Reflections on the Obama Presidency

Reflections on the Obama Presidency

    Nov. 4th, 2008, was one of the greatest days of my life, as it was for many. Barack Obama had just been elected America’s first black president. I watched the celebrations from Grant’s Park, in his hometown of Chicago. Tears filled my eyes. This was going to be a new age of progressive change, and a repudiation of Republican austerity measures. “Hope and Change” was the brand. People can make themselves believe the damndest things, can’t they? It’s called magical thinking. Today, a little over eight years later, I think Barack Obama is the greatest disappointment in my 71 years.
    It wasn’t all his fault, of course. The Republicans, whose very core is white nationalism, swore from the beginning to fight him on every front, challenge him on every piece of legislation, and ruin any chance of his legacy. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted on the floor of the Senate that their number one priority was to make him a one-term president. Forget that the economy was in meltdown, we had two illegal wars going on, and we were hemorrhaging over 700,000 jobs a month; their top priority was destroying his presidency. And far from turning a new page in our entire history of race relations, his election seemed to make things even worse. Racism erupted anew, like a freshly lanced boil. Gun sales skyrocketed as right-wing hate groups flourished. And the Right has had the bald-faced temerity to blame him for being divisive.
    He ran a brilliant campaign, with his good looks and soaring rhetoric. You campaign in poetry and govern in prose, said Mario Cuomo, and Obama was poetic, alright. It was his prose that didn’t measure up to his promises. He’d been a community organizer before he entered politics, able to bring two opposing forces to a compromise. But faced with a Congress that had no desire at all to bargain with him, he had nothing. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd wrote, “The guy whose singular qualification was as a uniter, turns out to be singularly unequipped to operate in a polarized environment.” As President, to me he appeared to be someone in way over his head. That’s usually the case for new presidents, and they grow into the job (with the exception of our current abomination). To some he came off as aloof and professorial, but as a young black man he probably had to learn to go along to get along. He didn’t dare show righteous anger, for fear of being called an “angry black man.” He said “hell” in a speech one time, and the Fox (fake) News headline was “Obama goes ‘street’ “My disappointment came as soon as I realized Obama was simply another corporatist, as are both the Clintons, all the Republicans, and most of the Democrats.
    It’s those broken promises that bother me. He talked about more transparency in government, yet it took Edward Snowden to prove otherwise. Not only did he not pull back on the surveillance state, he greatly expanded it. His Justice Dept. prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act (8) than all previous administrations (3). He took an oath to uphold the Constitution, yet refused to call for investigations into Bush and Cheney for their war crimes. This made him complicit in those crimes even before the war crimes he himself committed. I’m talking about ordering the assassination of American citizens without due process — Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as three or four more. This is a guy who taught Constitutional law! While I’m not willing to give him a pass on this, I can sort of understand it. Can you imagine how his legacy would have been tarnished, had we had another terrorist attack on U.S. soil under his watch? It’s difficult to blame him for wanting to be extra secure, even if it was at the cost of our civil liberties.
    During the campaign he pledged that wherever workers’ rights were challenged, he’d put on a pair of comfortable shoes and march with them. Why did ne never show up in Wisconsin, the home of the union movement, when the Republicans torched the unions? There were thousands in Madison the capitol, for weeks. Where the hell was he?
    He was at times a poor judge of people. For his economic advisers he gathered around him some of the same Wall Street types responsible for the economic mess he inherited. And when the good people around him like Anita Dunn, Van Jones, Kathleen Sebelius, and Eric Shinseki were hounded into resigning, he wasn’t there to back them. He showed me little in the way of leadership skills, Most unforgivable of all, he was the first Democrat to ever offer to cut Social Security, as a bargaining chip to prevent a possible government shutdown. It never came to that, but still — it’s a disgrace.
    He showed his corporatist stripes again by continually supporting the TPP, Trans Pacific Partnership, which transfers power from sovereign states to corporate states. It’s also possible he got poor information as a result of being a poor judge of people.
    Astonishingly, in spite of all the vitriol and obstruction, he was somehow able to accomplish a great deal. Chief among them was the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. It was one of the first things he pushed for, against the counsel of most of his advisers. That did showed leadership, or did it? That he would allow the disastrous rollout of the ACA, with the website failures and confusion, showed a lack of leadership. Knowing this might be the singular accomplishment of his presidency, he should have been on top of that a little more. Obamacare was a giant giveaway to the private insurance companies, by guaranteeing them 30 million new customers. But at the same time at least 20 million people got health care who didn’t have it before, tens of thousands of whom would have been dead by now. By the way, have you noticed now that the Republicans want to destroy Obamacare for a piss-poor plan, all of a sudden more and more people suddenly like it, and don’t want to lose it?
    He came out in favor of same sex marriage (after campaigning that he believed marriage should be between a man and a woman), after Joe Biden came out in favor the week before, which forced his hand. But the Defense of Marriage Act was done away with, as was the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy. That’s pretty significant.
    He pushed for and got a $780 billion economic stimulus package to help pull us out of the financial disaster Bush left behind. He saved the auto industry with the bailout to General Motors. As a result, the last two years have seen huge gains for the industry, which is making American cars in America. That’s a major victory.
    He closed all the CIA black prison sites (or so we’re told) in Poland, Romania, and elsewhere. He halted the practice of torture (or so we’re told).
    He got the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act passed (which should have been unnecessary, because the 14th Amendment already addresses equal treatment under the law).
    He was at the forefront of significant climate change policies; the ban on offshore drilling, the Clean Stream Rule that prevented coal companies from dumping their wastes in waterways, and the Clean Power Plan, which would require more strict emissions standards from coal-fired power plants. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is in the process of dismantling all of these protections.
    He persuaded the FCC Commissioner to rule that the internet is a public utility under Title II, helping to preserve net neutrality. That’s a really big one, though it’s under attack again by the new FCC head.
    He pardoned 212 inmates, which is not unusual for eight years. But he commuted the sentences of 1597 inmates (mostly for non-violent crimes), more than the last 12 presidents combined (one of them was Chelsea Manning). A commutation, or clemency, retains the conviction but ends the punishment. I’m giving him major props for this, even while wishing he’d also pardoned Leonard Peltier.
    I originally began this piece as a report card on Barack Obama, but found I’m in no position to judge his performance. I’m sure he knows more than I can even imagine. He’s a very complex person; brilliant, engaging, and very funny. Personally, I like him very much. He and Michelle always displayed the most absolute grace and class. But I can’t reconcile his many inconsistencies, so I’ll let history judge his presidency. I think he’ll do pretty well, considering the bump he’ll get compared to the presidency-by-brain-fart of Donald Trump.

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What’s So Funny, Anyway?

What’s So Funny, Anyway?

(dedicated to my dad, one of the funniest people I ever met)

    Conventional wisdom will say the best way to kill comedy is by trying to analyze it, but I respectfully disagree. I’ve always been a why guy (as opposed to a wise guy); understanding why something works gives me more of an appreciation of it. Psychologists tell us a laugh is an autonomic reflex triggered by the discrepancy between expectation and reality. By the time Mary had her 14th child, she’d run out of names to call her husband. We were expecting names to call the children. This is nowhere better illustrated than in my favorite joke of all. A guy is walking in the park and sees a man sitting on a park bench, a dog next to him. “Does your dog bite?” he asks the man. “No,” says the man. When the guy reaches out to pet the dog, it bites him. “I thought you said your dog didn’t bite,” the guy says. The man replies, “That’s not my dog.”
    Two guys are out hunting in the woods, and one collapses, eyes glazed, not breathing. His friend calls 911 crying, “Help! I think my friend is dead! What should I do?” The dispatcher says, “Calm down, sir, I can help. First, make sure he’s dead.” She hears a loud bang, then the guy’s voice: “Okay, now what?”
    There are various formulas to joke construction, but a prominent one is the Rule of Three. A story joke has the AAB form. The first two instances, A and A, are expected. The third, B, is the discrepancy, or punch line. Think of how many jokes involve three people, rarely two or four or more; A priest, a rabbi, and a duck walk into a bar, and the bartender says, “What is this, some kind of joke?” The number 3 has some kind of resonance with the human consciousness, and for this reason is also predominant in public speaking. You’ll find them sprinkled throughout speeches by Barack Obama and Dr. King, as well as historic documents, as in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
    Comic relief is the result of escaping a bad situation. Perhaps the first nervous laugh was from some ancient hunter/gatherer who heard a rustling in the bushes, and what burst forth was a mouse, rather than a saber-toothed tiger.
    While formulas and analysis might help us understand the intellectual basis of comedy, they don’t get to the beating heart of what really makes it work: pain. When I was a kid, my dad and I were watching a Laurel and Hardy comedy. He turned to me and said, “Did you know that some of the funniest comedians came from lives filled with tragedy?” Grouch Marx said “All comedy comes from pain,” echoing Mark Twain: “The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow.”
    Groucho, Twain, and my dad (as usual) were right. Bill Cosby grew up in the projects with an abusive, alcoholic father. Carol Burnett’s parents were both alcoholics (as were my own), and she was raised by her grandmother on welfare. At the age of 10, Stephen Colbert lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash. Richard Pryor was raised by his prostitute mother in a brothel. You think these people didn’t know about pain?  Ellen DeGeneris, Rodney Dangerfield, Sarah Silverman, Owen Wilson, David Letterman, Larry David, Jim Carrey, Conan O’Brien, Woody Allen, and Maria Bamford. All these wonderful comedians, by their own admission, have had to deal with depression. Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, and Chris Farley died from drug overdoses of cocaine and/or heroin. Richard Jeni, Robin Williams, and Hunter S. Thompson took their own lives. Thompson isn’t usually thought of as a humor writer, but his stuff is screamingly funny, so I included him in this litany.
    So what’s going on here? Do people pursue a career in comedy to alleviate their own pain? They get the laughter from the audience because it identifies with the pain all of us go through in life. Maybe they’re more hyper-aware, (and if so, also more vulnerable, as we’ve seen above). Comedians are the canaries in the coal mine. If you didn’t know, miners used to carry canaries in cages down into the mines. If the canary suddenly keeled over, you knew there was something wrong with the air, and it was time to get the hell out of there. I think comics are the canaries in society’s coal mine. Comedians can not only detect, but more importantly articulate, the ways our lives can seem like a vale of tears. The challenge is to take something awful and make it funny.
    If you still don’t think the best humor comes out of the greatest pain, here are a few examples that beautifully illustrate the point. How do you get a nun pregnant? Dress her up as an altar boy.
    Seth Meyers: “After the cast of Broadway’s hit musical ‘Hamilton’ addressed Mike Pence after a performance, Trump demanded an apology, and tweeted: ‘The theater must always be a safe and special place,’ to which Muslims replied, ‘Two tickets to the theater, please!’ “
    From The Onion: “Nation’s Schools to Ensure Bullied Transgender Students Hide in Stalls of Bathrooms Corresponding to Their Biological Sex.”
    During his campaign, the Oaf of Office promised that under his health care plan everyone would be covered. After the plan was released and it was obvious how terrible it was, there was this political cartoon. It pictures a hospital room. Trump, dressed as a doctor, is pulling a sheet over a dead body as he says, “Everyone will be covered.”
    There are different levels of humor. More coarse and vulgar types deal with sex and various emissions from the body, like farts (which I’ve never found particularly funny). Also, there’s a universal rule in comedy: always kick up, never down. Racists and other bigots often kick down, making fun of black or brown people they feel are in a lower social status. That’s not funny, it’s pathetic and mean. Kick up at authority; they usually have it coming.
    When comedy becomes weaponized, you have satire, humanity’s noblest of virtues. It has a pain component too, in that pain is inflicted upon the targets, usually those in positions of status and power above the rest of us. Laughter eats away at power. It’s more difficult to respect and fear power when you’re laughing at it. Plato and Aristotle correctly feared the power of laughter to undermine authority. Laughter takes the power back, at least psychologically. My Irish half is proud of our ancient Celtic bards, who were so skilled in satire it was said they could make boils break out on the faces of their victims. If the theory holds, this orange jackass in the White House will birth a new golden age of comedy, and that thin skin of his will be flayed clean off, revealing the bloated carcass beneath. I say lock and load.
    We see a guy slip on a banana peel and fall on his ass, and we laugh. Is it because it’s his misfortune and not ours? Are we that mean-spirited? No, the science suggests we laugh to deflect our own pain, because we empathize with him. Again, it’s an autonomic reaction, as well as a survival tactic. Pain is part of the human condition. A tree falls on a house. A loved one dies. Donald Trump is elected President. Without the healing power of laughter, life would be unbearable. And one of the best things about laughter is that it brings people together. It’s a very effective social binding agent. On the other hand, a world without pain, where everything was always just great, would probably be pretty dull.
    You know those iconic Greek masks, comedy and tragedy? They’re always shown together. They were the two kinds of plays in ancient Greece, but the actors also wore the masks so their emotions could be seen by those in the cheap seats. I think there’s more going on than that. Perhaps the masks are a collectively unconscious expression that comedy and tragedy are conjoined twins. We need the one so we can deal with the other, but neither can exist independently. Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything that lets the light in. I think that when we laugh, it lets a little more light in.

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Are Republicans a Death Cult?

Are Republicans a Death Cult?

    If that sounds extreme, allow me to explain. Of course Republicans don’t go around killing people or practicing ritualized murder; that would be illegal. No, they do it more slowly, like death by a thousand (budget) cuts. Please understand I’m not talking about all Republicans, but those extremists who have taken over the party and purged the moderates. They have a long history of hostility towards immigrants, refugees, women, the poor, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and now we can add Muslims and Jews.
    The focus of their animosity is the poor. That comes from the Calvinist virus, which claims the wealthy are most favored of God, hence their blessings. By contrast the poor are immoral; they’re lazy, preferring government handouts to work. That philosophy was summed up a few years ago by Newt Gingrich, in reference to unemployment: “I’m opposed to giving people money for doing nothing.” Republicans are against taxes, which they consider taking money from people who work and giving it to those who don’t. They couldn’t care less about poor people; let them die in the gutter like dogs. This is beyond a mere lack of empathy, which makes them sociopaths. It’s aggressively mean-spirited.
    Have you looked closely at the GOP logo? It’s an elephant with three stars above it. The five-pointed star in American imagery always has the central point upwards. In 2000 the GOP reversed the stars, making it an inverse pentagram, symbol of the Devil. At the same time, they’re all about displaying their Christianity, which really is a death cult. If you doubt that, look at world history. No other force or movement has been responsible for more bloodshed, torture and murder. American history alone is rife with it. If you still doubt me, look at their central symbol: a dead man on a cross. But conspiracy theories and theology are debates for another time.
    Republicans hated “Obamacare” from the moment it was conceived (the same way they’ve hated the New Deal programs for 80 years). Now that they control the White House and Congress they promised repeal as their first priority, without even a replacement plan. After hordes of their own constituents angrily flooded town halls, they backed off and promised a replacement plan. Let’s have a look at it. Those with pre-existing conditions were covered under Obamacare. Now they’ll be but into high-risk pools, the idea being to lower costs for the rest of us (while pricing the sickest out of the market). Speaker of the House Paul Ryan explained, “The problem with Obamacare is the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick.” Yes, Mr. Speaker, because THAT’S HOW INSURANCE WORKS! This guy is a high-functioning psychopath if there ever was one. After the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) scored the American Health Care Act, showing how it screws the poor while giving massive tax cuts to the rich, Ryan actually admitted that it validated what he had said, as if 14 million people losing their health care was a good thing.
    Those most in need will pay more and get less. The plan loses the government subsidies for low-income people, replacing them with tax credits. In other words, you have to come up with the money now, and later you can claim the tax credit. What if you don’t have the money now? It’s the same with these idiotic HSAs, health savings accounts. Again, most low-income Americans can’t afford to put away $1000 or more a month, because they don’t even have enough to cover a $1000 emergency. Most of them don’t have savings accounts, either. Talk about death panels.
    Medicare would be turned into a voucher program. Here’s $5000, Grandma, good luck. For Medicaid they’d turn it into a block grant program for the states. In the program as it is, government matches funds the states raise. The new plan effectively halves that amount in the form block grants to the states for specific amounts. Future inflation and rising health care costs would slowly bleed the program dry. In addition, some conservative states have used Medicaid funds for things like abstinence programs and counseling woman against abortions. And get this. Montana St. Senator Ed Buttrey actually introduced a bill with a work requirement for Medicaid. He put it this way: “We didn’t want to implement a plan that was another entitlement that just had a bunch of people signing up to get free, cheap, or subsidized health care.” Yeah, the filthy, lazy bums. They’re not entitled to health care.
    Here’s a very revealing Freudian-like slip. The White House doesn’t want the plan to be referred to as Trumpcare. A D.C. insider, Ryan Williams, told Politico: “Pretty much anything with the pejorative suffix on it –– ‘care’ — is going to be viewed unfavorably by conservatives.” That really says it, doesn’t it? ‘Care’ is pejorative suffix. And that’s because they really don’t care. They like to say they’re pro-life, which is a lie. They’re pro-fetus. Once the child is born, it can go to hell. A quarter of our children live in poverty, and that’s because of decades of Republican policies, followed by eight years of unremittingly obstructing President Obama’s attempts to improve conditions. They love their wars, though; more profits for the defense contractors. How can you be pro-life and not give a shit about the living?
    As always, Planned Parenthood must be defunded at all costs, and so it’s part of their replacement plan. 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities are abortion services; the other 97% used by over 2 million low-income women in things like cancer screenings and basic health care. Current government funding for PP is $300 million, about 30% of their budget.
    Republicans can at last cut the EPA to the bone, if not eliminating it entirely. You and your children being able to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eating safe food is simply costing the multi-national corporations too much money. Those pesky government regulations are inhibiting growth and innovation (never mind that corporate profits are at an all time high in human history). It’s an old Republican trick called “starve the beast.” You keep cutting government programs until they can no longer function, then say “See? They don’t work. We need the private sector doing all these things.” They want to privatize — or as I like to call it piratize — every government function. President Steve Bannon said it himself at the recent CPAC convention, saying their agenda was “deconstructing the administrative state.” How much do you think it will cost to mail a letter then? Privately owned charter schools will replace public education, because the proles don’t need to be educated, anyway. Public libraries? Forget about it. All you have to do is look at the Cabinet this fascist has selected. These bastards are going to gut this country like a fish.
    So, are Republicans a death cult? Well, if their victims die slowly and agonizingly, instead of all at once, what difference does it make if the result is the same? Even their own Bible gives us a clue, in Matthew 7:20: “Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” I should clarify; that’s from the New Testament, which could have been written by the Democrats, being about love and tolerance. The Republicans are much more comfortable with the Old Testament and its wrath, judgment, and lots and lots of rules. If they aren’t a death cult, there can be little doubt that the Trump administration is. Their fruits gave them away.
    If they aren’t a death cult, I’ll settle for un-American and anti-Democratic. Turning away those who want a better life is anti-American. Demonizing people of other faiths and beliefs is un-American. Racism and bigotry is un-American, at least the ideal of it. Putting party over country is definitely un-American. From the moment Barack Obama took office, Republicans openly said they would obstruct everything he did. Even then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted his party’s number one priority would be to ensure that Obama is a one-term President. And what could be more un-American, traitorous even, then protecting a president and his administration who we know were in constant communications with a hostile foreign power — during his campaign — that was known to have tried manipulating the election. I thought people like this were shot. Or is it hanged?
    Republicans do not, and never have, believed in democracy. They know their ideas are bad for Americans, so they can only win elections by voter suppression and other means to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters. They have to cheat in one of our most democratic institutions. They’ve always been against unions and workers’ rights, too. Minimum wage laws and unemployment insurance were passed by Democrats under FDR’s New Deal, along with the Wagner Act, which permitted workers to form unions. A workplace is a monarchy, with the CEO or owner being King. Unions are simply a way of having democracy in the workplace. What’s more democratic than sharing profits more equitably with the very people whose labors create the wealth of a company? By the way, Social Security, the most popular and successful social program in our history, also came from the New Deal. Republicans have wanted to privatize it for decades, and now they can.
    Are Republicans a death cult? Maybe not, but they act as if they were. Now, I’m not a violent person, but if it were up to me, I’d simply frog march them all at gunpoint to the nearest coastline, and tell them to start swimming. That way if they drown, it’s not my fault. Blame the ocean.

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The Wannabe King’s Speech

The Wannabe King’s Speech

    The American Hatriot gave his big boy speech before a joint Congress on Feb. 28th, long pants, long tie and everything. It’s not called a State of the Union in a president’s first year, because he’s only been in office a few weeks and is still finding his footing. Of course that will be true for Trump every year. “Surprisingly presidential,” gushed The Washington Post, which shows how far the bar has been lowered. The most presidential thing he could do would be to resign. I couldn’t help noting similarities with the Oscar-winning 2010 film, “The King’s Speech.” Colin Firth played England’s King George VI, who had a terrible stutter, and Geoffrey Rush played the voice coach who cured him, while forming a close friendship. It’s very good, historical inaccuracies aside. Here at home we have a president who is unable to form a coherent sentence, and his Geoffrey Rush is Steve Bannon, who puts the words into his mouth. Basically, he’s Trump’s brain, as Karl Rove was to George W. Bush.
    To his credit, the Great Pretender began by denouncing the waves of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks across the nation. That’s ironic, because those are his supporters carrying out the attacks, feeling legitimized by his racism and bigotry. “Trump offers up a more hopeful vision,” wrote The New York Times. Wow. That wasn’t my impression at all. Much of the speech seemed to be centered on death. He talked about two of his props for the evening, widows of men killed by illegal immigrants, and what a terrible tragedy it was. He introduced a new office called VOICE — Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement. Illegal immigrants are responsible for a tiny percentage of murders in the U.S., but who cares about facts? He made clear his attitudes towards immigrants and refugees: “It’s a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially.” That’s a far cry from Emma Lazarus’ inscription on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .”
    He talked about rising murder rates (actually, they’re declining), mentioning Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore, which is code for inner city blacks. Then he called attention to the widow of William Ryan Owens, in a place of honor sitting next to Ivanka. She was his main prop for the evening [Note: Ryan Owens died in the botched raid in Yemen on Jan. 28th, for which Trump had given the go-ahead order over dinner, and then wasn’t even the Situation Room when it went down. Hours before this speech, on Fox News, he blamed the Generals. “They lost Ryan,” he said]. With everyone standing, he led the long, drawn out applause, while this poor woman was clearly in great pain. He said, “And Ryan is looking down, right now, you know that? And he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record.” Was he implying that Ryan was happy because he got the longest applause of the evening? A record — that’s called winning! It was ghastly, and should have shown anyone with a functional cerebral cortex what a classless lout this ass-hat truly is. Comic John Fugelsang, who I’ve found to be an astute observer, tweeted his perspective: “Donald Trump just got applause for a widow he created.”
    What made Trump so surprisingly presidential is that he wasn’t speaking off the cuff, his preferred mode, when he just says whatever pops into his head with no filter whatsoever. This was different, in that he was reading, or something close to it, from a teleprompter. The man is functionally illiterate. The expression “Reading is Fundamental” never applied to him. The reason he doesn’t read books is that he can’t. So he went on, ploddingly, slowly, deliberately. Sprinkled throughout the speech were little pieces of jingoistic cotton candy. Towards the beginning, he said, “Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice — in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present.” (I think up to the present would have been better) “That torch is now in our hands,” at which point I thought he was going to say “and we’re gonna burn it all down,” but no, he said it would be used to light up the world. Not with nukes, I hope. They would light it up real good.
    There was this one: “We’re going to stop the regulations that threaten the future and livelihood of our great coal miners.” That’s a nice break for an industry threatening the future and livelihood of all other life forms.
    “Dying industries will come roaring back to life.” What, of their own accord, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes? Again, more empty promises with no details. A hundred years ago they used to tar and feather snake oil salesmen like him.
    This one made me throw up in my mouth a little bit: “We must build bridges of cooperation and trust — not drive the wedge of disunity and division.” Does he even listen to himself?
    Towards the end, he had the bald temerity to say, “The time for small thinking is over.” I jumped up and cried, “So, then, your leaving!” No such luck, though. He continued, “And the time for trivial fighting is behind us.” In your fucking dreams, pal!
    “America will be empowered by our aspirations — not burdened by our fears.” I’m damned if I know how he can say shit like this with a straight face.
    Here comes the closer: “We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts.” And you are the wind beneath my wings. It’s called laying it on with a trowel. The only things missing were Tinkerbell and a unicorn farting out rainbows. Show some more flags! Rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air. Sometimes I wonder if America is still capable of a gag reflex.
    He also found time to reiterate his mob boss threat to other NATO countries that haven’t been ponying up their protection money.
    Good Lord, I asked myself, how did I end up in Opposite Universe, where an incompetent idiot who stands and reads from a teleprompter is somehow surprisingly presidential? A 4th grader could have done it. This orange flim-flam man wouldn’t make a good pimple on a bad president’s ass, which is why when he does something even remotely presidential, it’s a surprise. As a businessman, though, I think he would be great running a Burger King franchise, because this guy can really cook up some Whoppers. If this was presidential, I’m the Duke of Paducah.
    There’s always a rebuttal by the opposing party at the end of these speeches. Generally it’s one of the bright lights of the party, their rising star. This time, though, it was former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. It looked like he was in a dimly lit cocktail lounge or restaurant dining room. I swear to God, folksy charm turned up to 11, this is how he opened: “I’m a proud Democrat. But first and foremost, I’m a proud Republican. And Democrat, and mostly American.” Hit Off button. Are you kidding me? This is what the Democrats answered with? I mean, the puck was right in front of the net, all they had to do was kick it in, and they brought out this guy? Where was Gavin Newsome, Julian Castro, Tom Perez, Bernie Sanders, or even Chuck Schumer? Maybe the Democrats have just given up. But then they rarely miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
    Oh, well. I must remind myself that the time for small thinking is over. I just need the courage to fear the burdens of sharing, as I drive the wedge of division through the bridges of our empowering aspirations, while at the same time preventing the torch of truth, liberty, and justice from catching my pants on fire.

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Media in the Age of Trump

Media in the Age of Trump

    Donald Trump is a creature created in the laboratories of media and reality TV. It is the media’s irresponsibility and criminal negligence that allowed him to rise to where he is now. But what could they do? He was ratings gold. They were there every time he opened his mouth. He probably got around $2 billion of free coverage because, as CBS’s CEO Les Moonves said, “He may be bad for the country, but he’s damn good for CBS.” Now, though, they are “the opposition party.” That’s gratitude for you. It isn’t as though Trump turned on them as soon as he’d won the election. He just turned the heat up.
    You may recall that over a year ago (Feb. 26, 2016) he said if he won, he’d “open up the libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” His position is curious overall; on the one hand media attention (or any other kind) is like crack to him, but at the same time he must delegitimize them in order to peddle his particular brand of snake oil. Two days after the election he came out firing on Twitter: “Just had a very open & successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!” People are always being “unfair” to him.
    On Nov. 21st he summoned to his tower top executives and anchors of cable and network TV, then berated them for twenty minutes. It was stunning and unexpected. They thought they were there to discuss media access to the White House. Trump singled out CNN’s CEO Jeff Zucker: “I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed.” He went on to everyone else: “We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful and dishonest media who got it all wrong.” The next day was a scheduled meeting with the (“failing”) New York Times that got canceled, then rescheduled, after he blamed the paper for the confusion. The following day Trump called the Times “a great, great American jewel.” This is classic abuser behavior. You beat on the victim, beat on them, then when you compliment them they’re so happy. They want more compliments and less beatings, so they become compliant. It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
    Enmity towards the press is certainly nothing new, even here; Nixon called the press the enemy. It’s on page one of any dictator’s playbook. Napoleon Bonaparte said “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” Autocrats can’t stand the press, which is why it’s the only profession singled out for protection by the Constitution. It’s the media’s job to be adversarial, which often means simply telling the truth. Trump constantly refers to them as dishonest, lazy, scum, losers, and dummies. Lately, he’s using the meme of “fake news” for anything he doesn’t agree with. As near as I can figure, it’s a three step process. In step one he says something outrageous, in step two the press reports it, and in step three he plays the victim card, accusing them of lying, by quoting what he just said. The result is an increasing distrust of the media, exactly what Trump wants. There are even strong indications that Trump’s advisers are leaking false stories, so that when the media reports them he can reaffirm his fake news narrative.
    Last September a Gallup poll reported that only 32% Americans had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media, an all-time low, and down 8 points since 2015. That was six months ago; I’d wager that the number now is in the twenties, because history teaches us that big lies, constantly repeated, eventually become accepted. At CIA HQ on Jan. 22nd, he said, “I have a running war with the media.” Three days later senior advisor Steve Bannon said the media should “keep their mouths shut and listen for awhile.” On Feb. 24th, at the annual CPAC Conservative gathering, Bannon said things are going to get worse every day for the media. The bridge too far, though, was Trump’s accusing the media of being the enemies of the American people. This is tin-pot dictator stuff, and unworthy of a supposed great nation.
    All this would be bad enough, but during the campaign, Trump exhorted his trolls to harass journalists at his rallies. NBC’s Katy Tur had to be escorted out of one by the Secret Service for her own protection. Kurt Eichenwald, who writes for Newsweek, is an epileptic. He has twice received GIF’s or emails with the particular frequency of strobing that causes seizures. Jewish reporters receive hate tweets and emails too disgusting to detail. Journalists have been arrested at anti-Trump protests, and in New York City, six were charged with felony riot.
    Journalists are fighting back, which is their only option if they want to remain relevant. Dan Rather said recently that this is a gut-check time for the media. Some admit they have avoided certain stories out of fear that Trump will sue them. Many of these are independents or working for smaller operations without the money to have a phalanx of attorneys standing by. Finally, the term “lies” was used by the press to describe Trump’s misstatements and distortions (New York Times). Even MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, whom I consider a lightweight, stood up for truth by challenging Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts.”
    We are all soldiers in the war on facts. Our weapons are intellect and the ability to discern. George Orwell, in a 1943 essay on the Spanish Civil War, worried “that the concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.” I’m reminded by another quote by Hannah Arendt, in her classic work The Origins of Totalitarianism: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”
    Let’s not forget that one crucial fact: Trump needs the press more than it needs him, and by a country mile. A malignant narcissist, he has to constantly be in the spotlight or he’d curl up into the fetal position. What would happen if the media simply refused to cover him at all? Well, then the classic abuser would turn on the charm again. And round and round we go. Who was it that said, “Who are you going to believe, me or you lying eyes?”

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Alternative Facts

Alternative Facts

    The relative sizes of Trump’s inauguration crowd and that of Obama, eight years earlier, has been made clear by comparing photos. Obama’s was about 1.8 million to Trump’s 250,000.
    The next day newly-minted White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Trump’s crowd was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” The following day, Trump’s media spokesblonde Kellyanne Conway was asked about the discrepancy, and she replied, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary, — gave alternative facts.” I guess aerial photography is just a theory.
    So what the heck are alternative facts? Isn’t that just another term for lies? I’m afraid it’s not that simple. On the TV show “Seinfeld,” George Costanza character said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it,” and that’s the problem. When Trump says crime rates are up 42% (they’re actually down), his supporters believe him. They believe that he lost the popular vote because 3-5 million people voted illegally, and they believe the media are all liars, except for Fox (alleged) News. It’s called magical thinking — believing something because you want it to be true. What is true is that our Narcissist-in-Chief lives in an alternate reality, or as a psychiatrist would put it, he is delusional. And alternative realities must be affirmed by alternative facts. It’s too bad they weren’t around when I was in high school; I would have gotten straight A’s.
    An alternative fact can be anything you want, whatever it takes to bolster up the bullshit that’s to follow. Conservatives have made themselves believe that the more you lower taxes on the rich, the more it increases government revenues. Not only has it never, ever been proven to work, they go on insisting it’s true. 25% of Americans actually believe the sun revolves around the earth (National Science Foundation). But then Americans believe a lot of cockamamie things. Below are some alternative facts I’ve thoughtfully collected. You’ve probably heard some of them. There are also about a dozen references to famous films, just in case you’re a cinephile like me.
    DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.
    Obamacare caused the Great Depression. You all can decide for yourselves why the media won’t report that.
    Donald Trump was born in the log cabin he built with his own enormous hands.
    It’s not a Muslim ban. It’s a ban on Muslims.
    Corporations are people, my friends!
    Hope and Change.
    On his first day in office, Donald Trump restored the 2Nd Amendment that Barack Obama had abolished.
    Today at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Donald Trump played 18 holes at 39 under par, breaking the record previously held by Kim Jong-Il.
    There was no women’s march in Washington, D.C. the day after Trump’s inauguration. Everyone loves the new President.
    The Death Star has no design flaws, period.
    The President’s secret plan to destroy ISIS was to make ISIS think he has a secret plan.
    Donald Trump was America’s first black astronaut.
    It’s my considered opinion and that of my staff that any time spent on the Bedouin will be time wasted.
    Tom Hanks peaked in “Turner and Hooch.”
    Thanks to HBO’s Bill Maher for this one: showing a sign by an anti-Trump protester that read “We’re Better Than This,” he said, “No, we’re not. If we were you wouldn’t be standing out there with a sign saying ‘We’re Better Than This.’ “
    Donald Trump has never been to Russia, has never had any dealings with Russia, couldn’t even find Russia on a map.
    I am the least racist person you’ve ever met.
    Gay conversion (pray away the gay) works.
    The moon landings had to be faked. It’s impossible to survive outside the Earth’s orbit because of the Van Halen radiation belts.
    Republicans really do want what’s best for America.
    There’s no definitive evidence that smoking is harmful.
    Professional wrestling is real.
    Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim.
    James Franco and Ryan Gosling can act.
    God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear and in true health through the purity of our natural fluids.
    Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.
    You should always water your plants with Gatorade — it’s got electrolytes!
    Everything the media says is a lie. Except for Fox News.
    Clean coal.
    Badges? We don’t got no badges. We don’t got to show you no stinkin’ badges!
    Obamacare’s death panels are gonna pull the plug on Grandma (I really like the Affordable Care Act, though).
    Climate change is a hoax cooked up by pointy-headed “scientists” so they can keep getting big governmental grants.
    A woman who is raped can’t get pregnant because the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down.
    These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
    It’s impossible for bumblebees to fly. Their bodies are simply too heavy.
    Donald Trump made the sun come up again today!
    Excuse me while I whip this out.
    Any negative polls are fake news.
    George Soros is paying all those anti-Trump protesters.
    Trump picks El Chapo to run DEA.
    Hillary Clinton is running a child prostitution ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.
    He may no longer be president, but Obama is still coming for our guns.
    Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.
    The Art of the Deal has sold more copies than the Bible.
    Trump University is more prestigious than Harvard.
    Today the President nominated Judge Reinhold to the Supreme Court.
    Donald Trump set a new world record in the 100m yesterday, beating Usain Bolt by nine seconds.
    War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
    Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters Champion.
    Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.
    Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
 
    People believe a lot of silly things, because they need to. Call them preferred truths. They will persist in these beliefs with a stubbornness that’s hard to comprehend. I remember a quote attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, when confronting a colleague: “Sir, you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” I really loved what Barack Obama (miss him yet?) said in his final presidential press conference. He was diplomatically referring to his completely unqualified successor and what passes for his policies, saying that reality has a way of asserting itself.< ;p>

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Trees — the Other Social Network

Trees — the Other Social Network

    There have been some intriguing scientific breakthroughs lately in our understanding of the plant kingdom. I just finished reading a fascinating new book, The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, who was a forester in Germany for decades. He draws from research far and wide, mostly the pioneering work begun 30 years ago by Suzanne Simard at the University of British Columbia. Imagine you’re standing on the street in any city. Hidden beneath the pavement is a maze of cables carrying phone or electricity, gas lines, water and plumbing. It forms the city’s communication system.
    The forest is the same way, and especially so for trees, whose root systems extend to about the size of the visible canopy of leaves and branches above. Connected to the root tips are tiny fungal threads called hyphae, about the size of sewing thread, which make up a larger nexus called mycelia (some of the world’s largest organisms have been found to be vast fields of mushrooms, interconnected underground). So what’s in it for the fungi? A piece of the action, in the form of sugar and carbohydrates. What service do they provide in turn? The creation of what Simard calls the “wood wide web.” Think fiber optics. (Ironically, a group of fiber optic cables bundled together is called a trunk line.)
    Science evolves, too, as growing knowledge supplants old ideas with new ones. Decades ago we thought that young trees grow fastest and older ones more slowly. Now we know the opposite is the case. The key to long life for a tree is to grow slowly when young, building strength so as not to be vulnerable to storms or high winds. I’ve never liked the term “forest management,” though I understand the mindset of looking at trees as board feet of lumber. The forest can manage quite well without our help. Yes, trees compete with each other for sunlight and space, but there’s more cooperation than conflict. It’s all about what’s good for the whole, not the individual, which the Right calls communism, or at the least, socialism. I guarantee you won’t find many libertarian trees out there anywhere, outside of a stray seed the wind blew into a rocky crevasse. Another old idea is that of controlling pests with harmful chemicals. This kind of thinking is typical in a dysfunctional society where only short term gain is valued. A good example is the spruce budworm. Left alone it can decimate a large portion of a forest, clearing large new sunlit areas where flowers can thrive. Flowers attract insects, which attract birds, which feast on the spruce budworm. That’s forest management.
    It turns out that trees are social beings. Because of their interconnectedness, not only can they identify other family members, but kin of the same species, as well as others. Trees can “see,” by way of the light sensors in the leaves. They can feel if not pain, at least discomfort. An insect bites into the bark. The tree analyses its saliva, and begins to produce a chemical making its flesh a little more disagreeable. It can also send chemical signals through the air to the others, as a warning. Trees are capable of producing up to 3000 different chemical compounds. That’s a pretty impressive laboratory. How much information is in those signals, I wonder. Are they a kind of language?
    Young saplings get little sunlight, beneath the leaf canopies of the adults, so Mother trees furnish them with nutrients. Simard helped discover these maternal tendencies. Hub trees, usually the eldest, may be in contact with dozens of others. A sick tree may be fed by many other trees in the vicinity. If it dies it could open a gap for wind to break off branches of other trees, making them more vulnerable to insect or bacterial attack. Again, as with the Three Musketeers, it’s all for one and one for all. A tree is only as strong as the forest around it. We don’t think of them as being mobile, yet they can be immigrants. Right now, due to global warming, several Southern and tropical species are migrating North (better build that wall quickly, President Rump), as they did after the end of the last ice age. It may take hundreds of years, but remember they are operating with a different sense of time than ours.  J.R.R. Tolkien had it right with his ents.
    Conifers (evergreens with needles) create antifreeze so their needles don’t freeze and die. In summer they cover the needles with a waxy coating to conserve water. Notice that many conifers grow their branches a little downward. That’s so that heavy snowfall drops off, preventing the branches from breaking. Deciduous trees (lose their leaves in winter) grow their branches slightly upwards so that rain runs down them to the trunk and root system. All trees in temperate or polar regions, whether deciduous or evergreen, hibernate. After a rigorous growing season, they’re exhausted, so they go into a dormant period, saving their energy for spring, when it will be most needed (it’s why dormancy is usually a good time for pruning). Trees in cities with perpetual lighting actually suffer from sleep deprivation, so they’re more vulnerable to insects or diseased. After a heavy winter, deciduous trees will leaf out sooner. Trees can count. They are aware of the passage of time. They can “see” the days getting shorter or longer. And they remember. In fact, as with animals, it seems their memory is epigenetic, meaning it’s passed on to future offspring.
    I want to inject a note here that all plants exhibit similar properties, to a greater or lesser extent. I chose trees because they are the oldest well-adapted beings in the plant kingdom, hence the most evolved. Conifers first appeared 300 million years ago, and deciduous trees about 150 million years ago (followed by the triumph of flowering plants — the most efficient means of propagation — about 125 million years ago). There are bristlecone pines in the Rocky Mountains that are 5000 years old. And because they live so long compared to other plants, I rather like the idea of wisdom coming with age. I’m grateful again for journalist Michael Pollan, who writes a lot about food and plants (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire). I recommend him highly, especially an article he wrote for The New Yorker (Dec. 23, 2013), called “The Intelligent Plant.” That’s where I learned about Mancuso’s work.
    How are all these “decisions” getting made? Well, that’s a loaded word. I prefer “intent.” This is where we get into debates about intelligence, sentience, and self-awareness. That’s a problem, because the only examples we have of these things are ourselves, so we’re already biased. If intelligence is defined as being self-aware, then we can’t tell, yet. Mancuso sees it differently; he defines intelligence as the ability to solve problems. In one of his experiments he set up a time lapse camera on young bean plants with a metal cylinder about two feet away. The bean plants were “looking” for something to climb, and they moved toward the cylinders, time after time. How could they sense the presence of the cylinders? We know they have photoreceptors in their leaves, but those are thought to be for detecting light levels.
    We tend to think creatures with brains are the most evolved. Plants don’t have brains, so they can’t have neurons or a nervous system. They do, however, have structures analogous to neurons, and even create the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. Structures analogous to brains have been found near the root tips, or radicles, of plants. I was astounded to learn who first discovered them — Charles Darwin, who late in life became passionate about botany. In his 1880 book The Power of Movement in Plants, he wrote “it’s hardly an exaggeration to say the tip of the radicle, having the power of directing the movement of the adjacent parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals.”
    Mancuso makes an interesting point that for a creature which is immobile for its entire life, a brain or vital organs can be a disadvantage. A plant can lose as much as 90% of its mass and still survive; not many animals can do that. Because they are immobile, they have to be more intensely tuned in to their immediate environment. Mancuso informs us that because plants are sensitive and intelligent beings, we are obliged to treat them with respect. To the American Indians, they were the tree people. They referred to themselves as human beings, but all the creatures were other people; that’s respect. These recent breakthroughs have also changed Peter Wohlleben’s perspective, as towards the end of his book he says, “When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.”

Not yet become a Buddha,

                                                   This ancient pine tree,

                                                   Dreaming.

— Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

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2017 Coyote Irony Awards

2017 Coyote Irony Awards

    It’s the awards season. The Grammys were last weekend and the Oscars this weekend, so let’s join this year’s Coyotes from beautiful downtown Culver City, California. In the past, the coveted prize was the Grand Irony Award. This year, for the first time, all awards are ironic, in the best sense of that Alanis Morissette song. Irony can range from the comic to the tragic and hypocritical. Again, dress is casual, so kick back and enjoy the show. As always, we remind you to please think responsibly.

    The Circus is in Town Award — The week before the numbskull’s inauguration, the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus said it’s closing up its tents. Maybe they know they can’t compete with the coming circus from the White House. They said attendance has been declining since, and due to public pressure, they retired the elephants (the symbol of the Republican Party). The elephants are now in a preserve. I wish all the Republicans were.
    The Cover and Heat on Media Award — The mainstream media are all complicit in Trumputin’s victory. They sold their souls for ratings by giving him free coverage every time he opened his mouth, thus normalizing his bizarre behavior. But now the media is “the opposition party.” Now they have to play nice if they want access, so let’s give them a special You My Bitch Now! Award, and what the hell, throw in an Instant Karma Award as well.
    The Pot Meet Kettle Award goes to the Resident of the United States. After civil rights icon John Lewis said on a cable news show that he didn’t consider Trump a legitimate president, he had no choice but to angry tweet back: “Talk, talk, talk. No action or results. Sad!” No action? Lewis had his skull fractured by a police baton while marching with Dr. King at Selma in 1965. Talk, talk, talk, no action or results. Who does that remind you of?
    The Foxes Guarding the Henhouse Awards have multiple winners. Betsy DeVos has never taught nor attended a public school, nor have her children. She’s an advocate of private charter schools. She’s going to head the Dept. of Education. Steve Mnuchin, a hedge fund manager from Goldman-Sachs as well as a foreclosure mill vulture, will head the Treasury Department. Scott Pruitt, a lifelong enemy of the EPA, will head that agency. Tom Puzder, CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., opposes overtime pay, the minimum wage, and workers’ rights in general, and will be Secretary of Labor. Worst of all is outright racist and bigot, Senator Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL). He will be the next Attorney General, the highest law enforcement officer in the land. They’re all like that. You know, I guess I never really understood the expression “like bats out of hell” until now.
    Three awards came out of Trumpolini’s attempted Muslim ban that wasn’t. First is the Let Them Eat Cake Award, which goes to Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. On Saturday while 100,000 legal visas were revoked worldwide, and at least 100 legal residents in the U.S. were unconstitutionally detained without due process for hours — including a 5-year-old Iranian boy, Ivanka tweeted a photo of her and her hubby (in tuxedo). They were all dressed up for some gala event. She wore a $5000 silver Carolina Herrera gown that made her look like a baked potato. I recall F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line about the rich being different from you and me. It’s just really bad optics, that’s all I’m saying.
    The second award is the History Doesn’t Repeat, It Rhymes Award, which goes to the Ugly Trumpling. He issued that Executive Order on Fri. Jan. 27, which also happened to be Holocaust Remembrance Day. He mentioned the day but not the Jews. The irony becomes apparent to anyone who knows that in 1939 the U.S. refused entry to 900 German Jews arriving on the St. Louis. They were returned to Europe, where many died at the hands of the Nazis. At the time America was isolationist, and there was a general feeling that we shouldn’t be taking in immigrants we didn’t know or trust, and who would take our jobs. A poll showed that 61% of the public felt that way.
    The third “honor” is the Bad Samaritan Award. It goes to all those evangelicals who voted for this scrotum in the White House. The travel ban included no refugees for 120 days, and Syrians not at all. Evangelicals seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew, that Jesus was himself a refugee. Matthew 2 tells how he and his family fled to Egypt to escape Herod. It’s my opinion that many of these hypocrites have never even heard of the New Testament.
    The Hypocritical Oath Award goes to ISIS’s number one recruiting tool, the immigrant-hating Tweetledumb. But his first trophy wife, Ivana, and present trophy wife, Melania, are both immigrants!
    The Call Is Coming From Inside The House! Award goes to Melania Trump. On Nov. 5th, three days before the election, she said if she were to become first lady one of her main issues would be to combat cyber bullying. Uh, Melania, have you seen any of your husband’s tweets? You must have at least heard about them, right? You can start right there. And you’ll have the advantage of being able to work from your own home.
    The Who’s the Bastard, Here, Anyway? Award goes to Trumpelthinskin, our big weiner this evening. He spent five years birthing the Birther conspiracy that Obama was illegitimate. Then he got elected in the biggest election fraud in American history; the purging of millions of minority voters, the FBI’s interference days before the vote, and the revelations that Trump’s campaign people were in contact with Russian officials. If there were ever an illegitimate president, it’s this short-fingered Vulgarian.
    Our Giant Step Backwards Award goes to that peaceful transition of power we Americans pride ourselves on, wherein the first black president handed the reins of power to a president who was widely endorsed and supported by the Ku Klux Klan, along with other white nationalist extremist groups. As the Trumpet himself says all too often, “Sad!”
    Along those racial lines, the White Hood Award goes to Senate Majority Leader Mitch “the Turtle” McConnell (R-KY). During the final Senate confirmation for Sen. Jeff Sessions, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) read a letter by Coretta Scott King. She’s the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and originally introduced the letter into the Senate Committee considering Sessions for a federal judgeship, in 1986. He was denied. So while Sen. Warren was reading this letter about how Sessions “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters,” and “his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights.” McConnell stopped Warren under an obscure Senate law about “impuning a colleague” and forced her to be silent. It seems to me it wasn’t Sen. Warren who was doing the impuning, but never mind. Oh, and by the way, Happy Black History Month, everybody!
    The I’ll Be Your Server This Evening Award goes to Trumpledorf”s White House staff. Remember all the hoo-hah about Hillary’s private server? The White House staff is using their own private server for inter-staff email communications. It’s the same server the staff used in the George W. Bush administration! ousHH
    Finally (big fanfare music), the Electile Dysfunction and Grand Irony Award goes to the Electoral College. It was established for many reasons, one of them to appease the Southern slave states by allowing them to count their slaves as 3/5 of a person, thus gaining them more representation in Congress. But the primary reason was that the Founders didn’t trust the people, most of whom were uneducated, and who might fall for the persuasive rhetoric of a demagogue. They were there to see that a calamity like that never happened, and instead, they failed us miserably by putting a ten-year old psychotic into power.
    I never thought about it before, but the Groin Reaper talks about “extreme vetting” when bringing in immigrants and refugees (there already is, and the process takes up to two years). Isn’t it ironic, as Alanis would sing, that we don’t have an extreme vetting process for presidential candidates? It could be very simple; a full mental examination and a basic civics test. Oh, and tax returns. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about getting stuck with a foul-mouthed, ignorant lout. Well, what did you expect, an awards show WITHOUT politics? Anyway, we hope you enjoyed the 2017 Coyote Hypocrisy — I mean Irony — Awards. Be sure and tip the wait staff. We pay them $15 an hour but they work really hard, and they’re tremendous. The best. Believe me.

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Senate Confirmation Hearing Disorder

Senate Confirmation Hearing Disorder

    “Give him a chance!” cried the Republicans, who never gave Obama a single chance in eight years. Okay, what are the first things the fascist President did? He nominated his cabinet heads, which made his intentions pretty clear. It looks like there’s a fox to guard every government henhouse; a long-time foe of the EPA to head the EPA, a private charter school advocate for Education, a long-time racist and bigot for Attorney General (the nation’s highest law enforcement officer), a former Goldman-Sachs hedge fund manager to manage Treasury, and a long-time enemy of workers’ rights to head Labor. They’re all like that, including the CEO of Exxon-Mobil for Secretary of State. Maybe the Donald is just screwing with us, rather than screwing us, but I think not. Each had to be confirmed by the Senate, and so the hearings began. Let’s have a look at some of the contestants.
    Scott Pruitt is a self-described “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” As the Oklahoma Atty. Gen. he’s filed a dozen lawsuits against the agency’s regulation of toxic substances like mercury and arsenic. He’s the nominee to head the agency.
    Andy Puzder is CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., and a fierce opponent of paid sick leave, the minimum wage, and overtime pay. He’s the nominee for Secretary of Labor.
    Sen. Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions (R-AL), the nominee for Attorney General, once called a black attorney “boy” and another time said he “thought the KKK was okay, until I learned that some of them smoke marijuana.” Sessions insisted none of that was true, even though he was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 due to his racism. Get this — Strom Thurmond chaired the Senate Committee that rejected him for being too racist. Strom Thurmond — who had run on a platform of segregation — thought he was too racist! He has called the 1965 Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation” and unconstitutional. As we saw above, he’s vehemently anti-pot. In a Senate hearing in 2007 he called for more mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions, saying “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
    Steve Mnuchin was a hedge fund manager for Goldman-Sachs. Then came the housing market collapse in 2007. Smelling blood in the water, this shark bought a failed bank, renamed it WestOne, and turned it into a foreclosure mill that threw over 35,000 people out of their homes (including a 90-year-old woman who missed a payment by 27 cents). One trick they used was telling people they had to be late on their payments to qualify for a loan modification program, then when they were late, they were foreclosed on. WestOne is currently under investigation by HUD, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

    How have they performed at the hearings? Betsy DeVos, of the vast Amway fortune, has never taught, never attended a public school, nor have her children. She’s a big pusher for private, for-profit charter schools, which of course are for the best and brightest (white children of privilege). Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked her, “If confirmed, will you insist upon equal accountability in any K-12 school or education program that receives taxpayer funding whether public, public charter, or private?”
    DeVos” “I support accountability.”
    Kaine: “Equal accountability?”
    DeVos: “I support accountability.”
    Kaine: “Is that a yes or a no?
    DeVos: “I support accountability.”
    Kaine went to another question: “Should all schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act?”
    DeVos: “I think that’s best left to the states.”
    Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) had a question: “Do you think that guns have any place in our schools?”
    DeVos: “I think that’s best left for localities and states to decide.”
    Murphy pressed on, “You can’t say definitively that guns shouldn’t be allowed in schools?”
    DeVos said she deferred to Sen. Enzi (R-WY), and mentioned a school in Wapiti, WY, that might want to have a gun handy “in case of grizzlies.” Really. Grizzlies. This is unbearable.

    Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), nominee for Secretary of HHS (Health & Human Services) hates Obamacare. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) asked him, “Do you believe that health care is a right of all Americans, whether they’re rich or poor?”
    Price: “We are a compassionate society . . .”
    Sanders: “No, we are not a compassionate society,” and mentioned that the U.S. is the only one of the developed nations that doesn’t recognize this right.
    Price: “We want every single American to have access to the highest quality health care.”
    Bernie exposed the weasel word “access,” which means anyone can walk into a doctor’s office or clinic, but that doesn’t mean they can afford the care. Anyone can go the ER, and either they’re stuck with a huge bill they can’t afford, or the rest of us pay for it with higher premiums and deductibles. Then it was Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) turn. She asked him about the budget he approved as Chair of the House Budget Committee calling for cuts over the next decade of $449 billion to Medicare and $1 trillion to Medicaid. “Is that right?” she asked.
    Price: “You have the numbers before you.”
    Warren: “Is that a yes?”
    Price: “You have the numbers before you.”
    Warren: “I’ll take that as a yes.”
    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asked him whether it was true that “President Trump said he’s working with you on a replacement plan for the ACA which is nearly finished and will be revealed after your confirmation.”
    Price: “It’s true that he said that, yes.” (laughter) It went on like that. And there’s still the matter of Price buying stock in a company that makes hip and knee replacements, then six days later introducing a bill delaying a regulation that would have cost them money.

    Rex Tillerson is CEO of Exxon-Mobil, the world’s largest privately-held oil company, and the nominee for Secretary of State. His company has a $500 billion investment in Russian oil, except for those pesky sanctions.  Putin likes him, and awarded him Russia’s highest award for non-citizens, the Order of Friendship. Also, we now know that Exxon knew 40 years ago their industry would heat up the planet, but instead hired scientists to prostitute themselves by denying their own science. Tillerson was asked about that by Sen. Kaine:
    Tillerson: “I’m in no position to speak on behalf of company executives [like himself!]. You would have to speak to them.”
    Kaine kept on as Tillerson kept dodging, and finally asked, “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to do so?”
    Tillerson responded, “A little of both.”

    Are you sensing a pattern here? But let’s get to the main entrée — Rick Perry. He may be the 2nd dumbest man in Texas (no one will ever beat Louie Gohmert). Perry is the former Governor of Texas, but his last job was as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.” In a 2011 GOP presidential debate he tried to list the three government agencies he would cut: “Education, uh, Commerce, and uh . . .” He couldn’t remember the third. “Oops,” he said, and that was the end of his candidacy. The agency he couldn’t recall is the very one he has been nominated to head — Energy. At the time he was nominated, he thought it was like a “good will ambassador to the oil and gas industry.” He had no idea its main function is to monitor the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Oops. The last two heads were Ernest Moniz, Chair of Physics at M.I.T., and Stephen Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Perry got a B.A. from Texas A&M in Animal Husbandry. He took four courses in chemistry and got 2 Cs, a D, and an F. He also got a D in a course called “Meats.” I swear, I’m not making any of this up! As Bill Maher said, “He may not know what a centrifuge is, but he can jerk off a horse.”
    This whole wrecking crew will be confirmed, every one, because the Senate has the majority, and confirmations for cabinet positions cannot be filibustered.  This is due to a rule change by then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in 2013. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that the Democrats would regret that decision, and maybe sooner than they think. And here we are. But don’t worry, little sheep. Did your President not say during his Inauguration speech, “Hear these words: you will never be ignored again!” So do not trouble yourselves. He cares for you so much that he has appointed a pack of hungry wolves to look after you, and keep you from any harm.

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Signs of the Times — the Women’s Marches

Signs of the Times — the Women’s Marches

(lovingly dedicated to Jill & Lauren, two of my fierce heroes)

    Women are fed up with men’s bullshit, which goes all the way back to the Old Testament, at least. They’re tired of male privilege, tired of having Republicans looking up their skirts (because they’re still searching for a clue), tired of the patriarchal rape culture. So when a disgusting pig and unregistered, admitted sex predator was elected president, perhaps a suitable response was inevitable (except the 42% who voted for him). Hell hath no fury like 150 million women scorned. The Woman’s March on Washington took place Jan. 21, 2017, the day after der Gropenfuhrer was inaugurated. Other cities took up the call; about 600 women’s marches worldwide, from Alaska to Antarctica (!). I watched all day, marveling at the seemingly endless variety of terrific signs. And unlike the Tea Party rallies, no spelling errors! It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a few well-chosen words speak volumes. But enough of my rambling; the women speak for themselves. Caution: adult language and themes.
    I thought “It’s day one and I’ve had enough” set the general tone nicely.
    “My arms are tired from holding this sign since the 1960s” provided historical perspective.
    A little girl had a sign: “Trump is a Racist Sexist Dicktator,” and on the line below, “Mom says my spelling is fine.”
    There was a sign with a picture of actress Meryl Streep: “What she said.”
    A large circular sign was in embroidery: “I’m so angry I stitched this just so I could stab something 3000 times.”
    “Now you’ve pissed off Grandma!”
    “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit!”
    “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
    “Tiny hands YUUUGE ASSHOLE!”
    “Grab ‘em by the patriarchy”
    “We shall overcomb!”
    “I know signs. I make the best signs. They’re terrific. The best. Everyone agrees.”
    “So many issues — not enough sign”
    “Girls just want to have fun-damental rights”
    “If men could get pregnant abortion would be a sacrament”
    “Let my people go — to Planned Parenthood”
    “Leave it to the beavers”
    “Orange lies matter”
    “I wish my uterus shot bullets so the government wouldn’t regulate it”
    “Make America think again”
    “Donald J. Trump will lie about this”
    There were several drawings of the female reproductive system. One caption was “Shed walls don’t build them” and another, “This machine kills fascists,” echoing the famous line by Woody Guthrie about his guitar. Still another simply said “Hands off.” One had no caption, just a fallopian tube and ovary turned upwards to form the one-finger salute.
    “Feminazis against real Nazis”
    “Twitler”
    “Resistance is fertile”
    “No country for dirty old men”
    “Tweet women with respect”
    “Melania, are you alright? Blink twice for yes”
    “This beaver gives a DAM about reproductive rights”
    Two versions of this one: “Super callous fragile ego Trump you are atrocious” and “Super Callous Fascist Racist Extra Braggadocious!”
    “Don’t call Trump a huge pussy. He lacks the depth and warmth”
    It wasn’t just women’s issues, either: A woman held up a sign with Arabic writing. Beneath it were the words: “Misogyny kills.” A young Middle-Eastern man, looking like maybe a student, had a sign: “My Muslim registry is with Macy’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond” and an elderly Asian woman in a wheelchair held hers up: “Locked up by US Prez. Never again!” A man had a weekly calendar: “Mon- be gay, Tue – Tacos, Wed – be gay, Thu – be gay, Fri – be gay, Sat – be gay, Sun – be gay” and called it “The Gay Agenda.” Another woman’s sign: “My great grandmother didn’t escape Warsaw for this!”
    “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn!”
    “If you take away my birth control I’ll just make more feminists”
    “We were served a LEMON but will make lemonade,” showing hands upraised, each squeezing a lemon.
    “Tinkle, tinkle, little czar, Putin put you where you are”
    “Orange is NOT the new Barack”
    “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA”
    “Is this fake news?”
    With a picture of the White House: “Sex offenders cannot live in government housing”
    There was a poster of the Statue of Liberty being groped by Trump. Another of Lady Liberty said: “I’m with her”
    “Hell yes we’re Ovary-Acting!” was brilliant.
    “A woman’s place is in the RESISTANCE” with photo of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.
    Photos of Paul Ryan, Trump, and Mike Pence with caption: “Doctors agree that douches are bad for women’s health”
    An evolution diagram, left to right: A standing Lincoln, a crouching Nixon, and Trump crawling on all fours.
    “If I make my uterus a corporation, will you stop regulating it?”
    “I did not come from your rib. You came from my vagina”
    “Think outside of my box”
    “No more coat hangers!”
    “Women’s rights are not up for grabs”
    “Keep your theology out of my biology”
    A sign with the GOP elephant: “We need to talk about the elephant in the womb.”
    A woman wearing a Trump scarf yelled out of a car window, “If you all had jobs, you wouldn’t be out here doing this mess,” and a woman walking by said, “Bitch — it’s Saturday!” The D.C. march drew half a million. That’s roughly twice the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, but size doesn’t matter, does it Donald? There was a terrific lineup of speakers and music, and not a single arrest. This idea was birthed (because women are the givers of life) election night by a grandmother in Hawaii, who posted on her Facebook page that women should march in Washington on or near the inauguration. Like a stone thrown into a pool, the ripples spread, it went viral, and soon state chapters went up. The rest is now U.S. history. I found myself wondering how many times “The Vagina Monologues” were performed.
    I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pussy hats. Pink, knit, with cat’s ears. That idea was born Thanksgiving weekend, and was another stone thrown into another pool. It was in part a response to that part of the anatomy the Lyin’ King bragged about grabbing. People around the country made them, and a social media platform, Ravely, is offering free downloads of the pattern. They’re also available for sale on etsy.com in a great variety of styles and prices. I’m thinking of getting one.
    There were the usual comments by the more neolithic males. John Carman, a NJ government official, tweeted: “Just asking, will the women’s march end in time for them to cook dinner?” IN State Senator Jack Sandlin tweeted: “In one day, Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in 8 years.” Ironically, responses like these only prove the necessity of this resistance. For me, the sign with a quote by Dr. Angela Davis summed it up: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

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