Did You Know?

Did You Know?

    I love learning new things, from the latest scientific discovery to the curiosities that make me say, “Hmm.” For example, in 1865, when Teddy Roosevelt was six years old, he watched the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln in New York City. I find these things fascinating, like the fact that Harvard University is 155 years older than America, having been founded in 1636. That one amazed me. As a side note, Harvard had only 27 presidents in 371 years, until 2007. In that year Drew Gilpin Faust became the first woman to hold that esteemed position.
    Let’s take another look at the sun and moon. You’ve all seen a full moon, and seen the sun behind some clouds. They look about the same size in the sky. During a total lunar eclipse, the disk of the moon completely covers the disk of the sun for a few moments. Because the moon’s orbit isn’t exactly circular, at times the disk doesn’t completely cover the sun, and you can see the brightness in a circle around it: an anular eclipse. But mostly they’re the same size in the sky. That’s because while the sun’s diameter is 400 times that of the moon, it’s also 400 times farther away. Coincidence or divine plan? Neither, actually. When it was formed from the collision of a Mars-sized body and Earth, it was much closer and rotated. At present it’s gravitationally locked, so that we always see the same face, but we are losing the moon at the rate of several inches per year, so we should enjoy it while we can.
    Did you know that America has a goddess? Her name is Columbia, a feminization of Columbus. Washington, D.C. is in the District of Columbia, the district of the goddess. Since 1863 a statue of her has adorned the top of our nation’s capitol building. There was even a law that no building in the city could be higher that her head. Congress had to grant a waiver in 1885 in order to erect the phallic Washington Monument. Her origins are steeped in myth and lore, but this was the historical and poetic name for the young United States. She appeared on our coins, from the St. Gaudens gold dollar, to the Liberty quarter, to the walking Liberty 50 cent piece until the 1960s. She’s the goddess of liberty and freedom, and her historical antecedents can be found in the English Brittania and the French Marianne, which themselves derive from the Roman goddess Libertas.  After 1920 she was replaced as goddess by the Statue of Liberty, which again reflects the archetype.
    You may not be familiar with the name Marni Nixon, who left us in July of 2016, at the age of 86. She was an excellent singer, with a beautiful and bright tone, and she was a dubbing artist. Do you remember the musical “My Fair Lady?” That wasn’t Audrey Hepburn’s voice, it was Marni Nixon’s. It wasn’t Deborah Kerr singing to Yul Brynner in “The King and I,” it was Marni. And in my favorite musical, “West Side Story,” she dubbed the voice of Natalie Wood and some of Rita Moreno’s songs, as well. Dubbing artists never got royalties, that’s just the way it was then. Marni was the first, and then only because the composer, Leonard Bernstein, ceded some of his own royalties to her.
    I just heard of it recently, though it happened in January, 2016. Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, made the game of chess forbidden in Islam. He said it “encourages gambling and is a waste of time” (what, as opposed to religion?). He went on to say it is “a cause of hatred and enmity” (what, as opposed to religion?). The fundamentalists of Islam are no different than those of other religions; the idea of anyone having fun just makes them crazy.
    We all remember the missile strike on a Syrian airfield ordered by our Great Leader in response to a chemical weapons attack. Did you know those Tomahawk cruise missiles are manufactured by the defense contractor Raytheon? And did you know that the Blow Dried Blowhard has stock in Raytheon? That wouldn’t represent any conflict of interest or anything, would it, since Raytheon’s stock went up sharply following the strike? Naturally, the first entirely for-profit presidency benefits daughter Ivanka as well. A Washington Post article in April said that Chinese workers who make her clothing line work about 60 hours per week for about $60 a week. That’s a dollar an hour. And we already knew her father’s clothing line is made in a dozen foreign countries. So much for “America First!”
    Have you ever had problems with your shoelaces becoming untied? I have a pair which, no matter how tightly I reef them down, keep coming untied. At last, now we know the science behind this mystery. Mechanical engineers at UC Berkeley studied the problem, and just published a paper on the subject in Nature. They found that when walking, the combination of the impact of the foot and the acceleration on the shoelace loops equals about 7g’s, roughly the same as an Apollo spacecraft upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Both elements –– foot impact and the whipping motion of the shoelaces — are necessary to the process. So I guess loafers or slip-ons are the way to go.
    I like spiders, and think they’re really cool. Now comes a new joint study at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and Lund University in Sweden, that tells us spiders eat between 400 and 800 million tons of food every year. That’s more than the 287 million tons that are the total weight of the 7 billion humans on the planet. It’s okay, though, as long as we don’t kill all the insects they eat. Then they might get hungry for bigger game.
    Dr. Samuel West’s dream is about to come true. The Museum of Failure is due to open this June in Helsingborg, Sweden. It celebrates the idea that bad ideas are essential to future product innovation. There you will find New Coke (one of the worst ideas ever), Crystal Pepsi, “Trump: the Game,” Sony Betamax, Colgate (yes, the toothpaste company) pizza, Bic for Her, and a Harley-Davidson perfume. Google Glass is there too. West said he first conceived the idea during a visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships, in Croatia. I’m going to predict another future entry, Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans, which come pre-caked with dirt and grime, only $425. I assume it’s for folks who want to look like they actually work for a living, without leaving to leave their BMWs.
    A PPP (Public Policy Polling) poll in August, 2016 found that 31% of Trump supporters were in favor of building a wall along the Atlantic coast, to keep Muslims from coming in from the Middle East. That’s why there was a March for Science on Earth Day, April 22nd.
    Have you heard of the Wind Phone? It’s in Otsuchi, Japan. and looks like an English phone booth (think Dr. Who), but is white with glass panes, and a shallow dome on top. It was installed in 2010 by Itaru Sasaki, a 70-year-old gardener, after the death of a close cousin. It is a rotary dial phone, and unconnected. In a documentary by NHK, the Japanese media company, Sasaki said he did it “because my thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line. I wanted them to be carried on the wind.” The phone booth sits on a grassy hill overlooking the sea. A year after he put it there, the earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima. Otsuchi, a village of about 1200, is only 135 miles to the North, and lost over a thousand people to the tsunami. The idea of keeping in touch with dead relatives is not that strange in Japan. Word began to spread, and by 2014 over 10,000 people had visited the shrine, to have their voices carried on the wind.
    That’s a good place to leave off. And you learned a few things that maybe you didn’t know.M/p>

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Understanding Trump Supporters

Understanding Trump Supporters

    I want to begin by stating that not all Trump supporters are deplorables. Hillary Clinton put the number at half, but I think that’s too high. I’d say that racists, bigots, and xenophobes only make up about a third, which roughly matched his approval rating before he bombed Syria. That leaves about 22 million non-deplorables who voted for him. I know some of these people, and in every other respect they appear reasonably sane. Many of them voted twice for Obama, and some of them were even Bernie Sanders supporters before he got screwed by the Democratic Party and the media. How can we account for this?
    First, we should look for similarities. Barack Obama burst onto the scene with his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. He seemed different than the political establishment, and in 2008 campaigned that way. He promised hope and change, remember? And then didn’t deliver; it was more of the usual. Bill Clinton was much the same in 1992, coming out of nowhere, promising change. Read the “New Covenant” speech as he gave as he accepted the nomination. They both governed as moderate Republicans, the political establishment. Bernie Sanders came out of nowhere, and promised change, drew huge and enthusiastic crowds, and was shut out of media coverage and party support. Ironically, he was the one candidate who could have delivered change. All these people campaigned as the outsider choice. And so did Donald Trump. So when Bernie was no longer available, they went for the other outsider.
    What’s all this change stuff? Americans may be lethally ignorant, but even they can tell when they’re getting screwed in the ass (there’s a recurring pain and soreness back there). Since the Reagan years, they’ve been working harder and harder, and getting less and less; less pay, less benefits, less health coverage. After being lied to by establishment politicians, they went again for the outsider. The alternative was Hillary; pure establishment, and one of the most polarizing figures in modern political history. She was a lousy candidate and ran a terrible campaign. She should have been able to beat a chump like Trump with one pantsuit leg tied behind her back. But the electorate was in a foul mood, and they went for the wild card, the Joker. They were Charlie Brown running up to kick the football, and Lucy jerked it away, and down went on his ass, again. And that’s where America is now, flat on her ass. It’s tempting for progressives to look down on these people. I mean, how could anyone in their right mind possibly vote for such a train wreck? One pundit used the metaphor of Trump being the electorate’s Molotov cocktail.
    Arlie Russell Hochshild is a professor emeriti in sociology at UC Berkeley. She thought she could only get to understand the minds of Middle America by meeting and talking to them. After five years in Louisiana (“I wanted the reddest state I could find,” she said), in something like 60 conversations with 40 people, she ended up writing a book: Strangers inTheir Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. She talks about a “deep story,” meaning as-if-were-true, these people tell themselves, in the form of a metaphor. They’ve worked hard all their life, did all the right things, obeyed the rules, and now they’re standing in a long line. The line leads to the horizon, which is the American Dream. But other people keep cutting in line; women taking what were formerly men’s jobs, minorities getting advantages from the government in the form of affirmative action, immigrants coming from South of the border taking way jobs. And the President seems to be waving them in. Hey, how did he get from being raised by a single mother to Columbia Law School? He must have cut into the line himself. And he seems to be on the side of the “other” line cutters.
    This is a powerful narrative. Did I mention these are mostly white people? I would have thought it was obvious. They are fed up with political correctness: “You can’t even say Merry Christmas any more,” they’ll say. They don’t like the idea of having to take government handouts like food stamps and unemployment. They want honest work for honest pay. Hochshild makes lots of good points I think we can all identify with. I grew up in a small town in Wyoming. That’s as red a state as it gets, too. Sure, there were some racists and some jackasses, too. Most of them didn’t have a college education, and many didn’t keep up with current news or politics that didn’t affect them. But they were honest, hard-working people you could be proud to have as neighbors.
    Matt Taibbi is an excellent political writer for The Rolling Stone. I’ve been reading him for years, and just finished his latest book: Insane Clown President, about the Trump Campaign. He writes about how Democrats, traditional supporters of the working class, abandoned them for the banksters. With the weakening of the unions and their funding, they turned to Wall Street. They began courting the professional class; teachers, doctors, attorneys, and the like. In doing so, from once being the party of Allentown, PA, or Camden, NJ, they became the party of Martha’s Vineyard. Democrats are largely responsible for Trump being elected. Bernie was the people’s candidate with the most progressive agenda. If the party had gotten behind him, it would have been a wave election, and we would easily have regained the Senate, if not the House. But no, they went for Hillary — after all, it was her turn, she was somehow entitled to the nomination.
    Look up an electoral map of the last election, or most any of them. The blue states are in the Northeast and along the Pacific coast. With but few exceptions, everything in the middle is red. These people see themselves referred to by the media as “flyover states.” They’re mocked, ridiculed, and laughed at. No wonder they see the media as elites, part of the establishment, and they are correct. Everyone you see on the mass media, whether it’s CNN, ABC, or even Fox, are all millionaires. The status quo is just fine with them; it keeps them well-fed and happy. They don’t care any more about Middle America than the politicians. Through all his divisive, hate-filled campaign, Trump did get one thing right — the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against poor and working people. And that’s why so many otherwise intelligent people voted for this con man. It was out of desperation. Maybe this time, they thought, or made themselves think. You want proof the system is rigged? Bernie Sanders is not President of the United States right now. Americans are figuring out that the media is part of the rigged system.
    It’s not just a matter of left and right, either. Many Middle Americans bristle at city folks. Look again at that electoral map. Nearly all the blue areas are in the large concentrations of big cities on the coasts. There’s resentment of city people by those in rural areas, who believe they’ve been ignored; by the government, by politicians, and by the media, all of whom are big city dwellers who are out of touch with the “real” people. So during the election we heard people saying, “We don’t have a voice anymore, and Donald Trump is giving us a voice.” And that feeling was so strong that millions of voters were willing, even if reluctantly, to ignore this man’s bigotry, racism, and his treatment of women. That’s how we got stuck with a lying, temperamental child in the Oval Office. Now let us hope that the price of our collective stupidity doesn’t end up getting us all killed.

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Science Marches On

Science Marches On

(dedicated to William Fassbender, my high school science teacher)

    Saturday, April 22, was Earth Day (unfortunately, she’s lucky to even get one day), and in conjunction with it was the March For Science in Washington, D.C. Worldwide, up to 500 cities participated with marches of their own. It had been planned for months in response to the Trump administration’s anti-science agenda. The President’s budget plan calls for a 31% cut in the EPA, 21% to the Dept. of Agriculture, 18% to the National Institute of Health, billions in cuts to NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and cuts to funding for NASA’s weather satellites, to mention a few. We have seen by Trump’s cabinet appointments, as well as statements from the White House, that the agenda is to severely curtail regulations meant to keep all Americans healthy and safe from environmental hazards. Think of “regulations” as protections. Scientists aren’t usually political, but they can see the peril we’re in better than most of us. As Rockefeller University neurologist Erich Jarvis said, “You know something is wrong when people around the world must protest for science.” Indeed. Of all the times in history, for the world leader in climate research and innovation to embrace alternative facts and belief in Bronze Age superstition couldn’t possibly have come at a worse time.
    This wasn’t just a march for science, but for reason and sanity. America has currently backslid into a Dark Age of irrationality, and along with it distrust for pointy-headed scientists who think they know everything. That isn’t true, but it is the perception. It’s been fed by propaganda from the fossil fool industry and the billionaire class, who want to loot and plunder the only home we have, for profit. For them to succeed they need science to be ignored, if not silenced.
    Since a march for science is by “nature” replete with nerds, clever signage was to be expected. They did not disappoint.
    “Science not silence”
    “In science we trust”
    “Science >(symbol for greater than) shit you read on Twitter”
    “Got plague? Me, neither. Thanks, science!”
    “Alternative facts are (square root of -1, an imaginary number). I first heard about this in high school, and we’d go around saying, “Once upon a time there was the square root of -1.”
    [citation needed] — Another in-joke. Many criticized the smugness and superiority they felt from these arrogant know-it-alls. True or not, it has nothing to do with the science.
    “Trump’s people are like atoms. They make up everything.”
    “Grab ‘em by the data”
    “No science, no beer”
    “The oceans are rising, and so are we”
    “Alternative energy = jobs. Alternative facts = lies”
    “Think while it’s still legal”
    “Physics makes the world go round”
    I loved this one: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate”
    “Dear climate: you have changed”
    “May the forest be with you”
    Santa Claus was at the D.C. march, too, with a sign: “My workshop is MELTING. Only science can save Christmas”
    “Up and atom (with symbol of atom). It’s time to march for science”
    “Time to react” (with Erlenmeyer flask bubbling)
    “Defiance for science”
    “Trump doesn’t believe in climate change because he can’t imagine anything hotter than his daughter” Ouch.
    There were several signs with photos of Earth from space. One said “I’m with her,” another admonished us to “Listen to your Mother,” while another was “Defend not defund”
    “Trump — Peer Reviewed Imbecile”
    “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again”
    “They told me to bring a sine” (with picture of a sine wave)
    My favorite of all was, “What do we want? Evidence based science! When do we want it? After peer review!”
    I went to the march in my hometown, a little disappointed in the turnout — maybe 70 people for a city of 200,000. My sign was a parody of the Christian fish symbol. Down by the tail it also had rocket fins, and inside was the word SCIENCE. There were as many women as men, and many children, a good sign. Afterward, I was talking to several people, and a young lady in her twenties came up and asked about my sign. I explained that it represented science over belief systems, and we talked for awhile. She’s in her third year, majoring in cultural anthropology. Since there’s no area of science that I’m not passionate about, I asked if she was aware of the many recent discoveries about Neanderthals, as we talked more. Finally, I told her my name and she told me hers: Sagan. I said “No way! You mean . . .” and she said “Yes, Carl Sagan.” So I had little choice but to do my excellent Carl Sagan impersonation for her.
    I watched hours of coverage from D.C. on YouTube, while tweets appeared on the screen. One that caught my eye: “I was planning to come to the march, but my horoscope says that Mercury is in retrograde [which it is].” Again, gender numbers were pretty equal, with lots of children. This is even more important to them, after all. Did the marches accomplish anything, other than making people feel good about themselves? It’s too soon to tell, and many other scientists criticized the idea, saying that science shouldn’t get involved in politics. I disagree. Everything is political now. Eating is a political act, says Michael Pollan. If you care about GMOs or pesticide use, that’s political. That’s why last Saturday was another event — the People’s Climate March, also centered in D.C. but also worldwide.
    One sign said “Make America smart again.” I remember when the Russians sent up Sputnik in 1957, and we all freaked out. What followed — under a Republican President — was an all-out push for science, engineering, technology, and math, what we refer to today as STEM. It seemed like everyone in college was either in the sciences or engineering. Back then, believe it or not, it was really cool to be smart. Now we have a President who is one of the stupidest sons of bitches I’ve ever seen, who doesn’t read, isn’t curious, unable to form a coherent sentence, and clearly places his own self interest above the country. And we have a Vice President who is a raving Christo-fascist. Speaking truth to power is all we have left. That’s what Galileo did, and by the way, it took the Roman Catholic Church 400 years before they finally apologized.
    Science is an imperfect study, and scientists are themselves imperfect. Are they morally responsible if so many of their discoveries are weaponized? Maybe that’s for philosophers to debate. Like any other profession, science has its hierarchies and a stubborn orthodoxy. When one climate scientist’s data showed that climate change has not increased the severity and numbers of hurricanes as had been predicted, he was vilified by much of the scientific community as a climate denier. Science shouldn’t be thought of as a set of facts, but an ongoing search for truth. Don’t be fooled by criticisms that scientists won’t debate with flat-earthers. That’s called false equivalence; it’s like having a firefighter debate an arsonist. Science is grounded in reason, and reason demands questioning, whether it be of ideas or authority.
    Perhaps another sign sums up my own feelings: “Don’t trust scientists? Then return your smartphone, Wi-Fi, GPS, microwave, weather forecasts and storm warnings, TV, radio, MRI, the internet, electric lighting, antibiotics, satellites, cars, trains, and airplanes.”
 
    Science is basically an inoculation against charlatans. — Neil deGrasse Tyson

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America Has a Koch Problem

America Has a Koch Problem

    This country has been the victim of a slow-motion corporate coup, by not only the Koch brothers but other billionaires with the same anti-government agenda. Charles and David Koch are America’s 5th and 6th richest people, each worth about $50 billion. Koch Industries is the nation’s 2nd largest privately held corporation (Cargill is #1). If you use paper products by Georgia-Pacific, Brawny paper towels, Great Northern quilted toilet tissue, you’re putting more money in their pockets. They are also huge funders of Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, the State Policy Network, and ALEC, the American Legislative Executive Council. ALEC is a group of lobbyists and legislators (nearly all Republicans) who craft bills ready to introduce. They’re the ones behind all those voter ID laws, and now new ones being introduced in 18 states, that would criminalize peaceful protest. That’s the very definition of fascism, the merger of state and corporations. Their tentacles reach so far and wide it’s known as the Kochtopus.
    Look again at the new Cabinet. Betsy DeVos, the billionaire advocate of private charter schools and the end of public education, heads the Dept. of Education. Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, Alabama racist supreme heads the Dept of Justice. Greg Pruitt, who has sued the EPA 14 times, now heads that agency, and look at all the regulations being done away with already. Then there’s Rick Perry to head the Energy Dept. Perry, who doesn’t even know which end the bullet comes out from, didn’t even know the agency’s first priority is to monitor the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The list goes on and on. Now think about what de facto president Steve Bannon said publicly at the conservative CPAC convention in February, that their goal is “deconstruction of the administrative state.” That means the end of Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, the IRS (libertarians hate taxes), the EPA, FDA, and everything else but police, courts, and the military. This has been a long term dream for the fascists, and I’ll give them this; they do know how to play the long game. In 1980 David Koch ran as VP candidate for the Libertarian Party’s quest for the presidency. I’m going to list some items from the official party platform, which you can easily find. I want you to see how much of it sounds like what is happening now, and what is about to happen.

    We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Elections Commission.
    We favor the abolition of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
    We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.
    We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in it should be made voluntary.
    We propose the abolition of the government Postal Service. Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.
    We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.
    We advocate the complete separation of education and state. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.
    We support the abolition of the Environmental Pollution Agency.
    We support the abolition of the Department of Energy.
    We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Agency.
    We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.
    We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.
    We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and “aid to the poor” programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.
    We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
    We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
    We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.
    We support repeal of all law which impedes the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws and unemployment insurance.

    Grover Norquist has long ties with the Kochs. He runs Americans for Tax Reform, which demands all Republicans sign the pledge to never raise taxes of face a primary challenge in the next election. He’s famous for saying he wants to shrink government to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub. He has also said, as regards the presidency, “All we need is someone who can handle a pen,” a useful idiot. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more useful and idiotic president than this pussy grabber-in-chief. Ironically, he wasn’t even backed by the Koch brothers, who in the spring of 2015 brazenly announced they were going to sink $889 million into the general election. At one point they even said they may back Hillary rather than Trump. And when the Republicans’ replacement bill for health care was about to be voted on in the House, the Kochs promised members of the Freedom Caucus (formerly the Tea Party Caucus) that if they didn’t vote for the bill, the Kochs would fund their reelection campaigns in seven figure amounts. The bill wasn’t severe enough for them.
    But Trump doesn’t need the Kochs. He has his own billionaire sugar daddy, Robert Mercer, another secretive, high-functioning psychopath. Mercer made his fortune by revolutionizing computational linguistics and using it in hedge funds. He’s a major funder of Cambridge Analytica, a big voter data mining operation. Though he doesn’t give interviews, Mercer has said that anyone on welfare represents a “negative asset” and that someone making 1000 times the salary of a teacher has 1000 times the value. The clinical language in reference to the needy is typical of the sociopathic personality.
    After Andrew Breitbart died in 2012, Steve Bannon took over Breitbart News, and Mercer donated $10 million to rejuvenate the site.. Today it’s the primary alt-Right website, and the 29th largest website in the U.S.by traffic usage. His daughter Rebekkah is one of Trump’s White House policy advisors. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s spokesbimbo, formerly ran one of Mercer’s Super PACs, when he was still supporting Ted Cruz.
    The point is that the Kochs, Mercers, and other billionaire pillagers of the economy like Paul “the Vulture” Singer, Sheldon Adelson, Harold Hamm, Peter G. Petersen, have the same ultimate goal: rendering government impotent to protect the people from their predations. That poor man dragged off a United Airlines because they’d overbooked? That’s how all corporations can treat us, without federal regulations to contain them. And now they’re holding all the cards. This would all be bad enough by itself, but wait — it gets even worse. You need to know about something called the convention of states. Since that first constitutional convention in 1787, when the founders drew up the original document with the first ten amendments — The Bill of Rights — every new amendment was drafted and passed by the House and Senate, by the required 2/3 vote. Then ¾ of the states, or 38, would have to ratify it. But Article V mentions another way to pass amendments — by a convention of the states. Again, a 2/3 vote would be required, or 34 states. Congress is not involved, but any amendment must again be ratified by 38 states. Right now Republicans have control of both legislatures in 32 states. They only need two more. Governors don’t come into it at all, neither does Congress.
    This is what the Kochs have been working on for decades, between funding of both ALEC and the State Policy Initiative. The long term goal is to change the Constitution. For example, the stats could abolish the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press and of the people to freely assemble. They could abolish the 4th, which guarantees us freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures, though one could say that one’s pretty much gone, anyway. They could do whatever they wanted. By the time this convention of states happens, I can assure you they will have the 38 states needed to ratify. If we are going to stop this creeping fascism, we’re going to have to get active on many levels. I’m not sure it will do any good, but all we have left to fight with is massive civil disobedience. It’s an inconvenient truth, but no authoritarian government has ever given up power without bloodshed. I hope it won’t come to that, but I’m pretty sure it will. These kinds of tyrannies never last, because people refuse to be treated like rubbish. But they always do a lot of damage before they fall. Here’s an idea: maybe those 91 million Americans who sat on their fat asses instead of voting last November can get a little more involved next time.

    Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

— John F. Kennedy, 1962

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Some Positive Aspects of Trumpageddon

Some Positive Aspects of Trumpageddon

    Our world is in turmoil as never before; civil wars, Islamic terrorism, global warming, Wall Street and world bankers’ unregulated piracy threatening to collapse the global economy. What wise and visionary leader will come forth to usher our nation and the world into a new age so full of potential, and yet so fraught with danger? But what did we get? Trump — the sound of shit dropping into a bucket. That can’t be right. I thought humans had an innate instinct for self-preservation. This is even worse than putting a gun to our heads and pulling the trigger, because we’re still here (at least for now). If anyone had any lingering doubts that America is the stupidest country in history, we just made an obese, petulant, mentally unhinged child narcissist the most powerful man in the world. What could possibly go wrong? So far, just about everything. The first Muslim ban, the botched Yemen raid, the second Muslim ban, the epic failure of the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act; everything this orange clown touches turns to shit. He’s the antithesis of King Midas. Many people are worried, and with good reason, about the effects the Trump presidency will have on the nation, not to mention all life on Earth. It’s so easy to get so caught up in despair and cynicism that we miss the good things this colossal train wreck will bring. I hope to ease your minds with the many positive aspects of our present situation.
    The week before the inauguration, sales of poster boards and paint markers (for making protest signs) increased by 30%. Every indication shows that while this orangutan’s ass remains in power, there will be more and more protests. This will necessitate creating new jobs in those industries in order to keep up with consumer demand.
    At least, Hillary isn’t President!
    So far, every policy this administration has put forth has ended with an unmitigated disaster. In nearly every case, this has been good for the country. So be of good cheer.
    Now that the Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House, they’ll no longer have any excuse for sitting on their fat asses while not being able to get anything done. Again, this is good for the country, because whenever they do accomplish anything, it’s usually bad for most Americans.
    After years of politically correct oppression by the left, we can all say “Merry Christmas” again. In fact, it will be mandatory.
    Trump is going to make America great again. Isn’t that great?
    His presidency will make us appreciate how great it was to have a real president, like Barack Obama, who actually knew what the hell he was doing.
    We’ll all be able to spend more time with our children, because they’ll be working right alongside us down in the coal mines. I wonder, how long does it take a 10-year-old to develop black lung? But then, that can’t happen with “clean” coal, can it?
    Stop worrying about the environment; Trump is going to replace it with something really terrific. Now that he’s exposed climate change as a hoax, we can get back to what we do best — tearing up the earth for fossil fuels. At the same time, we can finally put an end to that scourge of the Arctic, the polar bear (they eat people!). Nor do we have to worry about rising sea levels, because Noah is coming back with a really big-ass ark. And you know what they say — a rising sea level lifts all arks. Plus, if you always wanted a house on the water, your dream could come true in just a few years, even if you live in Kansas.
    Since we now have an admitted, unregistered sexual offender in the White House, it will legitimize sexual assault in the minds of many men. As a result, this will lead to an increase in women taking self-defense courses, which in turn will lead to positive “impacts” in some hopefully very sensitive areas of the male anatomy. They all have it coming.
    All crime will be a thing of the past, because he’s going to bring back law and order, by God. Well, of course not for white people — I mean, c’mon!
    Now that corporate taxes will be reduced from 35% to 15%, think of all the jobs they’ll create! Well, there’s always a first time.
    Always remember, bullshit is the best fertilizer.
    Now that the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare has died from a pre-existing condition (everybody hated it), 24 million Americans will still have health care (thanks, Tea Party Caucus for voting against it because it wasn’t mean enough).  It will also allow the Republicans to focus on other key issues, such as giving more tax cuts to the rich, and finding new female body parts to regulate.
    At long last, Republicans can realize their dream of helping Americans to realize their full individual potential, by stopping the government from giving money and social services to people who really need it. You’re on your own, folks.
    This means that many Trump voters are about to get educated on what it feels like to be screwed with their pants on, and more education is always good. Also, Democrats are going to gain a lot of voters in the next election, presuming there is one.
    Because facts will no longer matter, everyone will have the freedom to believe any cockamamie idea or conspiracy theory they find on the internet.
    Evangelists almost universally voted for this morally bankrupt obscenity that is now prowling around the White House, proving to everyone what shameless hypocrites they’ve always been.
    Thanks to Twitter, every American can always know exactly what their President is thinking at any time, especially around 3:00 a.m.
    Every time the President of the Small Men’s Penis Club says something, either on camera or on Twitter, we’ll all get to feel just a little smarter.
    We won’t have to take any more shit from China, except for Trump’s and Ivanka’s clothing lines. Oh, and our smartphones. And all the cheap crap at Walmart.
    If you live in America, and you’re Muslim, Jewish, Asian, have black or brown skin, are an immigrant or refugee, or belong to the LGBTQ community, I have good news: Canada isn’t far away. It’s a friendly, inclusive country, where you’ll have the best chance of achieving the American Dream.
    Trump’s candidacy, which led to his becoming the most powerful man in the world, will be an inspiration to pathological liars, sexual predators, and psychopaths everywhere.
    Even if the worst happens, and the Mango Megalomaniac thrusts us all into a thermonuclear war that ends all life as we know it, well, it’ll be over before we even know it.
    The as-seen-on-TV President, as well as Americans as a whole, are bringing the gift of laughter to all the world, and laughter is good for everyone, isn’t it? Note: they are not laughing with us.
    So you see, we should always look on the bright side. Remember, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and every cloud has a mercury lining (CAUTION: mercury is toxic to all living things).

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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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