded in Congress for family planning funding.  Back then, they knew that unwanted pregnancies were a drain on resources, but now we have a government that believes it is worth the waste to keep the poor struggling.  With government assistance cut down to bare bones, a poor woman won't get contraceptive care, and when she gets pregnant, can't get an abortion, so she -- and her child -- will spend their lives living hand to mouth.  They won't be able to hold a job much less keep their children well fed and healthy.

Pro-life?  Bullshit.  It is time to take it back.  Time to say:  I am pro-choice because I am pro-life.

It is time to stop drawing lines in the sand for pregnant women to struggle with.  It is none of your damned business.  Embryos and fetuses are not cute little miniature babies.  Viability is the false argument that began it all.  It doesn't matter if it is viable if it is inside a woman's body.  Late term abortions are rare and occur when there are severe fetal anomalies.  Only a woman should make that decision.  Using science or religion to create legislation to control a woman is unacceptable.  We are not incubators.

If you want to save lives, make gun safety laws, provide health care and good education, make sure the poor all have a roof over their heads.  Don't invent an epidemic that doesn't exist so that you can win elections.

For those of you who would like to learn more -- and I hope you do -- here are two excellent books:

Pro:  Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Ironic Cherry Reads... about the Nightmare at the DNC

The Inside Story of the Break-Ins
and Breakdowns that Put
Donald Trump in the White House
by Donna Brazile

I never trust the advance PR for a new political read.  Somebody takes a couple of fiery quotes and distorts the entire message of the book, invariably.  With the possible exception of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, which I have not yet read but imagine to be full of exactly the stuff the media ran away with.

So, despite never having been enamored with Donna Brazile, I picked up Hacks.  It is a solid reporting of the experience of running the Democratic National Committee during the Trump-created havoc of 2016.  She does begin by talking about the financial mess partially created by Obama and further entangled by Clinton's attempt to help (with benefits).  And she strains in trying to be fair in her narrative of Debbie Wasserman Schultz's chairing of the DNC.

She then goes on to talk about the young men who were running Hillary's campaign, and especially young guns like Robby Mook, who refused to work with Brazile to get funding for state campaigns.  My own knowledge of Mook was his heavy handed involvement in the Democratic primary for South Carolina's 5th Congressional District before the 2017 primary for the special election, so it was not hard to believe that he would consider his own opinion in higher regard than others with different views or greater experience.

With the financial mess and the appearance that Wasserman Schultz made decisions favoring Hillary over Bernie, and the ugly attacks that Trump made whenever he opened his mouth, the hacking of the DNC was the rot that Brazile had to fight throughout the remainder of the campaign.

The story of the Russian hacks and how she fought off the invasions is gripping.  She describes the innumerable and unimaginable ways the hacks affected the campaign:  the staff, the candidate, the American people.  Demoralizing and frightening, the hacks created a pervasive sense of fear in volunteers and paid staff; worse, Trump's verbal abuse opened the door to vicious attacks at home and in the office.  The murder of a young staffer in what appeared to be a botched robbery became fuel for the Fox News conspiracy machine.  This made it not just a tragedy but another outrage to endure during a nightmare campaign season.

Brazile provides a thorough accounting of the hacks as they were orchestrated throughout the campaign.  She notes that the email dumps were well-coordinated with Trump's invective, including his "Russia, if you're listening" remark.  Along with email hacks and strategic dumps, there was concern about wiretaps and bugs.  Threats by phone and online required increased security.

Brazile became the focus of hateful calls and threats after a questionable email purportedly from Brazile to the Hillary campaign was leaked.  The email provided a question that would be used at the upcoming town hall debate.  Brazile believes that the email was a fake, as she has no recollection of sending it and said she would never leak such information.  This faked email may have been cooked up after a false news story appeared accusing Brazile of giving Hillary questions before the first debate.  Though she searched each of her email accounts, Brazile never found the suspect email, but it profoundly affected her career; she was fired from CNN after a long career there as a political commentator.  She suffered enormously throughout the professional slander and following threats.

When I began the book, I thought that Donna Brazile's tendency to personalize the story of the DNC and the 2016 election would get in the way.  Rather, it was her emotional involvement throughout this excruciating and unprecedented assault that gives this narrative passion and meaning.  It was not the lies, the hacks, the bugs, the distortions that is the point:  it is the effect that these had on the lives of the people on the campaign.  And it is the effect that they had, in the end, on the voters.

Brazile's heartfelt message throughout is that we must stop this assault.  Our democracy cannot survive if we do not work together to prevent this from happening again.  She had no help from the RNC in attempting to stand up to the Russians, or to communicate that this was happening to the American people.  Today the republican Congress is doing all in their power to fight an investigation that seems to surely lead to Donald Trump and collusion with Russia to affect the outcome of the 2016 election.  Rather, today they continue to try to obfuscate and blame anyone who might uncover the truth.

With 2018 elections coming fast, we are made vulnerable, once again, by the failure of republican leaders to put country before themselves, and a president who has nothing to gain from an honest and thorough investigation.  If you want to gain an understanding of the intricate ways in which cyberwarfare can influence future elections, this is a good book to get you started.