I hear crickets…

I don’t hide the fact that I occasionally direct my web browser to some right-wing websites to see what they’re talking about. But there was a news story this past week that really intrigued me vis a vis my desire to know what they’re getting outraged over. After all, it pitted two things that get their panties in a twist, into a place where, supporting one would actively mean opposing the other.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there has been absolutely nothing written about it anywhere in the right wing echo chamber. Not even a blurb on Fox News. For the record, I’ve checked Breitbart, Conservapedia, Rapture Ready, Movieguide, Drudge, and, as already mentioned, Fox.

I’m officially giving up on expecting any right-wing pundits to talk about it. There’s no shortage of reasons why we shouldn’t be surprised at it.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, it’s the story of a 17-year-old girl who, in order to protect her identity, is known only as Jane Doe. She arrived in this country illegally and was detained in Texas (the first of the two things mentioned above). After her detention, she learned she was pregnant and sought an abortion (the second thing mentioned above). After weeks of legal wrangling, she had the abortion this past Wednesday.

If she had been forced to give birth in this country, that baby would have become a US citizen. So what’s a xenophobic misogynist to do? Force her to have the baby or let her abort? Find a way to kick her out of the country first?

The shame of this story was that it was even necessary to go through all of the legal proceedings for the abortion in the first place. We can debate whether her detention was warranted — I don’t have enough information on that point, to be honest, to have a real opinion — but why hold her up from a legal procedure that was otherwise available to her?

But the absolute silence from the right on this matter speaks a lot louder than anything they might actually say out loud on either issue raised here. It’s as if they’re incapable of looking beyond only the shallowest or most facile explanations of things……

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Preventing a Repeat

About a month before last year’s election, I wrote a blog entry in which I argued that Donald Trump was the least deserving of being elected president than any other candidate with a legitimate shot at the title, in American history. Looking back on that essay through the lens of hindsight, I may have been too charitable and kind to the man.

Since he took the oath of office, he has carried out petty grudges against anyone who might dare to challenge him, made disaster recovery all about him, engaged in an ongoing attempt to erase the legacy of his predecessor, and generally has been presiding over a degree of corruption in government that could challenge the corrupt legacies of the Grant, Harding, Nixon, and Reagan administrations. And that’s not even getting into the evangelical Christians / theocrats who have been the base of the Republican Party since the Reagan administration and are the primary reason why I can’t vote republican in good conscience and who are the only people applauding his moves.

I sincerely doubt he would pass a middle school-level civics test.

Although there have been rumblings about impeachment and/or the 25th Amendment almost since the day he came into power, that talk has grown in the last week. I want to talk about what happens after that. I think a series of law changes — if not amendments to the constitution — are warranted here.

When the constitution was written, the only requirements surrounding eligibility for the position of president, were being a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and having lived in the country for at least 14 years. The only real change to this since then, was when the 22nd Amendment was passed, limiting the total time in office to ten years. (Although the definition of a natural-born citizen has evolved…)

It seems to me as though these rules need to be modified. Here are some possible modifications we ought to consider:

1. Remove the natural-born citizen requirement. Immigrants who want to become citizens must pass a test, which arguably means they understand the workings of the government and American history better than some natural-born citizens. I see no harm in requiring that naturalized citizens have resided here for a minimum time period (which could easily be two decades or more and which could still restrict which immigrants would even consider running for president) but this rule, which was designed to prevent foreign attempts to manipulate our government from within, seems outdated, especially given the growing evidence that it didn’t really work.

2. Test the candidates. Design an exam that covers the facts of how the constitution operates, facts of American history, and an ability to state matters of current events factually (not solutions to current problems as those would be more subjective but, for example, if a candidate wants to criticize a law or a treaty, he or she needs to be able to explain exactly what that law or treaty does or does not do. A candidate who fails the exam would not be eligible to run during that election cycle.

3. Require the release of candidates’ tax returns. A law like this recently passed the California state assembly, only to be vetoed by California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown’s official argument against it was a slippery slope argument that, quite frankly, if we accept it on face value, should render this entire blog entry moot. I’m not saying there can’t be unintended consequences to this, or any other suggestion I’m making here, but I would like to see future presidents to be culled from the best of the best in this country. I often say that I don’t care for the pledge of allegiance and argue that everything after the word “stands” is factually incorrect. I’m open to debate on whether the USA qualifies as a republic, since the leaders of a republic are generally chosen from amongst the most deserving. Unless you count the ability to raise large sums of campaign cash as a condition of “most deserving”, it could use a little more honing.

4. Require candidates to fully divest themselves of their business interests. This should be self-evident, given that the emoluments clause covers foreign investment. But Trump is making money off of the government without violating the emoluments clause by having republican fundraisers and events at his hotels and by housing the secret service in Trump properties when he or his family are there.

5. Empower fact-checkers to declare official winners and losers of debates. Kind of like the test I mentioned above, but if a candidate proposes a new program without saying how they’d pay for it, or if they say a law or treaty is awful, they’d better be prepared to take a dinging from the fact checkers. Right now, the debates don’t do anything since both sides will argue that they won the debate as soon as it’s over.

There are some other ideas that, if implemented, hypothetically could have prevented Trump’s election but on a higher level won’t necessarily fix the problems in our electoral process that could still be exploited in the future. These ideas include abolishing the electoral college, eliminating the gerrymander, and requiring a maximum number of constituents per representative in the house. (That last one won’t give Wyoming’s electors more per-voter clout than California’s.)

There may be others but this is at least a start.

Rex Appeal

Oliver Stone’s 2008 movie W. portrays the 43rd president as somewhat of a tragic persona, a person who might want to do the right thing despite his own inabilities and shortcomings. It’s an interesting movie to watch, regardless of your opinion of the subject matter.

I say this because there’s some interesting drama playing out in Washington these days, and I can easily envision Stone or some other filmmaker making a similar movie about the embattled Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

It doesn’t take a political scientist to look back at the process leading up to Tillerson’s nomination to the post — for which he would have to leave his role as CEO of ExxonMobil — and see that the nomination was mostly (if not entirely) an effort to undo the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Those sanctions have prevented Exxon from inking a lucrative deal with Russian oil firms.

Then two things happened. First, Tillerson was actually approved as Secretary of State, and second, congress passed a law preventing the sanctions from being lifted without their approval.

With regard to the former event, Tillerson clearly knew going into the position, that there were things about the job that he wasn’t prepared to handle. Despite a bumpy start to things, he does seem to have at least been trying to lead the State Department the way it ought to be run.

With regard to the latter event, it actually freed him a little bit. Knowing he can’t really do anything about Russia, he seems to have sought out things that he can do that might be best for the entire country and not just his former company.

And that freedom has enabled him to speak more freely, including the reports that he called Donald Trump a “fucking moron”. His non-denial of using those words (and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment) only angered Trump more.

That’s not to say he’s been an effective Secretary. His tenure in the government is likely to be quite short (I’m guessing he’ll stay until January or so) and if it’s remembered at all, it will be as a footnote or a cautionary tale about the proper sources of cabinet-level positions.

But I do kind of feel sorry for the man. He’s out of his league and he knows it. He’s trying to do the right things but is hampered by his inexperience, attrition within his department, and, of course, the fucking moron he reports to.

Sounds like the makings of a somewhat engaging movie. Where’s Oliver Stone these days?

Belligerent talk

I’d like to engage in a little bit of revisionist history, or more accurately, contemplating how things would be different today if some major historical event had gone differently than the way it was recorded in history.

I have repeatedly said that, as a nation, the United States should be embarrassed by the fact that it was actually necessary to go to war to end slavery. Furthermore, many of the systemic racism that endures today is at least partially attributable to the fact that we more or less botched the peace during the reconstruction era. (Indeed, the only reason why we are having any debates at all over whether or not the confederate battle flag qualifies as “heritage” is because the losing side of the war was allowed to maintain their symbols through the peace.)

So let’s contemplate something: how would things be different today if, following the election of 1860 and Abraham Lincoln’s victory, the southern states seceded from the union and instead of engaging in a protracted military effort, the northern states effectively said, “Okay. Go. We’re banning slavery here now so if you ever want to come back, you’re going to have to be fine with that.”

Now before I continue, I want to make it clear that in this hypothetical scenario, there would still be animosity on both sides, and likely bloodshed, as incidents like Bleeding Kansas and the raid on Harper’s Ferry from the decade before the war started will attest. As a result, I can’t rule out the possibility, in this alternate timeline, of some isolated fighting and violence — especially on open waters — over slavery. I’m just saying that the war itself doesn’t happen.

Earlier this year I traced the evolution of the Republican Party from its abolitionist roots to its modern racism. In that entry, I noted that what helped the Union win the war had little to do with the moral high ground and everything to do with economics and how the north was better positioned to twist the arms of our allies to favor it over the south in trade and maybe even economic sanctions. I see no reason why this would be any different.

With this in mind, it’s probably reasonable to think that in this alternate timeline, Lincoln wouldn’t have been assassinated, Andrew Johnson would never have been president, reconstruction wouldn’t have happened (and therefore wouldn’t have been messed up), the election of 1876 wouldn’t have been so contentious, and I would hazard a guess that sometime between 1890 and 1910, the southern states would have been in such dire financial straits, they would have begged the north to be readmitted into the union (on the condition, as stated above, that they ratify the 13th amendment banning slavery).

Let’s not contemplate the implications of not having the 14th amendment in this essay… What I’m saying is that the intended result of banning slavery would have been achieved by the time William Howard Taft left office anyway.

So there’s a trade-off: war with all of its pain, suffering, and sorrow, or allowing slavery and the dehumanization of human beings to persist for longer, at least in parts of the country. In 1860, I probably would have said that war was the preferable path. In the hindsight of how badly reconstruction went, I’m not so sure.

That was an interesting thought experiment, to say the least. Feel free to criticize me for taking an overly simplistic view of the way history might have played out (up to and including the assumption that William Howard Taft actually became president) but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Lincoln and his successors could have done some arm twisting with our allies not to engage the south, economically. Especially those that already had a distaste for the institution of slavery. Maybe the southern resentment would still be there.

I mention this because we are at a similar threshold now. It’s much more complicated than it was 150-plus years ago because it is an international, rather than a domestic issue, and nuclear weapons are not off the table. Donald Trump did a lot of sabre-rattling when he spoke to the UN, most of it aimed at North Korea.

His speech was angry, and filled with red meat for his base. He claimed to represent America but he sure as hell didn’t represent me as an American in his speech. Some of his rhetoric was downright embarrassing. But what I want to focus on is the very real threats he aimed at North Korea (and to a lesser extent, Iran and Venezuela).

Kim Jong-Un is not a stupid person. He has seen, under the previous two US presidents, dictators we deposed, and he doesn’t want to go down the same road previously trod by Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi. Without defending those dictators and their actions, they were the victims of American aggression. And it’s not a coincidence that surveys after surveys around the world view the US as the greatest threats to world peace. Kim’s actions clearly demonstrate that he’s unwilling to be to Trump, what those other dictators were to George W Bush and Barack Obama.

There is a truth to the observation that, in the past 60 years, we haven’t really been able to get North Korea in line with, well, the rest of the world, the threat posed by North Korea to the USA and the rest of the world has increased since Barack Obama left office. So I don’t know if negotiations and entente are the correct solution, as that’s how we got here in the first place. But if we launch a strike aimed at Pyongyang, the North Korean military will retaliate. The casualty rate, military and civilian, would be appalling. It will affect both Koreas, China, Japan, possibly Russia, and many US territories in the Pacific Ocean.

There is evidence that the current sanctions against North Korea are working, albeit slowly. And the sanctions are stricter now than they have been at any time since the cessation of hostilities almost 70 years ago. And with a nod to my alternative history, Donald Trump is no Abraham Lincoln. Recent pronouncements of his have demonstrated that, like most bullies, he’s more words than actions. (Is he repealing DACA or isn’t he? Are we pulling out of the Paris Accords or not?)

Donald Trump is playing a dangerous game of chicken. We can debate whether or not letting the southern states secede after the election of an abolitionist president might have been a preferable alternative to war. There are no good arguments for going to war with North Korea, though. I’m not saying the status quo is working, but let’s at least try not to blow up the planet as an alternative.

This shouldn’t even qualify as an opinion piece

I admit it. I stopped paying attention to Lou Dobbs years ago. Before he left CNN for Fox News, actually. According to Wikipedia, that was in 1999. And he was starting to go off the rails back then, seeing immigration as being the biggest scourge of this nation. Late last year, I wrote up some of my thoughts on immigration.

He’s got a new “opinion” piece on Fox Business that’s been trending for reasons I’m honestly not sure I understand. I put the word “opinion” in quotes here because I’m not entirely sure it qualifies as such. You can read it for yourself if you’d like. I’ll wait.

In this article, Dobbs rattles off a laundry list of things that are moving their way through the California state legislature that he clearly doesn’t approve of: the move to declare the entire state a “sanctuary state”, to efforts to protect climate change research, to the requirement that presidential candidates release at least five years worth of tax returns in order to be eligible to appear on the ballots. Once he’s done with that list of things the state is doing, he just ends with “California is simply a mess, and not getting any better at all.”

Everything California is doing, is in response or reaction to overreach by Donald Trump and his administration. And I approve of it all, although I do hope they don’t secede from the union.

Take the sanctuary state. There are reasons to deport immigrants and when they happen, they should be deported. But if the states do what Trump is asking, it will creates a class of people who are afraid to reveal themselves as either crime victims or as in need of health care for fear of deportation.

The global warming efforts are to defend valid science. There are two things you can do in any scientific endeavor when the evidence doesn’t match the hypothesis: you can change the hypothesis (which is what good science does) or you can change the evidence (which is what Trump wants to do with climate change).

Take the tax returns. It’s a relatively recent development in American history that candidates have released their tax returns and there has never been a legal requirement to do so. I think it’s a great idea. Without them, how can we possibly know if a person is seeking power for their own gain or if they want to serve? Every state ought to do this, since they can control who gets to appear on a ballot.

Dobbs gave no reason why these acts of the California legislature are bad things. Indeed, I see them all as good things. The kinds of things that make me cheer for states’ rights.

To paraphrase the headline and the depth of his “opinion” of the Lou Dobbs piece, he’s a mess and not getting any better.

Not my president

The first half of my blog entry on presidential greatness focuses on requests by surrogates for then President-Elect Trump to “give him a chance” to prove himself.

I have given him a chance. Whether you agree with someone politically or not, once they actually have access to the levers of power, it’s in your interest to hope he or she does well and acts wisely with that power, whether that interest orients itself towards finance, physical security, or something else.

Since taking the oath of office, Donald Trump’s achievements and public statements have almost universally been an appeasement to the people most strongly committed to him, acting with contempt, scorn, or ridicule towards literally everyone else.

The philosophy of the marketplace of ideas has been around for nearly 400 years, almost 200 of which have been grounded in purely economic terms. In theory, this is a good thing, like free speech. In reality, though, it’s not the best ideas that persist and thrive but instead it’s the ideas that have an appeal to some group of people with clout. In short, the problem with the marketplace of ideas is the fact that we need to have marketing to sell any idea.

You would think, for example, that white supremacy could not possibly thrive in a truly functional marketplace of ideas. There’s just too much out there that counters and contradicts the claims of the white supremacists. Whether we talk about the idiocy on display by the adherents to that thesis, or the disgust at their overall methods (see Charlottesville), or the legions of evidence from genetics that the more inbred a group is, the greater the risk of allowing harmful mutations to thrive, or even the fact that children of mixed-race parents are almost universally quite attractive. As a marketing tool, though, fear and anger do sell product.

So why are we even talking about white supremacy in terms that are anything other than the butt of jokes?

The short answer is Donald Trump. If he represents anyone other than himself, it’s the basket of deplorables that Hillary Clinton spoke of last year. And nobody else. The people who deny the irrefutable evidence of climate change who cheered the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreements. The people who support his Muslim ban, his border wall with Mexico, the pardoning of unrepentant criminal Joe Arpaio, and now his proposal to end DACA. That last one is particularly cruel and myopic since you’re talking about sending people to a country they may have no active memory of (if they’ve even ever been there) at a huge cost to the economy they currently contribute to.

And I’m not even going to talk about the dangerous war of words he’s been waging with Kim Jong-Un.  Or his plan to ban transgender people from the military. 

Give Donald Trump a chance? Ha! At this point he needs to demonstrate that he has even an iota of compassion or competence. If he represents the modern Republican Party in any way, they need to be voted out of public office at every level as soon as possible.

A message for Sen. Pat Toomey

On August 24, 2017, I received an email from Senator Pat Toomey, about whom I’ve written before, most recently in my entry on why I can’t vote republican in good conscience. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, since I’ve been on his mailing list since he took office and inherited the email mailing list from his predecessor, Arlen Specter.

Here is the text of the full email, unedited other than to add the HTML tags necessary to display it on my web page:

This past week our nation was rocked by tragedy in Charlottesville, VA. The acts we saw were a horrifying reminder that there are still those who seek only to divide us.

The racism, hatred, and violence seen in Charlottesville were vile and unacceptable. I am disgusted by white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis and believe the racism and hate spewed by these groups have no place in our society.

Furthermore, there can be no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, bigots, white supremacists, and those who oppose them. Our country has no room for corrupt ideology or violent acts.

I hope that what occurred in Charlottesville will be an isolated incident. Moving forward, I pray that members of Congress will put politics aside, unequivocally condemn hate and bigotry, and find ways to work together to protect our shared American values of equality and justice for all.

My response to the senator is a simple one: go fuck yourself.

All right. Maybe a little more explanation is needed. On first reading of this statement, it’s hard to find anything to disagree with in the Senator’s words and I readily concede that. But there are three glaring facts that must be explained satisfactorily before my response would become anything close to a positive reflection on the senator or his words.

  • The timing of his email. It was sent out twelve days after the Unite the Right rally that he himself cites in his message. Nearly two weeks passed between the message of that rally and his condemnation. More than a week between the most recent statement of the president of the United States and his attempts to draw an equivalency between the protesters and counter-protesters. (And I’m not above being the target of the same criticism as I’m writing this blog entry a week after I received the email. My excuse is that I haven’t been feeling well and I don’t have a paid staff to compose talking points…)
  • The cowardice of what wasn’t mentioned in his message. You will note that he doesn’t specifically call out anyone who was making the false equivalency between the xenophobic individuals and those who would oppose them. Is he assuming that people will just conveniently forget that it was Donald Trump himself who made that asinine statement? The president of the United States and the leader of the political party of which Senator Toomey is a member? This isn’t the first time that Toomey has shown himself to be a coward with respect to Donald Trump. Recall that he didn’t even reveal that he had voted for Trump until late in the day on Election Day… Even though he was an early member of a political movement that made Trump possible.
  • And the most damning of all, he has been pitching racist dog whistles for years. You see it every time he makes arguments against sanctuary cities or affirmative action. His biggest pushes have always been to reduce or eliminate taxes that disproportionately hit white, well-to-do men, sometimes to the benefit of women and minorities. He is right in the middle of an economic and political movement that seeks to divide us along racial, ethnic, and gender lines. And now that that movement has clearly aligned itself with people he’d rather not want it aligned with, he sees it fit that he look the other way. Call them a basket of deplorables if you’d like, Senator, but they’re still your people.

So I’ll say it again, Senator: go fuck yourself. You’re a disgrace and a coward who doesn’t deserve to hold the seat in the senate that once belonged to such great people as Robert Morris, Boies Penrose, George Pepper, Richard Schweiker, Arlen Specter, or even James Buchanan.