Thursday, August 17, 2017

When the Lesser of Two Evils Is Equally Evil

One of the games we have been playing since November 9 is:  which is worse, Trump or Pence?  This is a game that is not only engaging, but terrifying.  In it we have to decide which of two evil leaders we would choose to be in charge of destroying our country.

You have probably heard the pros and cons.  Trump is crazy and could do irreparable harm, as in nuclear war.  Pence is pure evil and will do irreparable harm, but probably won't engage us in nuclear war.  We may be able to repair the harm Pence does to our civil liberties... or maybe not.

There is a strange show on Comedy Central that I just discovered called The President Show.  The guy who plays Trump is just eerie, because he smiles.  Trump does not smile.  When he attempts to smile it is a grimace, a slash, as opposed to the sides of his mouth actually turning up.

Note that the eyes also grimace.

But the Mike Pence character, played by the funny and talented Peter Grosz, really nails it.  In a sketch with three actual world-renowned ethicists, Pence "explores" what "ethics" actually is.

This is a brilliant sketch that ends with the Rev. Paul Raushenbush saying that he is most worried that Pence would be "better at being president than Donald Trump but with the exact same goals."

The three ethicists and Grosz play their parts in such a way that it sent chills through me.

It turns out, however, that the Trump/Pence philosophical debate has merely been the warm-up for the ethical dilemma that is the Age of Trump.

When Trump began to gripe about "Attorney General" Jefferson Sessions and his failure to support Trump in the Russia investigation by stunningly doing the right thing and recusing himself, a whole new can of worms turned up in the White House cafeteria.  The bitching was so sharp-tongued that it seemed to leave no other option but for Sessions to resign.  The reason resignation was so important is that, according to one interpretation of the law, only if he resigned could the president appoint a replacement.

Of course, we know Trump was pissed off because he has assumed a Sessions A.G. would refuse to prosecute Trump crimes in colluding with Russia to influence the election.  And public pressure has been such that even the House of Representatives' convoluted attempts to block the investigation have thus far failed.

Coming up on summer recess, with increasing attacks by Trump on Sessions, it seemed that Sessions just couldn't stay.  And if he left while Congress was not in session, Trump could assign a recess appointment, and it would be someone who would be more compliant, someone who would be more than willing to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller at the president's behest.

The quandary with which we philosophers of democracy were suddenly faced was yet another reverse Sophie's choice.  Would it be better to have the evil Jefferson Sessions quit and be replaced by someone who would no doubt derail the Russia investigation and leave Trump safely in the White House?  Or would it be better to leave Sessions in his powerful position at DOJ so that Mueller's investigation can safely proceed?

Turns out that a tantrumming Trump is no match for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.  He has been waiting for the opportunity to wield this much power all his life.  And while we are all distracted by the other horrors of this administration, as well as the cascade of purely stupid presidential tweets, Sessions has indeed gone about his business of destroying our rights and freedoms, with relish.

Sessions learned a lot growing up alongside the KKK.  Whereas they wore sheets and committed their hateful acts in the dark, Sessions moves quietly in daylight.  He denies his bigotry while devising his schemes to harm people of color.  In his relatively short time at the DOJ, Sessions has worked feverishly -- but again, quietly -- to knock down hard-won pillars of freedom.  It turns out that, like Forrest Gump, Sessions has found his way into the most important halls of history, where he can do his dirty deeds with impunity.

Since he received his loyalty award from Trump, he has begun to go after states that have legalized marijuana.  This defender of states' rights -- "except when he doesn't"  -- is going after sanctuary cities which seek to protect undocumented immigrants who live and work peaceably in their communities.  He is attempting to overturn protections against civil asset forfeiture, the seizure of property prior to criminal conviction.  He is now placing the federal government front and center in the war against affirmative action.  Of course, he has a different take on states' rights where minority rights are being attacked:  he decries federal involvement in cases of possible police abuse, voting rights, and LGBT rights.  And he is demanding data on visitors to an anti-Trump website, an attack on our right to privacy that we must not ignore.

This insult to the Keebler elf never sleeps.

But would we rather have him leave and pave the way for Trump to derail the investigation that could prove the way to his impeachment?

So many of us have given over sleepless nights to the bad choices we have.  I have decided that we have to trust the rules of law, and our ethical and moral compass.

In the case of Trump/Pence, it can't be a matter of who will do the more harm.  If we allow Trump to continue to control the government because we fear Pence, we are rejecting the protections that were built into our democracy.  We need to rid ourselves of the rot that is currently corrupting the presidency.  And then we need to battle the evils that Pence will attempt to enact.

More difficult is the question of Sessions, because he has no plans to leave, and he is fortunate enough to be able to go about his dirty deeds while Trump is tossing his feces around Washington and the nation.  At this point we can philosophize and debate, but there isn't much we -- meaning moral Americans -- can do.

But as with Trump/Pence, we can't excuse evil because it may be the lesser evil.  Sessions is daily corroding the rights and freedoms of Americans, happily going after minority rights, but also his pet right-wing peeves, and possibly most serious, our right to privacy.  I have to believe that Trump's crimes are so bad that there is no way out for him, whether he is able to figure out a way to rid himself of Mueller or not.  Meanwhile, we must be aware of the evil that is being enacted by the "Department of Justice," and we must, we must, speak out.

And lest we forget whose side the majority in Congress is on:

It was encouraging that before the recess, republicans worked on a bill that would prevent Trump from making a recess appointment that would potentially replace the AG with someone who would fire Special Prosecutor Mueller.  But their concern masked their loyalty to their former colleague.  The abhorrent acts that Jefferson Sessions is undertaking fall right in line with the goals of the republican Congress.  Restrictions to civil rights, enhanced police powers, curtailing privacy and freedom, they all come under the goals of the right wing.  They are delighted that Sessions is in the DOJ fighting for them.  So the bills put forward to prevent a potential recess appointment was more about loyalty to their own than protecting the Russia investigation.  And the fact that they seemed to be finally willing to fight to find out the truth about the election was just pure gravy.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Few Words about the Price of Gas

I flipped when CNN ran a banner a few weeks ago saying that the price of gas was the lowest it has been in years.  I KNEW that was not true, because, being on a limited income and living out in the boonies, a few cents a gallon up or down adds up.  Politicians, and organizations that represent the oil and gas industry, have been playing fast and loose with the price of gas since forever, but I have been fascinated with the way they are working the public since the price finally began to come down a few years ago.

But going back into the painfully high gas prices of the Bush era (here in SC I remember paying nearly $4/gallon before the price began its drop), the right-wingnut cry was for -- you guessed it -- more freedom for the gas and oil industry:  Drill, Baby, Drill.  If that had been the most stupid thing Sarah Palin said during the 2008 campaign, I believe history might have been really different, because promising to lower the price of gas by drilling appealed to an awful lot of Americans.

And sadly, from fracking and resultant earthquakes, to pipelines and the leaks and spills caused by poor design and maintenance, to coal mining and its risk to workers due to its inherent danger and abhorrent safety practices, it has been nearly impossible to counter the demand for more and yet more oil.  The siren song of more jobs has been magnified by Trump's narcissistic rendition of reality.  He promised 28,000 jobs as he signed the executive order allowing the building of the Keystone pipeline.  It is actually two to four thousand temporary jobs while it is being built and 35 permanent jobs when finished.  The truth comes too late; the industry pockets its profits and we are forced to deal with the environmental and human disasters.  And the price of gas doesn't go down.

Newt Gingrich bloviated about the price of gas when he ran his pathetic presidential campaign in 2012, claiming that Obama intended to get the price of gas up to $8 to $9 a gallon, and he alone could get it down to $2.50.  And yet, when the price of gas went down as low as $1.50 last year, someone in the crowd at a Hillary rally had to shout out at the President about the low price of gas, because nobody was talking about it.  Of course, Dems, unlike republicans, are reluctant to take credit for something they haven't had anything to do with.  But Obama's stealth energy policy (again, nobody bragging about accomplishments) had managed to make gas cheaper without trashing the environment.  And unemployment declined without all those dirty energy jobs being added; in fact, renewable energy has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the US.

So what has been happening to the price of gas, really?  A three-year chart shows the plummeting of gas prices in 2014 and 2015, only beginning a steady rise in February of 2016, as tension mounted around the presidential campaign.

After the election which promised to shitcan environmental regulations and give a go-ahead to fuel industry rape and plunder, it seems the Wall Street speculators are ready to party.  And just as they did during the Bush years, the media is reporting the gains as though there will be no dark side, ever.  But as the price of oil goes up, the price of gas at the pumps goes up.

But here is the thing that really drives me nuts.  The price doesn't just go up and up and up.  There is a method to the madness of the oil industry.

When I check the price of gas as I leave my Wadmalaw Island home and venture out to Johns Island and civilization, I see that it has gone up TEN CENTS a gallon since the last time I passed, a couple days earlier.  The very next day it goes down four or five cents.  Well, that feels like a relief, doesn't it?  And then it goes up a couple more cents, maybe down a penny.  This goes on for a month or two, and then steadies.  Until it goes up another ten cents, and the shock is followed by relief which eventually leads to being acclimatized to the big hike and ready for the next wave.

In November, the price of gas by me was $1.59 a gallon.  Today it is $2.19.  Last week it was $2.09.

At some point, when people start complaining, the oil industry will produce some rationale for the hike.  Nobody will be there to debate whatever reason they give.  We will have pipelines producing a handful of jobs and drilling destroying our earth, and we will be tightening our belts to buy gas, just like we did in the good old days of the Bush administration.

By the way, here in South Carolina we have been waging the battle of the gas tax for years, until our roads and bridges got so damned bad they finally passed the hike.  I am sure that many of our less informed citizens will be quick to point out that the rise in the price of gas is due to the tax hike them damn liberals voted in.  Actually, the price of the gas tax in South Carolina did go up in June, by two cents a gallon.  So please feel free to poke a hole in that one when it floats by. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

With Friends Like These...

It has been tough enough fighting the forces of evil lately.  But just in the past couple of days we have been hit upside the head by our own Democratic Party.  Multiple times.  Let me just regale you with three items in the news.  Hang on to your hats, friends.

Shock #1

My hero, John Lewis, just last year led a sit-in in the House of Representatives, to protest the refusal of republican leadership to allow a vote on gun control legislation.

You may recall that, during the Memorial after the horrific shooting in Charleston, a call for gun control received a standing ovation -- except for Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, notably sitting front and center.  Scott receives the complete support of the NRA, with an "A" rating.

I haven't lived in South Carolina long (in southern time:  only 18 years).  But Tim Scott and I go back to when I was working at my beloved Charleston County Public Library and he was on County Council.  In the economic destruction of the Bush years, here in Charleston, Tim Scott voted to drastically cut funding for our award-winning library.  The library that teachers in a perennially exhausted school system used to provide the best books to their students, the library that provided an amazing collection to those of us who would never have had that kind of access to literature and science -- Tim Scott voted to slash the budget.

And last week, Tim Scott sat smiling broadly next to Donald Trump as he bloviated about how he was going to get the Senate to pass the health care bill.  And then Scott voted to do Trump's bidding and take health care away from millions of Americans.

That Tim Scott, that is the person who John Lewis has just awarded the John Lewis--Amo Houghton Leadership Award for Faith and Leadership.  Okay, I understand that this is an award given by a group that is committed to non-partisanship.  And I know it is hard these days to find a republican that hasn't compromised himself to hell to follow the leaders of his party.  But Tim Scott???  Yes, he will go on about his faith at the drop of a hat.  But there isn't a damn way you can call him a leader.

Shock #2

And then yesterday I learned that the DCCC had formalized its desperate need to seek the support of the Trump voter by stating that they would support candidates who were anti-abortion.

I imagine that wimpy Tom Perez is hiding behind Bernie Sanders on that one.  Bernie, you may recall, failed us big time when he threw his support behind anti-abortion mayoral candidate Heath Mello in April.  Let me clarify my take on this.  Bernie Sanders had the clout to offer to support Mello if he changed his position on reproductive rights.  Mello didn't have to say he "believed" in abortion; it would have been enough to say that he supported a woman's right to make her own choice.  But he did not.  Despite appeals from women and women's groups, Bernie stood firm in throwing women under the bus to support an otherwise progressive candidate.

So, with Bernie's transgression as inspiration, the Democrats went on a highly suspect Democratic "listening tour." Suspect because it doesn't appear the Democrats are listening to anybody but their own fearful conservative leaders.  Hillary may have won the popular vote by three million, obscenely gerrymandered voting districts and horrendous voter suppression laws may have resulted in Dems winning the vote and losing Congress, but to our Democratic leaders, what we need to do is compromise our values in order to win.  The Democratic Party is like an abused spouse, promising ever more vehemently to behave each time they are struck.

Compare and contrast this to the republican party, which has maintained their leadership by promising to derail the programs that best serve their constituents.  The difference?  They really, really believe in what they stand for.  Tom Perez and the DCCC, not so much.  It has been nice to see the recent squabbles among republicans when faced with the psychotic behavior of the head of their party, but don't forget, only three republicans voted against the despicable Senate health care bill.

And with Democrats supporting anti-choice candidates, who will they compromise next?  Look around folks, because all of us have our vulnerabilities.  LGBTQ, affirmative action, gun control, unions....  basically, all the groups that the Democratic Party is supposed to protect and represent.  The sad thing about this, other than leaving us all hanging out to dry, is that it won't work.  Bigotry-lite will never have the appeal of outright right-wing bigotry.  And the thing about the Democratic Party is that they are just aware enough of what they are doing to be embarrassed by it.  They will never stand strong no matter what they say they stand for, and then they will still be attacked for being Harvard/Goldman Sachs elites.  And when that happens, they will blush and deny it.

With the "listening tour" party sorely in need of a hearing aid, I have taken to firing back at fund-raising emails, saying that there is no way on this still-green earth that I will throw money down that toilet.  I do try to say it in a more civilized manner.  The other thing I do, and I encourage y'all to do both, is tweet @WhicheverDemIsBeingAWuss to let them know you won't support them unless they shape up.  And then send your money and your support to all those great candidates who stand up for all of us.  The DCCC may have forgotten what the Women's March and Indivisible are all about, but we remember, and we will continue to stand together.

Shock #3

And speaking of standing together, I glanced at Twitter today and saw one from Bakari Sellers that wasn't really shocking as much as saddening.  So I replied.

Here in Bakari's state of South Carolina, the Democratic Party just passed over a highly qualified, politically active and successful woman (white) to go out of state to choose a white man to lead the party, which was at the time being led by a black man.

But you don't have to be a white woman to be passed over by Democrats.  In 2014, Joyce Dickerson ran in a primary for US Senator against newly appointed Tim Scott.  She was told by our own Jim Clyburn that she should step aside and let the two men fight out the primary.  Well, with her powerful voice and message, she won the primary, but you wouldn't know it by the help and support she got from her party.

And just this year our state party put their thumb on the scale of the special election for US House seat for District 5.  They unabashedly backed a rich white guy over a young black woman.  And they had help from a bunch of big-name out-of-state Democrats.  Wasn't a day I could check my email or visit Facebook without seeing that white guy's face or a fund-raising email from Robby Mook or Daniel Barash -- again, before the primary.  And yet, that woman who ran without national or state support had a strong message and strong community support; in a three-way race, she got some 22 percent of the vote.

So let's not inject a white woman bias into this debate, okay? 

Here is the thing.  The republicans have been able to pit us against each other for decades.  We have all been victimized by an unfettered capitalist system run by rich white men.  Republicans in the positions of greatest power don't really give a damn about abortion or even the threat of terrorism -- you only have to look at how blase they have been at Trump regime's national security transgressions to know saving the nation is not what they are all about.  What they care about is power, maintaining and growing that power.  And they do that by making people scared and angry -- at each other.

And boy-o, Dems are an easy target.  We are still fighting over Bernie versus Hillary.  And when we argue over who has been the most victimized, they score an easy win.

So, let me say again, let's not do that.  And let's tell the Democratic Party that they had better stick by ALL of us.  And let's keep supporting our great progressive candidates.  We have proven that we don't need the Democratic Party if we have the community.  And with our social network, our community is the entire country.  And these days, much of the world is behind us.

Women marched together, not for one cause or another, but for all of us who are suffering from the callousness and greed of the wealthy and powerful.  And men marched too.  You could march with us even if you were anti-abortion -- you just couldn't march for that with us, because that would have gone against the whole reason for the march.  This is about all the individual rights and freedoms that are being systematically taken away.  Jefferson Sessions might don his white hood and come after Muslims today, but tomorrow he will find time to go after sick people who use marijuana to ease the pain, and the day after that he will get to interment camps for Mexicans, and then young women using birth control, and yes, Bakari, affirmative action.

The Democratic Party needs to be reminded what they say they stand for:  individual rights and freedom for all.  We don't need a party to get behind a great candidate, but we can get their attention and refocus them on who they claim to be.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Dearth of a Salesman

It sickens me to hear Donald Trump speak.  Given free reign, he has become increasingly shrill and incoherent.  His invective is even more filled with lies and cruel attacks.  His face, when he speaks, is ugly, twisted, full of rage and hate.

So it took me a few days to get to the point where I had heard enough snippets of his rant at the Boy Scout Jamboree to wonder how Boy Scouts of America, a group rooted in building moral and ethical behavior, not to mention patriotism, in boys, was reacting to this ugly display.

There has been a great deal of blowback since his performance.  Facebook and Twitter have been filled with angry comments by past scouts and parents of scouts.  But of course, there has also been praise by the base that feeds off his tantrum-like attacks, and this is what keeps him going, his presidency a four-year continuation of his campaign, when each performance proved his popularity.  His red-faced envy of President Barack Obama, and his rage at Hillary Clinton's three million vote win, not only will never end in his warped paranoid mind, it continues to grow, his obsession becoming ever more dangerous.

Fed by Steve Bannon's fascistic rhetoric, surrounded only by those who fawn and flatter, Trump's lack of boundaries and poor judgment appear to be unstoppable.  In Warsaw, he was greeted by cheering fans, encouraged by Poland's right-wing government to come together to show enthusiastic support; his anti-democracy speech in turn showered praise on the government that is dismantling its democratic institutions, much as Trump is working to do here.

These days, Trump opens his mouth, and CNN airs the foul and stinking words that come out, often in their entirety.

When Trump performs at rallies that fuel his need for approval, they are not called rallies, they are presidential visits, like at the Boy Scout Jamboree.  When he gives interviews, they are rare and mostly with Fox News and like-minded devotees like Pat Robertson, where he can for a few moments control the public narrative once again.

As we have let Trump devour our lives, we have come to know him well.  And yet, it occurs to me, we are missing completely his defining trait.  Donald Trump has gone to great lengths all his life to build a persona.  The American people, much of his loyal base, got to know him as the successful entrepreneur of The Apprentice, charming but knowledgeable and firm.  This is not Donald Trump at all.

He is a lousy businessman.  He is terrible at making deals.  He has used his name and his inherited wealth to create a brand that falsely describes the person.

The brand was the creation of a first-rate salesman.  He has the instinct that comes from his own insecurities, that allows him to divine his target's needs and desires from his own.  To be a good salesman does not require honesty or integrity; in fact, he might have more appropriately entitled his best-seller, The Art of the Con.  Because that is what he does best.

However, success in sales requires control over one's audience.  Trump has always surrounded himself by people of power, like lawyer Roy Cohn, people who could teach him how to project an image of power.  And he has surrounded himself with devotees.

From the time he staged his entrance down the escalator to announce his war against Mexicans, Donald Trump was selling himself to a base that he knew well, people who had been responding to his politics for decades, people who were angry and insecure and looking for someone to focus their rage.  They were looking for a savior, and that is exactly what the bombastic and narcissistic Donald Trump planned on giving them.

And in the long con that was the 2016 election season, he succeeded in getting people from all walks of life to believe in him.  They thought they knew him from his role in The Apprentice, and from his absolutely adamant extremist claims, about Muslims, about "the wall."  He fed people's fears:  about violence, about loss of work, about unaffordable health care.  And then he made them promises:  he promised jobs, and that they would be safe on the streets.  He promised the best of everything, and that it would be easy, because he would be the one who would do it.

A con.

The problem with a con, though, is when the con artist loses control.  Suddenly, Trump as president had other people with power questioning him, contradicting him, saying no to him.

What happened next was inevitable, the dictator's path to maintaining control.  He berated the media because they were the ones confronting him with questions he couldn't answer.  He began firing people.  He became more isolated, surrounding himself with his entourage, those from whom he expected complete loyalty.  He began to publicly criticize not just enemies, but those who had supported him.

And he became angrier and more unstable.

The president we have is one whose powers a responsible congress would be checking, rather than cowering out of fear of losing their comfortable government jobs.  Mitch McConnell -- the real dealmaker -- with his lack of ethics and sleight of hand gave us a Supreme Court that will be very guarded in cases that involve presidential powers, as they did by allowing parts of the travel ban to go into effect while they waited to hear the case.

Donald Trump is no longer that great salesman.  He is a very poor con artist these days.  But because of the power he wields, those who have already signed on to ride his coattails continue to allow him to threaten them publicly.  They allow him transgression after transgression, cowed by his threats and their own insecurities.  He has been allowed to flaunt national security regulations, to profit from his position as president, to bring unsavory people into the most powerful corridors of government.  He has met secretly with our most dangerous opponent, flattered dictators and trashed our allies.  He has curbed media access, which is public access, to the presidency.

And he speaks to boy scouts as though they are having a bitch session in a bar.

No, he is no longer a great salesman.  Most all of us know the emperor is naked.  And that just makes him angrier, and crazier.  But with the power he has, and which he has usurped, he doesn't need to sell anybody anything anymore.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Ironic Cherry Reads... The Cynic

The Cynic: 
The Political Education of
Mitch McConnell

by Alec MacGillis

I was one of those with my mouth hanging open when Mitch McConnell announced that he would not bring to the floor President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  We should not have been surprised.  If we had been paying attention, and we had, we knew that there was no depth to which the republican Congress would not sink in order to win.  The Obama administration began with McConnell's announcement that his most important goal was to make this Democrat a one-term president.

In retrospect, I believe we don't give Mitch McConnell enough credit, because of his looks and demeanor.  His deer-caught-in-the-headlight, tortoise-y, stiff appearance leads one to imagine that he is, well, doofy.  And late night comedians have made the most of this, doing hilarious imitations.  The media has had no lack of material pointing out his conflicting statements over the years.  As though that would horrify, or even embarrass, McConnell.  It doesn't.

McConnell was the high school nerd that wasn't all that popular, but was drawn to politics.  He had a single-mindedness that no number of losses could derail.  Like the tortoise to which he is so often compared, he continued to plow ahead, setting goals and working at them, all the way back to vice president of his junior high student council.  The other thing he did was observe, and learn.  And he was fearless when it came to attempting to persuade people to his side.

What I did not know is that McConnell began his career as a moderate to liberal republican:  pro-choice, pro-union, pro-civil rights.  Along the way, though, he learned that going negative was the way to win.  And he learned where the money was.

McConnell knows how to get what he wants.  And what he wants is the power he now wields in the Senate.  He may not be likable, but that doesn't matter to him.  His colleagues know that he is the best power broker there is.  Trump thinks he knows how to make a deal?  McConnell is like a card-counter.  He is like a chess champion.  And the goal is winning.  He has no scruples, no guiding ideals.  He will do anything to win.

In his early years he hired Roger Ailes to create ads for his campaign and he hasn't looked back.  There is no dirty trick he will not be delighted to run if it will get him closer to winning, and indeed he takes great pleasure from crushing his opponents.  There have been many races in McConnell's life when he nearly lost.  But he is willing to say and do anything to best his opponent.  He has no scruples.  There is no line he won't cross.  And he is always willing to try something new and egregious.  He plays the odds very, very well.

In the Senate, he knows everything that is going on.  He keeps fellow senators close, and strategizes everything.  He is the master of procedural tricks.  And he doesn't give a damn what anybody thinks of him.  Those republican senators that don't like him nonetheless know he knows what he is doing, and they had better play his game.  AND YET, when the Tea Party came to Washington, people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz who came to government like gunslingers, aiming to take it down, McConnell figured out how to work with them and around them.  He knew how to act like he wanted to get government moving while not opposing tactics like shutting down the government.  He knows when to stay in the background and when to be heard.

We owe as much to Mitch McConnell for the dysfunction in our government as we do to the Tea Party.  He has been the mastermind.  His only goal is to stay in power, and anybody running against him or anyone else in his party needs to be ready for a dirty fight.

He is truly a strange bird in that he thrives on fund raising, as though getting money out of donors proves his self-worth.  He is good at it.  He gets the best -- in other words, the dirtiest -- people to manage his campaigns.  His ads are going to be plentiful, and as ugly as they come.  And, as we saw in the recent Georgia 6th Special Election, that is politics in 2017.

I have said recently that when they go low, we don't have to roll in the mud with them.  But we do have to educate voters that dirty tricks and ugly accusations will be out there.  We have to let them know about the kind of people who are paying to spread the lies, and what they have to gain, and what the voters have to lose.

We also have to learn to stick together.  One of the worst mistakes that Alison Lundergan Grimes made in her run against McConnell in 2014 was to back away from President Obama.  The moment she waffled on that question, McConnell's gang came in for the kill.  That's what he does.  So don't give him, or any other republican, the opportunity to pit us against each other.  We are far better than they are, and we need to be confident when we tell that to voters.

And we need to hit, and hit back, and then do it again, each time republicans are wrong.  That should give us lots of material, right?  Then I wonder why we haven't seen, all over the country, on every television station, ads about the republican health care plan.  And tax cuts for the wealthy.  And how about job losses?  We let Trump and Pence get away with claiming to save jobs at Carrier, but how about the massive layoffs that are beginning at Carrier next week?

And speaking of jobs, South Carolina's Boeing plant, paid for by Nikki Haley with our own tax dollars, celebrated with great fanfare and a visit by the liar-in-chief a few months ago the rollout of the 787 Dreamliner.  All the doting local news stations played the video of Trump promising great jobs blah, blah, blah.  Earlier, Boeing had put out a small -- actually what to most of us would be a rather large -- fortune in advertising, blanketing the media with anti-union ads.  Now they have announced layoffs.  If voters, workers, citizens don't hear us shouting about this from the rooftops, how will they know the promise of jobs was a lie?

I saw a crawl on CNN a week or so ago that announced that gas prices were now the lowest they had been in twelve years.  Really?  I keep a pretty close watch on gas prices and I know here in Charleston, before the election, I was paying somewhere under $1.60.  I also know that shortly after the election, the price jumped up by some twenty cents.  Since then they have jumped up and then crawled down, with them finally holding steady for a while around $2.00.  Check it out at SC Gas Buddy.  When the media swallows false information, we need to get in their faces.  Campaign managers, party officials and we citizens need to make sure the news is accurate.

The Cynic is a slim book, but an awfully important political education.  Mitch McConnell, incredible as it is to believe, was determined to become a force in politics, and he has indeed.  He has set the standard for political warfare.  If we are going to win against a cheater, we need to understand the cheater and the system.  This is a good place to start.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

When They Go Low...

In that sparkling election campaign that was Hillary Clinton's, Michelle Obama led the call and response:  "When they go low... we go high."  Problem is, and the election of 2016 is proof, when they go low... we lose.

This is what republicans are good at.  In The Cynic, a disturbing book about the political career of Mitch McConnell, we find a gawky, not-very-popular young man who supported women's reproductive rights (!) as well as collective bargaining (!) in his early years.  He soon found out, though, just how sweet was the taste of victory, won in any way possible.  And the easiest way to win was by attacking your opponent.  And claiming to support any cause that would win the election, followed by enacting legislation that benefits the wealthy and powerful.

This is the republican playbook.  The moral vacuity that is the republican party will stoop to any depth to win.  The wealthy and powerful pay their way.  Voters hear what they want to hear, and believe the lies they are told writ large:  in ad buys, billboards, Russian fake news (yeah, that's what fake news was until Donald Trump appropriated it to his narcissistic ends).

We Dems just aren't comfortable with lying to win an election.  We shy away from attacking our opponent, whether it is because of our values or fear of retaliation.  I don't believe we need to, or could possibly, stoop as low as has the republican party.  But we have let republican strategists beat us to a pulp while we fight among ourselves.

I imagine that republican opposition research just can't be any more fun these days.  What happens is:  they find some questionable detail about a candidate, toss it out, and watch Dems fight about it.  And if they can't find some small actual thing, they make something up.

Take Jon Ossoff.  It wasn't that long ago that he ran the most exciting campaign since Bernie, in the truly red (don't get me started on gerrymandering) district in Georgia from which Trump's handlers plucked the evil Tom Price to Orwellize the Department of Health and Human Services.  It is no accident that they have been plucking their deplorables from redder than red districts (South Carolina has been fertile ground).  But Georgia's 6th, while solidly republican, also has its share of intelligent republicans, who chose Trump over Hillary by only one percent.

So imagine their alarm when republicans saw the populist excitement over candidate Jon Ossoff.  Of course, they did not spend much time biting their nails.  They went into action, fund raising and scheming.  They (RNC, PACs, and those even shadier groups) went into overdrive.  Had the situation been reversed, Dems might have made excuses for why they probably wouldn't win, or complained about how unfair it was that someone from the other side was giving them a tough race (only Donald Trump, in his robocalls, did that, telling voters not to let Democrats STEAL THE ELECTION).  Republicans immediately regrouped.  McConnell's playbook from his early years proves to have been the gift that keeps on giving.  When you are running against a formidable candidate there are two things that work:  lying about your opponent, running attack ads, and running attack ads that lie about your opponent (three things...).

Beginning with an ad showing clips that under a more, shall we say, objective framework, would have us think: "What a fun guy, and he sure is clever."  But in the hands of the Congressional Leadership Fund, it became a dark-tinged piece of hysteria that nonetheless made national news.  And why shouldn't it?  Republicans and republican supporters know how to get oppo research and negative messages into every crevice of the American media.  That success was followed by pieces of work that became progressively more desperate and evil, from falsely linking Ossoff to "Bay area liberals" and Nancy Pelosi, to a last truly disgusting ad that pronounces that "Now the unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting republicans."  Of course, once it was out, it was an easy matter for opponent Karen Handel to denounce the ad.  But fact is, it may have gotten those last crazies out to the polls, for which she is no doubt quietly grateful.

Yes, there was some grumbling about the ugliness of these ads.  But what did not happen was Democrats coming out in droves to talk to the voters about what they were seeing, that is, a desperate, nasty effort to manipulate the election to vote for the least popular candidate of the two.

If you are planning on running for office as anything other than a right-wing republican these days, you need to start with the assumption that the first thing republicans are going to do is find dirt on you.  If it's not dirt, they will make it so.  If they can't find anything to turn into dirt, they will lie.  So you need to tell the voters that this is going to happen.  You need to say:

"Republicans are going to do everything they can to win.  They will turn over everything in my past to find something they can twist to make it look bad.  They will distort everyday aspects of my life to make them look questionable.  They will lie.  They will put ads on TV that you won't want your kids to watch....  Why will they do this?  Because they can't run honestly on the issues.  They know that if you take a good look at their candidate, you will see that they don't have your interests in mind.  They know that if you are able to hear my message, without their lies and distortions, you will vote for me.  So know that, and let's run this campaign on the issues."

And you need to say it and say it again, every time there is a negative ad or attack.  Keep bringing voters back to the issues.  Keep reminding them why your opponent is going so low.

The other thing we Dems need to all get together on is getting together on our candidates.  These are people who for the most part don't have donors with deep pockets.  If they do, as did Hillary, you can bet republicans (talk about the pot and the kettle) will bring up their ties to Wall Street.  If they have gone to Harvard, they will make the Ivies sound like dirty words.  For gods' sake, they will bring up Nancy Pelosi and make it sound like you cohabit.

And here is where they get us, every time.  I am still hearing the smackdown between Bernie and Hillary supporters.  Trump taunted us by talking about his love for Bernie, gloated in the in-fighting.  Could he have done better after Bernie's admittedly half-hearted pleas to support Hillary than to have us turn against each other?

And then they threw out the Ossoff bones and sat back and watched us fight.  Does he support Pelosi, and why didn't he stand up for Pelosi?  Republican hate of all things liberal even became, "Is Jon Ossoff really a liberal, or is he just pretending?"  After the attack ads claiming that Ossoff wasn't really a small business owner, I heard Democrats repeating their concern that he wasn't really a small business owner.  Boy-o, talk about getting bang for your buck.

In some ways it is truly nice that Democrats don't toe the line the way republicans do.  But it is time to get political, folks.  I may have my problems with the Democratic Party, but I value any candidate that steps up to what is likely going to be a bloodbath.  Republicans don't just control all three branches of government, plus most of the states.  They have made sure that their tentacles reach the media and college campuses, where they successfully divert attention from their own manipulations by attacks on "liberal media" and "liberal college campuses."

And what they will do every time in every way, is support their candidate.  Right-wing republicans represent corporate America.  Period.  And they will do anything they need to do to get that victory.  McConnell is the master at controlling the message and the race.  Ryan knows where his financial bread is buttered.  And voters routinely mistake the unity of those who run the republican machine for truth.

Democrats can "go high," but we need to recognize the reality of politics.  You are not going to get your perfect candidate.  That means you confront a candidate that threatens not to support those democratic causes that make us Democrats.  But when it comes down to the vote, you ALWAYS vote for the best person.  That means Hillary over Trump, no matter how your heart aches for Bernie.  That means Archie Parnell even though you could see Alexis Frank, another woman on the floor of the House over the years becoming a national treasure.  And that means, stop chasing those nasty old bones the republicans throw out so they can step back and watch us fight.

About Pelosi.  She is the person who brought a bunch of hissing cats together to get the Affordable Care Act passed.  And Hillary.  She is the one who has fought internationally for the rights of women, standing up to Putin knowing that he would be a nasty and powerful enemy.  When republicans are done with them as useful targets, they will turn their sights on Elizabeth Warren (as both Trump and McConnell have already done).

These women are being targeted, not only because they are women, but because they are smart, powerful women.  And they tell truth to power, and to everyone else who will listen.  We need them, and we need to support them, wholeheartedly.  Shame on those who say Pelosi is too old to be effective, when republicans stand behind the old white men who are united with Trump in his plan to destroy our democracy (After the Georgia election there was a time when I was hearing Dems say Pelosi is too old AND Ossoff was too young, both bones tossed out by republicans.).  And shame to those who have let the unproved allegations of thirty years keep them from taking a look at all Hillary has done for us.

Fact is, when they feel threatened they attack.  What threatens them is candidates that will fight for the people and for democratic values.  And the louder we shout, the more voters respond, the bigger and uglier the attacks.  We know this.  We can fight back.

2018 is happening.  Let's stand with our courageous candidates.  Let's stop fighting among ourselves; let's stop listening to the lies and rumors put out by republican opponents.  Let us vote for our values, but let us be loud in our outrage at the perversion of our democracy that has been created by money and power.

We can go high when they go low, but we need to get down to their level to look them in the eye when we call them out.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Lessons for Our Children

I am glad my children are all grown.  It would be hard to raise them right in the America we are living in today.  Our president calls people names and tells lies.  Members of Congress write laws giving more money to the rich while pretending to care about the middle class, and don't even pretend to care about the poor (or, as they derisively refer to them, the entitled).

Those who are running the country celebrate ignorance.  They deny the damage that greed is doing to our country's schools, to the ability of the elderly to live the remainder of their days healthy and secure.  They scoff at science and make laws that enable the greedy and powerful to make earth more polluted and dangerous, and claim it is to lower our children's debt.  Oh, and while they are talking about our children's debt, they are creating a society in which all but the wealthy are saddled with debt for their entire lives.

Our leaders model for us discrimination against others,  whether it be those who have different lifestyles, or religious beliefs and customs, or those who have skin of a different color, or those who struggle with disability; they have even determined that women should not have the same rights and freedoms as men.  We live, in 2017, governed by white men, who make laws determined by wealthy white men. 

And then, to cap it all, the people who are in charge tell us that they are Christians.  They use their god as a weapon, to force us to obey rules that discriminate and control us, that prevent us from loving who we choose and living the way we want.  They don't require burkas and they don't stone people who are not like them.  But they are sending the message in a way that has not been seen since the middle of the last century that it is okay to attack.  Guns are celebrated and called necessary for freedom, except that if you are lawfully carrying a gun and you are the wrong color you could be killed, and the killer exonerated.  On the other hand, cells inside a woman's womb are called life, and that is used to control a woman throughout her life.

How do we explain this world to our children?  How do we raise them to respect the world in which they live when those who govern them have no respect, and their lies and laws attack the innocent and powerless?  How do we explain a government that brags that they value the family and then separates parents from their children to deport them to countries in which they have never lived?  What do we tell them when African Americans and, Latinos and Muslims are suspected, imprisoned, deported, gunned down, while the president of the United States is allowed to lie, to mock, to cheat and steal, while Congress looks the other way?

We had a Constitution that we revered.  Then many of our politicians learned to say they revered the Constitution while they used it to justify un-American acts.  We have seen our Supreme Court become more political, and used as a tool to further the agenda of the rich and the pseudo-religious and control the rest of us.

It is difficult in this country, and perhaps especially today in the South, to raise children to respect and care for one another when racism is once again being celebrated.  When religious hypocrisy is on the rise.  When paranoia and guns are the law of the land.  When education is scarce, underfunded and riddled with indoctrination.

My heart goes out to parents today.  You have to raise your kids to recognize cruelty and hypocrisy.  But kids have great bullshit meters.  When I grew up in the sixties, we were calling bullshit on wars and materialism.  Our kids, if we talk to them, and teach them to think for themselves, critically, and if we teach them the true value of life and freedom, will know.  They will be the ones to turn the tide of this awful period.  We did move forward as a result of the rebellions of the sixties.  We take a few steps forward and a couple steps back.  I have to believe that that will happen again.  And that our kids, with our guidance, will end up leading the way.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

One Last Thing about Ossoff and Parnell

Tuesday is the day it seems we have been waiting for since forever.  We have been hammered with emails.  We have been prodded and pestered about donating just $3.  We have heard from nearly every party Democrat about how important these races are.

I just have one last thing to say before Tuesday.

On Wednesday, if Karen Handel has won in Georgia, or if Ralph Norman has won in South Carolina, will you be sad, or angry, or worried?  Will you wish there was that one more thing you could have done?  Would you wish you had called your friend in Georgia’s 6th, or SC’s 5th, and told them what you know about the difference between the candidates?  Would you wish you had offered your neighbor a ride to the polls?  Will you wish you had gotten out and voted, even if it meant getting up early before work, or getting home late, or putting off some important errands?

If our Democratic candidates lose on Tuesday, and Handel and Norman get to Congress and vote to repeal your health care and cut social security benefits, will you have regrets?

A lot of us are living with the fact that there was just that one more thing they could have done to elect Hillary Clinton, and wish we could go back in time and fix it.  Like the Brexit voter who thought it was just a protest vote, there are more than a few of us who voted against Hillary or who sat on the sidelines because Hillary was not our perfect candidate.  There are those of us who were tired of promises by Democrats that seemed to be lies, and who voted for the other candidate because they were sure he he wasn't lying because of the outrageous things he was saying.

On Wednesday, we may elect someone who is going to fight against tax cuts for the rich that take away our safety nets.  We might elect someone who will fight to make our schools, our jobs, our lives better.  Or we may decide that our vote doesn’t matter and stay home.

I hope you will each do that one last thing to elect Jon Ossoff and Archie Parnell.  If there was ever a time that our democratic vote meant something, it is now.

This is my one last thing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Other Side of Pro-Choice

The other night, I turned off a DVD in frustration after about half an hour.  In the movie, a woman had learned that she was pregnant, and she was pissed off.  She was distraught, and went on about it as though this pregnancy had just ruined her career and hence, her life.  I turned the TV off when I got tired of yelling, "Get an abortion, you idiot."  "You know you don't HAVE to have a baby, for god's sake."  And, "What the hell is wrong with you???"  I was imagining an actual baby being born to this narcissistic stupid woman, and also the damage movies like this did to a woman's right to have an abortion, because it did not even consider that women had an actual choice.  I must add that I assumed in the end she had the baby and magically turned into a warm, loving mother, maybe because the title of the movie was, "Mothers and Daughters."  I may be wrong, in which case I apologize, but it truly wasn't worth another hour and a half of my life to find out.

On the other side, in one of the plot-lines in the brilliant television series, Shameless, fifteen-or-so year old Debbie intentionally gets pregnant, and battles the insistence of her oldest sister and parental surrogate Fiona to have an abortion.  As the baby is lovingly accepted into the family, Debbie realizes that parenting is far more than she thought she wanted or could handle, and that she may have made a big mistake.   

In Dr. Willie Parker's dynamic and personal account of the battle for women's right to abortion, he talks about how crucial it is to be sure a woman has actually decided that she wants to have an abortion independently and with certainty.  In Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice he describes a heartbreaking incident in which he thought a woman had made that decision, only to learn after the procedure, that she had been coerced by her husband.

It's been a few weeks since I read that book, and the description of that incident has stayed with me.

One of the things that we pro-choice advocates tend to ignore is that pro-choice means that women -- and girls -- have the right to choose pregnancy as well as abortion.  That is certainly my bias.  I was truly fortunate that I never had to face that with my daughter, because it may not have been my shining moment as a parent.  I know MY choice would have been for her to have an abortion, regardless of her choice.

We make quite a big deal, we liberals, about how pregnant girls should not be forced by parents to have a baby.  About how it can ruin their lives.  About how they will be hurt emotionally and financially.  We know that raising a child on her own is an extraordinary hardship for most women.  It is likely to impair relationships, with family, friends and potential partners.  It will interfere with educational opportunity and career goals.  The emotional stress of having a baby without adequate support will affect the health and well-being of the baby.

And of course, it just makes sense that they wait to have a baby until they are emotionally and financially ready.

But is that right?  If I am to be truly honest here, is it more right to deny a teen the right to have a baby than to deny her the right to an abortion?  And what about the pressures from husband, boyfriend, parents on adult women to end a pregnancy?

Let's take care of that latter question first.  A woman should be in charge of her own decision regarding a pregnancy.  Period.  There are social mores, as with some religions, that put the decision in the hands of the husband, most often forcing a woman to bring the pregnancy to term.  It may also happen the other way, as Dr. Parker described, in which the spouse has ordered his wife to end the pregnancy, and she complies.  Which is why it is so critical that clinics have the ability and training to interview and assess whether the woman has independently chosen an abortion.

Far more difficult is the teenager's choice.  Would you let your teenager really choose?  When I was pregnant at age twenty there was no conceivable way I would have told my parents.  My father, with whom I wasn't speaking on and off since I was fifteen, would certainly have stopped speaking to me.  My mother, with many tears and recriminations, would never ever have approved of an abortion.  And I would have been totally unable to care for a baby on my own.  But had I decided to tell my parents and keep the baby, they surely would have loved it.

Decades later, had my daughter become pregnant, I would have assumed that she would have an abortion.  Her teenage years had been rocky enough between she and I; I can only imagine the rage on both our parts as we each fought for what we thought was right.  Her life as I wanted it to be would have been over.  But her life as she might have wanted it to be....

The irony is that as parents it is up to us to make decisions about our children that affect their well-being.  And as they grow older, at some point we lose control over those choices, even though we may know better.  They may experiment with drugs and alcohol.  They can choose to fail in school, drop out or refuse to go to college, take a low-paying job with no future.  They can decide to date or live with someone who has himself made bad choices.  And one of the things they may choose, even under our roof, is whether they become pregnant, and whether or not to have a baby.

Because we have needed to be so rabidly engaged in the fight to protect our right to reproductive freedom, i.e. contraception and abortion, we have let the right wing control the other side.  We have let them talk about killing babies and how those who are pro-abortion would take away a woman's right to have those babies.

It is time to take this argument away from the anti-choice brigade.  Because what they are proposing is not "pro-life" but anti:  against both sides of "choice."

Pro-choice should mean certain rights to women and girls who choose to be pregnant.  It should mean that the government will provide to them the safety net that will assure the well-being of both mother and child.  A pregnancy should not mean hardship and punishment, difficulty finding work or even the need to find work while caring for an infant.  Proposing that pregnant women and girls should be required to carry the pregnancy to term without financial security, health care, and emotional support services is not pro-life.  It is punishment.  Punishment for those who are pregnant, punishment for their families, and punishment for the child to come.

Those who are most rabidly in the anti-abortion league tend to be those who are most determined to cut away any safety net that would actually optimize life.  That is why Texas now has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world.  In a country that has no problem spending tax dollars on prisons, we are hearing Tea Party idiots like Mick Mulvaney talk about how taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for food stamps.  While they are promoting fanciful lies about how abortion kills babies, they are cutting funding for clinics that would provide the care that would save the lives of women, infants and children.

If we honestly believe our stance is "pro-choice" we need to start talking about the right to have babies as well as the right not to.  And then we can have the argument on our own terms.  That is, that a woman or girl who chooses to be pregnant deserves the support of the government.  Health care, housing, child care -- no one who claims to be pro-life should obstruct those rights.

It is time to own this side of women's right to choice.