Category Archives: politics

38 Responses

The Washington Post weekend Magazine section has a feature this week:

Fix this democracy — now

38 ideas for repairing our badly broken civic life

There are 38 contributors, from across the spectrums. Some of the ideas I agree with, some I don’t. But I reacted strongly enough to many of them that I decided to write 38 responses.

Require Everyone to Vote

This is one of several entries around the theme of changing how people vote to make voting more meaningful more most people. I generally agree with it.

A New High School Course: Identity 101

Oh, wow. I understand the premise, but it’s a Catch-22: those who agree with the proposal wouldn’t change with the course, and those who oppose it wouldn’t let their kids be changed by it.

One Month Without Social Media

The idea is to get people to interact with others more. On behalf of other introverts, no, thanks. You’re addressing a symptom, and not one I give much weight to.

Befriend a Libertarian

Hell, no. I hate Libertarians. They aren’t some middle ground we can all agree upon; they’re the fringe who are part of the current problem, the current administration’s plan to burn government to the ground through neglect or sabotage. This was one of the more blatantly self-serving proposals.

Tackle Tough Subjects at Dinner

In theory, nice. In practice? How are some parents going to react to tough topics from their children, such as, “I reject your religion,” or, “I’m not straight,” for example? The idea behind this is better summarized by another proposal still to come.

Outlaw Private Education

This proposal suggests that if there were no private education, people would put the gifts they give to private education into public education. That’s beyond naive. In theory, yes, all kids starting school should have access to comparable educations. In practice, some private schools are better at teaching fundamentals, and some are worse. Interesting goal; wrong approach, if you ask me.

Ignore the Cultural Elite

Ignoring the elite is how we got Donald Trump. Question the elite, sure, but ignore?

Mandate Military or Civilian Service

I like the idea of mandating some form of public service, but recent reports about fears within military ranks of white nationalism, including within the military, give me pause. Mandating service would reverse some of the self-selection that skews the military members toward white nationalism, but I’m not sure making more of them serve with their perceived inferiors will negate their learned white nationalism as often as idealists would hope. Maybe the split between civilian and military service would mirror today’s political polarization if we’re not careful somehow.

Allow Garage Unit Rentals

I don’t think the problem with American democracy today is largely caused by housing in some areas being unaffordable, letting the upper middle class become isolated from the working and lower classes. It might be a worthy idea, but it doesn’t help the core topic, in my reading.

Keep Dreaming

I’m sure my political opponents dream; they just dream of different things.

A Women-Led Evangelical Movement

On the one hand, I’d be happy with more female leadership within all religions.

On the other hand, having seen some of the social efforts led by churches, such as using religion to justify discrimination against sexual or racial minorities, I’d prefer more secular leadership than religious leadership of social movements. I hope liberal and progressive religions get more socially active outside their own faiths, but I won’t assume religions are part of the answer.

A Constitutional Amendment on Equality

I’d like to see Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions enforce laws resulting from such an Amendment. We aren’t even enforcing current laws on equality. Attitudes have to come before legislation and enforcement. Prohibition — and, fifty years later, drunk driving — proved that.

Establish National Unity Week

As long as there are political parties and elections to be won, unity will always be threatened by the political benefits (for some) of fomenting division.

Switch to Instant-Runoff Voting

This, I like! This weakens the two-party system and creates room for moderates and third-party candidates. Would Trump have won if every state had used Instant-Runoff Voting? People would have voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson and known that they could still indicate a preference for Hillary over Trump if it came down to that.

It gets trickier for lower level elections. Would people learn enough about local candidates for office to make intelligent decisions about offices? Still, I like this for the same reason I like compulsory voting: it gets people involved and allows for more nuanced voting.

Remind the Government: It is Beholden to Us

Civil servants know to whom they’re beholden. It’s the elected leaders and political appointments, in my experience, that corrupt that.

Rein in the Congressional Budget Office

Someone doesn’t like the CBO. I don’t think the CBO is the cause of the breakdown of American civic involvement.

Teach Critical Thinking

I want to like this idea. I like the idea of critical thinking.

My concern is, everyone at Breitbart News as well as every conspiracy theorist thinks they’re using critical thinking. “Challenge the status quo! Question what they tell you? Do you really think jet fuel can melt skyscraper support beams?” Galileo was once right in the face of opposition from the Establishment, so every climate denier might be right, too! Critical thinking, man!

It may be that critical thinking currently is corrupted by anti-establishment biases. Critical thinking is always vulnerable to unrecognized biases.  I’m not sure how to address that.

Give Every Teen a Black Box

Can you teach intellectual curiosity? If you can, that probably promotes critical thinking and helps inoculate people against biases, but I’m not sure you can on a large scale.

Fund Art Centers

For some personality types, sure; for others, no. I’ll accept this as a minor part of the effort and accept that I won’t like some of the art.

Push for Civil Rights Education

Every moron who’s telling about white genocide knows what civil rights are now defined to be. I see some benefit from teaching today’s youth that the struggle is constant, However, education isn’t the issue when we don’t agree on the fundamental value and worth of all people.

Prevent Left-Wing Media Bias

People don’t trust the mainstream media because they’re being taught not to trust them. Who’s teaching them that? The fringe movements on both the right and the left; the right are just better funded and now have their own shameless large media arms.

Bah, humbug!

Let Government Co-Own New Technologies

I get very skittish around things that reek of socialism. I don’t trust unchecked capitalism, but neither do I endorse the government claiming the benefits of private entrepreneurship.

That said, I agree that government grants should somehow have a payback scheme written into them so that government-funded discoveries bring financial benefits to the government.

Redefine the Flag

This proposal seems to be about reframing arguments to use the buzzwords of the audience you’re trying to win over. I’m sure I missed something here, but I’m not sure what.

Stop Obsessing about White Privilege

This seems to stipulate that we’re not doing what we know and agree we have to do because we’re still arguing about causes and degrees of guilt. I’m not sure this stipulation is valid.

End the Blame Game

As I noted earlier, unity is vulnerable to the political advantages of divisiveness, and blame games fuel that divisiveness. In theory, great. In practice?

Celebrate Government

In theory, great. In practice, ugh. Take streets and roads. “Government built and maintains these roads! Thanks, government!” “Why did government build the roads instead of letting developers build them and HOAs maintain them?” “But then HOAs are just a form of govenrment.” “Which is why I don’t live in an HOA!” “And who pays for the road you live on, and the roads it connects to?” Ad nauseum.

Peer Review for Candidates

Donald Trump wasn’t reviewed and evaluated by his peers? Of course he was; we called it “Primary Season.” Some would argue that Democratic super-delegates peer-reviewed Bernie Sanders and voted for Hillary Clinton. Many Sanders supporters are still livid about that. This is where I prefer “instant runoff” voting instead.

A Marshall Plan for America

The Marshall Plan was for rebuilding a continent devastated by war. Trump’s rhetoric withstanding, we’re not that dysfunctional yet.

Create a System of Voting Credits

I like the proposals to shake up voting. I’m not sure how many people would use their credits wisely, either spending too many too early, or having too many left for an election for which they have no strong feelings. Implementation details will be nasty.

Keep Education Public

Or, as least in this effort, kill school voucher programs. I can get behind that; they seem to be a failed experiment.

Take a Stand, Local Officials

Local officials in the South took lots of stands in the Civil Rights era. I’m not sure that’s what George Takei meant.

Mandate Gun Insurance

While I like this idea, it addresses a symptom of America’s polarization, not the polarization itself.

End American Arrogance

Oh! My! God! The American right just had collective apoplexy. It’s another Catch-22.

A Grass-Roots Revolt Against Fake News

No one likes Fake News. Not Donald Trump, not the “liberal” mainstream media, not Fox News, not anyone!

See also, critical thinking.

Revive Human Decency

Again, this is a symptom of the polarization, not the cause, at least not at a level we can work with.

Bring Back the Cold War Economy

The Cold War economy was justified by a shared fear. It benefited the military-industrial complex — and its owners — more than the workers in the factories and fields. No, thank you.

Persuade Voters to Keep Clicking

See also, critical thinking and alleged media bias.

Cultivate National Gratefulness

They’re proud to be Americans, and they keep singing to say so. That doesn’t seem to have done enough so far.



For Paul Ryan (& Joel Osteen?)

He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Mt 25:33-40

Paul Ryan may wish to remember, Jesus didn’t give any credit to the tax collectors who gave the poor tax breaks and investment credits so they could start their own businesses with capital (that they didn’t have) to develop a business and eventually feed themselves or clothe themselves. He was much more about immediate results.

Remember that time thousands of followers came to a rally but forgot to bring food and drink? He gathered up what food and drink He and his staff had and used it to feed all of those gathered, despite their appalling lack of planning and self-sufficiency.

He cured the sick, of course, without worrying about co-pays and pre-existing conditions. Maybe that was because He was a carpenter, not a doctor. If He had thousands of dollars of student loans, would He have…. No, that probably wouldn’t have made a difference, would it? He didn’t qualify his teachings with such considerations. He was pretty much, “If you can do it, do it to help others.”

He didn’t even go in for that, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats forever,” type of teaching. He gave people fish and wine. He healed them instead of opening a healing school to teach others how to heal as He did. He was very much about immediate results, not about establishing the conditions for long-term economic recovery in Galilee. Despite that short-sightedness, His teachings persisted, and eventually a movement followed; others learned to help and love based on his examples, not because he gave seminars at Jesus University on how to help and love.

Reminder: sometimes I say the obvious, in case it’s not obvious. For Paul Ryan, and possibly for Joel Osteen in flood-ravaged Houston, apparently it’s not obvious.

It’s Our Country; What Do We Want?

I realize this title only applies to 300 million people out of the seven billion people of this world. Among my readership, such as Facebook friends and Twitter followers, the percentage is probably higher. I can live with that. (Wow, what a lousy way to start this essay.)

Two hundred and forty years ago, British colonists in North America declared independence for thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America. (I’m sure there’s a good, historic reason we didn’t include British colonies in what’s now Canada, but researching that might well delay this essay until the next American national holiday, a cost I’m not willing to pay. But, I digress.) The colonists were united by their anger at King George III and their desire to determine their own course and their own laws, and this anger had been fermenting for more than a decade, in differing levels in different colonies. There are reminders that the writing of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t a quick, conflict-free process, but there was enough common ground to reach consensus on that, and later the Articles of Confederation and eventually the Constitution.

There has always been conflict about our form of government. That it should be a democratic republic hasn’t been too much challenged, but after that, the details get tricky. That there are the Articles of Confederation in between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution speaks to the perennial debate about how strong the Federal government should be. The government allowed by the Articles of Confederation clearly was too weak, but ever since, there has been a tug-of-war about how much power we should allow or grant to the Federal government. That we would be thirteen or more distinct states with their own governments united by one overarching government has never really been questioned; never to my knowledge has the idea of dissolving states in favor of one uniform government ever gained substantial traction, even after the Civil War less than a century after our declaration of independence — and of common cause as well. However, only slowly have we transformed from a nation led by white men to a nation voted upon by men and women of all races and social statuses.

Somehow, these conflicts about the nature of the governments of the United States of America have crystalized sharply over the past decade, even more than they have crystalized over the Civil Rights movement sixty years ago. After a decade of fighting about the premise that we have a collective obligation to make sure everyone can afford health care through health insurance regulations and subsidies, we seem to be fighting about the fundamental purpose of the Federal and even state governments.

Scott Pruitt represents those who would roll back regulations protecting the environment and the health of Americans from the effects of pollution and other abuses of the environment. He, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, would dismantle the protections afforded by the agency since its inception almost fifty years ago, consistent with the goals of the fossil fuels industry and other corporate interests who have funded so much of Pruitt’s political career. Nominally, they might state they wish to let states regulate the environment, but that premise is a fiction covering two truths. First, environmental issues quickly cross state — and national — borders. For example, it was well established twenty years ago that power plant emissions in the Midwest caused acid rain in the Northeast that decimated plant life there. The second truth is, many state governments are already beholden to corporate issues due to deliberate efforts to take over those legislatures with corporate allies through gerrymandering and political contributions. This parallels the history of the effects of race on civil rights: in the South, many states clearly and blatantly discriminated upon racial grounds, while in the rest of the country, any such discrimination was less blatant and had fewer effects upon racial minorities.

Betsy DeVos represents those who would do to public education what Pruitt’s supporters would do to environmental protections. They would replace locally-controlled public schools with government subsidies for private schools, both secular and religious. This in turn would let conservative social forces funnel children into schools that reject progressive ideas such as racial equality, gender equality, and the tolerance of non-conformists and minorities, be they the LGBTQ community, the pro-choice movement, non-Christians, immigrants and refugees in general, or anyone else. This movement, of course, would also roll back Federal regulations requiring schools at all levels that receive Federal funding to follow certain regulations about, yes, gender equality, religious neutrality, and these other same social issues that so motivate some of these forces. Again, they would return power to the states, knowing that they’ve already captured so many states’ education departments and legislatures so they may return their schools to academies of conformity and privilege out of the Forties and Fifties.

Dr. Tom Price leads the Department of Health and Human services, ready to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its effects as soon as Congress allows him after years of his vocal attempts to repeal the ACA while he himself was in the House of Representatives, and if he can dismantle or neuter Medicaid, too, he’ll take that opportunity. Dr. Ben Carson leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development because of his public skepticism for that department’s programs and purpose. Rick Perry leads the Department of Energy despite his apathy about nuclear energy in this country and his hostility to Energy’s more recent programs to promote alternative energy forms, such as solar and wind. Our Secretary of State, a recent oil company chief executive, oversees a department with almost no leadership of the diplomatic corps due to vacancies among so many appointment positions. Only scandal prevented a corporate CEO with a history of labor law violations at his companies from becoming the Secretary of Labor.

Behind it all, Steve Bannon is the President’s “Chief Strategist,” a minister without portfolio who has in his past made clear in interviews a desire to “destroy the state.”

Forget GIFs of a TV reality show star beating up a wrestling villain, now labeled as a cable TV news network. Forget the history of misogyny of the TV reality show star who is now our elected President.

Ask yourself:

Do you want a government that deliberately forfeits its powers to establish a minimum standard of health and well-being for all residents, that deliberately reverses of decades of inclusiveness and generosity in favor of implementing an attitude of, “I’ve got mine; screw you!” that lets corporations run free without regard for individual citizens from whom governments derive their power?

It’s easy for liberals, progressives, and others with mere shreds of common decency to be outraged by the daily acts and rants of our elected President. It’s shocking when we find people who aren’t outraged, who can find some fig leaf to hide behind while defending him. What we have to remember is, Our President is just an empty figureheadbeing manipulated by those who would reverse the government’s course over the past six decades for their own selfish purposes.

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and others don’t like Donald J. Trump and wouldn’t have chosen him, but they can use him. They are using him! Steve Bannon is using Donald J. Trump. Tom Price accepted his appointment of Secretary of Health and Human Services not to serve Trump but to implement his his own agenda, shared by those who whispered his name in Trump’s ear.

Is this what you want?

Do you want to roll back six decades of social and environmental progress?

If you want this, own it! Don’t hide behind “states rights” or the alleged faults of the ACA. Own it! Tell us that’s what you want! Tell us that your Christianity (or other religion) lets you reject refugees out of fear of strangers and takes away health care from the poor because you think your Jesus would somehow judge them “undeserving.”

If you don’t want this, Resist! Continue to call your Senators and Representatives. Find and support candidates in gerrymandered House districts and in polarized states. Work to make Trump and all that hides behind him a one-term embarrassment as hard as those same forces worked to oppose all that Obama did and steal a Supreme Court seat from him.

Own it, or resist it! It’s our country; what do you want?

Answer the Correct Question

Last night, three men killed seven others in London using a van and then knives. Coming so soon after an explosive attack in Manchester and an earlier vehicle-vs.-pedestrians on another London bridge, people, including Islamophobic politicians, are asking, “How can we prevent such attacks?”

That has to be the wrong question. Attackers who are willing to die are nearly impossible to stop. You can’t outlaw vehicles that can be driven into crowds. Regulating larger knives and other blades might be good public relations, but smaller blades can kill, too. Explosives are so easy to create from everyday chemicals, you can’t prevent them.

Don’t stop the supply of murderous weapons; stop the demand for them. That’s the answer to “the war on drugs,” and it’s the answer to “the war on terror,” too.

The correct question may be, “Why is it so easy to motivate so many people to commit those atrocious attacks?”

I refuse to accept the premise that Islam simply has a inherent hatred against non-(Islamic)-believers. I have two reasons for rejecting that premise. First of all, it’s exactly analogous to the accusation that Christianity wants to overwhelm non-Christians by might. Secondly, if it were true, there would be a billion people or more conspiring to kill “us,” not mere thousands.

It is true that in the past, Islam has sometimes expanded by conquest, not by persuasion. The same is equally true of Christianity. If one side cites the Moors’ spread across northern Africa and into the Iberian peninsula, the other side can cite the Crusades — and later the Inquisition as well. Both religions have at time been led (or coopted by) fanatics who use religion to justify violence, and both have scripture readings that can be read as justifying conversion by almost any means. Just as Christianity no longer acts upon some of its more embarrassing verses, so, too, can many Muslims reject some of the teachings cited as proof that Islam must hate us.

It is also true that both religions have outliers who would use violence under the cover of religion even in these modern times. ISIS may be dramatic currently than the KKK or the extremists who burn the Koran or paint pictures of Mohammed explicitly to provoke outrage in the Islamic world, but ISIS no more represents the Muslims I know than the provocateurs represent me and my classmates from Catholic schools I attended growing up.

We in the West seem to have an instinctive inability to admit that our actions and philosophies might give cause to legitimate grievances. In the aftermath of almost any attack in the name of Islam against Christian or secular targets, it is heresy to ask if we in the West have done anything to earn their ire. My Google-fu isn’t strong enough to even find shreds of attempts to raise the question in late 2001, apart from a “readers’ responses” article from The Nation. I remember academics trying to ask, “Have we done anything to provoke this,” and being shouted down by, “Nothing can justify this!” I am deliberate in asking about provocation versus justification; people quickly dismissed questions about provocations by declaring that there could be no justification for such a level of hatred and violence.

This is, like so many other points in modern Western debate, a false dichotomy. Proving your opponent wrong does not prove that you are right. That a response is disproportional in magnitude does not mean that there was no provocation to begin with.

Why do people become radicalized? Why do people accept and adopt hostility and conflict while rejecting accommodation and existence? I can ask the question about violence under the banner of nominal Islam, and I can ask the question about Donald Trump’s supporters. Journalists have been writing for two years about “economic anxieties,” only to be mocked by others after displays of open racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other non-economic sins perpetrated members of the same class of people. This mocking, too, is a sign of a false dichotomy. Who says that some Trump supporters can’t be reacting to losses of jobs and industries while others are simply horrible people feeling emboldened by nationalist, xenophobic, homophobic, and other extremist forms of rhetoric?

The world has become a lot more homogenous in the past 100 or 150 years. It was more homogenous 150 years ago than it was 300 years ago, and that was more homogenous than 200 years before that. Social structures that existed in vacuums of isolation are challenged when faced with other social structures that deny assumptions present in the vacuums. Monarchies are challenged by democracies. Patriarchies are challenged by women’s rights. Slavery is challenged by the premise that slaves are people with fundamental human rights. Notions of inherent superiority (of any group or trait!) are challenged by actual experiences with the nominally inferior. And, yes, domestic industries are challenged by exports from countries with lower standards of living or fewer environmental protections.

Oligarchs of all varieties rise to power by presenting themselves as saviors of a group that doesn’t even know it’s a victim. “Men subjugate women!” “Femi-Nazis want to exterminate men!” “Straights have no tolerance of diversity!” “Freaks want to recruit your children to be like them!” “Christians want to exterminate Muslims!” “Muslims want to exterminate Christians!” “Vaccines are a plot to kill our people!” “Savages who don’t know any better will try to kill us!”

The question isn’t whether any of these statements are true. The question is, are there seeds of despair or oppression that give these lies and hyperbole soil to germinate in? Why are Muslims in Europe and America so vulnerable to radicalization? Why are poor whites so vulnerable to Trump’s brand of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and victimization?

Why are there pockets of people ready to hear and accept calls to violence and confrontation? 

That, I say, is the question we have to ask in the wave of Yet Another Act of Extremist Violence.

NPR, Among Others, Has Lost Its Way

I am very much a child of the Sixties and Seventies. I started first grade in the fall of 1969. The war in Vietnam was on the evening news, or so I am told. Jack, Martin, and Bobby had all died during my brief life so far. The Vatican II convocation had been over for years; I only remember masses in English, with the priest facing the congregation. The Equal Rights Amendment was still a possibility. Female lectors and soon eucharistic ministers weren’t unusual, although I never served as an altar boy with a female altar servant.

It’s not that racial prejudice had simply vanished. Even as a child, I knew that there were racists in America. I might have thought they were mostly confined to the South, but I knew they existed. I also knew they were wrong. They were behind the times. They clung to outmoded, wrong beliefs. My first political memory is from the fourth grade, watching a mock debate about the ’72 Presidential race and asking what made McGovern think he could end the war in 90 days or whatever his pledge was. So, I don’t remember George Wallace being shot, but I knew as a child that he represented that segment of society that clung to the past, to white supremacy.

The environmental movement was starting. I didn’t notice as an eight-year-old when the EPA was created, but I knew that things like Earth Day and my green ecology lunchbox meant that we were trying to save the earth. There didn’t seem to be much doubt that we had to repair the environment; pollution was awful, epitomized by burning rivers (OK, only one; I was a little confused as a kid) and public service ads on TV showing fish dead in rivers due to pollution. We might have to convince greedy corporations and greed people to do the right thing and change to prevent pollution, but there was no question that the environmental movement was at some level right and necessary.

As I grew up, things got more complicated. There were women who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, for some perverse reason. There was opposition to school bussing to achieve public school integration — even in the North. Before I graduated from high school, Ronald Reagan was taking the contrary view that government was the problem, not the solution. He didn’t say that racism in America was bad; he just implied that government efforts to address it did more harm that good. He implied that about lots of government programs. Two years earlier, Allan Bakke had sued one of the University of California medical schools, claiming “reverse discrimination.” Some whites were starting to push back when they felt they were the ones paying the price so minorities could be given the chance to succeed.

Reagan, of course, was elected President in 1980. The ERA wasn’t ratified by enough states in the time allowed for its passage; it wasn’t brought up again, but laws about women’s rights were pursued at sub-Constitutional levels. Reagan tried to neuter the EPA, but public opinion forced him to reverse that attempt.

Before Reagan’s second term was over, I completed my education and tried to become an adult, whatever that meant. I remember watching the network evening news in the fall of ’87 about that day’s stock market crash. However, I soon acquired the habit of listening to National Public Radio affiliates. They weren’t government broadcasts, although some received a minuscule amount of public subsidies. It was enough that they weren’t owned by corporations but instead were run as non-profit efforts. If they were more liberal than “mainstream,” corporate-owned TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers, maybe it was due simply to the lack or corporate influences on their choices of news items and how they were presented. The Wall Street Journal went in my eyes from a respectable major newspaper to a paper with a specific, visible slant in favor of business over other interests. Other mainstream, respected outlets weren’t so pronounced in their biases, but I’d hear rumors that GE had killed this NBC story or Westinghouse had somehow meddled with a story on one of the stations it owned. Such accusations against NPR were less common and thus more shocking the few times they came up.

I listened to NPR during the tail end of the Reagan years and through the George H. Bush years. I kept listening during the Clinton administration with its violent tug-of-war with Republicans in Congress who refused to engage constructively with the administration. Some “reforms” were passed, such as sentencing guidelines and welfare “reform.” This was also the time when traditional broadcasting and journalism were starting to be augmented by “the Internet.” By the time the Clinton administration yielded to the Gore George W. Bush administration, American politics were becoming sharply polarized. There were new channels and publications on the right that accused the mainstream media of being too liberal, never mind NPR or its even more leftist “public” rivals, such as Pacifica Radio.

My NPR affiliates changed as I moved, from the Binghamton, NY market to Elkhart/South Bend to Detroit to Washington, DC itself. I felt some sadness verging on anger as Bob Edwards was pushed out by NPR and soon ended up on for-profit satellite radio, for crying out loud! But, under Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43, NPR remained fairly consistent in its tone. It also remained fairly consistent as I bounced through Illinois during Obama’s rise in stature into the Presidency and my moves to Austin and then back to the upper Midwest, now in Madison, Wisconsin.

Something about the rise of Donald Trump, culminating in his election to the Presidency, shook NPR, as it shook many media outlets. The mainstream media, including NPR, consistently underestimated Trump during his primary campaign and his Presidential campaign. He was such a repudiation of fifty years of concern for the downtrodden and the minorities. He was the voice for the spiritual descendants of Allan Bakke, proclaiming that they were being held back because of considerations given to minorities. Never mind that automation killed more factory jobs than affirmative action, multi-lateral trade pacts, or illegal immigration. Here was Trump proudly making statements that might have gotten him tossed out on his ass during the Sixties and Seventies and were too extreme for widespread acceptance in the Eighties and Nineties. NPR and the rest of the mainstream media kept waiting for “respectable conservatives,” to figure out how to beat Trump, for Trump’s rising support levels hit a ceiling and for normal order among conservatives to be restored. They also struggled some with the rise of Bernie Sanders. Was the declared Independent really going to upturn the Democratic primary system and beat Hillary Clinton by running from her left? How far left was her left, anyway? Was she a moderate who was too friendly with Wall Street, or was she the progressive who had pushed for heath care reform in her husband’s early years as President, only to come up short, and later had spoken truth to power at an international women’s conference in Beijing?

The Internet gave all kinds of voices ways to find their audiences. In particular, it let well-heeled corporate influences attack the mainstream media with the rise of Fox News and conservative talk radio, and that in turn led to the rise of ultra-right, or white nationalists, or whatever label you’d like to give them to the right of the visible right. The break in the streak of forty-three straight white Christian men as President with the election of Barack Obama somehow energized those fearful of minorities. Mitt Romney spoke in 2012 of 47% of America that would never vote for him because they benefitted too much from government largesse. His comments were quickly and loudly denounced by the mainstream, but surely they added fuel to those far-right activists who were convinced they were victims somehow — or that they could get rich convincing others that they were victims, not merely unlucky in the changing economic tides of the world.

Karl Rove was wrong in 2012 on election night, when he was so damned sure that Mitt Romney had more support than the press gave him credit for, that he was going to upset the incumbent Obama. However, in 2016, those making similar claims about Trump proved right when Trump in fact pulled off the upset against Hillary Clinton. The mainstream media immediately went into a frenzy worthy of the title of this blog, “Overanalysis While You Wait.” Had Trump won, or had Hillary lost? Was she a poor candidate, or was she a victim of a quarter-century of right-wing smear campaigns dating back to the Whitewater scandal in Arkansas? Had the FBI, deliberately or otherwise, sunk Hillary’s campaign by giving legitimacy to the alleged scandal of her e-mail server? Had Russia somehow sponsored the leaks about internal Democratic e-mails that made Clinton look less like a progressive hero and more like a political operative who’d do whatever it took to win?

NPR, among others, decided to take the tact that Trump had won somehow on the merits of his positions in the eyes of the voters. Even as Trump stacked his transition team and eventually his administration with Wall Street billionaires, NPR and others decided to find those voters who had turned out unexpectedly strong and possibly against their own self-interest to vote for this populist-sounding candidate. Euphemisms like “economic anxiety” were invented as the reasons all these good American folk embraced a candidate with xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic views. Never mind that so much of what Trump had claimed from the first day of his campaign was demonstrably wrong. His supporters were treated as if their beliefs and their faith in him were rational and reasonable. Never mind that xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and religious discrimination were un-American and in some cases specifically prohibited by our foundation documents, including the almighty Constitution. “Economic anxiety” was presented as a powerful motivator, even as hate crimes against blacks, Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, transexuals, and other marginalized people exposed the lie that this was somehow about “economic anxiety.”

Worse, NPR has decided, perhaps by default, to legitimize Trumps administration despite the vast catalog of lies told by Trump himself and by his representatives, such as Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka. They even refuse to label Trump’s untrue statements as, “lies,” claiming they can’t be sure enough of his intent to call them more than untruths or mistakes. When people like Spicer and Conway repeat Trump’s claims as if they are unquestionably true, even in the fact of evidence to the contrary, NPR continues to interview them and allow them air time, and they still don’t call them lies. This isn’t like eight years of opposition to the Obama administration. These aren’t policy arguments about whether healthcare should be universal or whether a President in the last year of his term can nominate a Supreme Court justice. The rate of self-serving lies, the number of policy changes being justified by demonstrable falsehoods, hasn’t yet caused NPR to stop treating these people as legitimate.

Journalists like to claim that their job is the pursuit and revelation of the truth. Some outlets, including the staid New York Times, have done so with enough gusto to become clear targets of Trump’s paranoid ire. If NPR has drawn Trump’s ire at all, it’s only by accident. They’ve forgotten the quote from Orwell: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want published; everything else is public relations.”

NPR can’t be cowed by fear of criticism from the far right. They need to regain their old tone and adapt it to this age of routine deception by our incumbent administration. Challenge, challenge, and challenge some more, and for God’s sake, stop letting these liars and self-deceivers present their message directly. They aren’t NPR’s listeners, and they don’t deserve NPR’s consideration.

Immigration and Less-Than-Extreme Vetting

The idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

That was Stephen Miller, the sophomoric adviser to our Would-Be Benign Dictator (WBBD) this past weekend.

The foreign nationals in question are people who had already been vetted for visas. Being vetted for a visa, especially a refugee visa, is harder than being vetted for a Trump Administration position. It’s not like someone says, “I like her,” and the Republicans in the Senate promptly fall in line. There are applications, overlapping interviews by rival agencies, more forms, and lots of waiting. The ruling out of Seattle wasn’t that any foreign national in Libya could come to the United States; it was that people with approved visas could use those visas. That’s almost the same, except that it’s completely different!

These are the people who repeatedly make unfounded claims about voter fraud and assure us that Sean Spicer has been 100% correct, regardless of actual facts and published proofs that he’s 100% full of (feces).

The kid who used California state law once to force his high school to have a daily Pledge of Allegiance is now finding that laws can also be used against his (nominal) superior.


  • As far as we know, Donald Trump’s usurpation of power was directly aided by the Russian intelligence communities.
  • Our National Security Advisor-to-be conspired with a Russian diplomat, undercutting US sanctions against Russia.
  • Our President continues to make unsubstantiated voter fraud accusations, presumably to prepare us for voting restrictions designed to disenfranchise likely Democrats.
  • Our new Secretary of Health and Human Services would be guilty of insider trader if anyone bothered to prosecute him.
  • Our President’s Senior “Counselor” is guilty of illegally using her government position to endorse private interests.
  • Rick Perry, to his surprise, is in charge of the effectiveness of America’s nuclear weapons, not selling more Texas crude (that’s oil, not behavior) to anyone he can.
  • Dr. Ben Carson is in charge of Housing and Urban Development, although he may think “HUD” stands for “Helpless Urban Decay.”
  • Betsy’s DeVos’s corrections of tweets themselves need corrections.
  • The State Department is now a subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

This is week four.

Now, What?

What happens now?

A would-be benign despot was sworn in as my nation’s leader yesterday. In his inaugural speech, he spoke of ending “American carnage.” He spoke of returning power to the people, as if he wasn’t filling his government with billionaires who are philosophically inclined to dismantle the agencies they are tasked with running. Those in his Cabinet who aren’t billionaires seem to be generals and elected officials who share his pro-billionaire stances. He thinks that only he can save us from… something, like this “American carnage” that I don’t recognize.

The media tells me attendance at his swearing in was poor; the would-be benign despot (“WBBD”) railed today during a ceremony at the CIA about the dishonest media, as if we hadn’t all seen pictures comparing crowds yesterday with crowds eight years ago. Were the pictures yesterday from early in the day, before the crowds arrived? I’m waiting for the pro-WBBD media and trolls to post pictures identifiably from yesterday that show the larger crowds, presumably from later in the day. I’m also looking for something refuting reports that the National Park Service has been barred from Twitter in petty retaliation for tweeting estimates of inauguration attendance that support the smaller estimates.

Today, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people turned out in Washington, DC and dozens of other cities in support of progressive policies, or perhaps in protest of the wbbd. I’m not sure what their appearance changes in the short term. Betsy DeVos can still gut the Department of Education. Rick Perry can still gut research into sustainable energy and try to turn the Department of Energy into the marketing arm of the petroleum and natural gas industries like he allegedly thought it was. Scott Pruitt can still still neuter the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts until he can gut the regulations in favor of industry over environment. Andrew Puzder can make a mockery of the Department of Labor, and Wilbur Ross can make the Department of Commerce the support group for robber-barons who will loot successful companies for their own profit. Jeff Sessions seems to want to redefine “Justice” in some way that Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall wouldn’t recognize.

In eighteen months, especially if there is relief from gerrymandering from the Supreme Court, we can start taking back the House of Representatives and the Senate from the puppets installed by right-wing well-funded special interest groups. That might provide some push-back in favor of the environment, public education, human rights, workers’ rights, and other causes we used to take for granted.

My country will now have two parallel media: the old “mainstream media,” upon whom the WBBD has declared war upon, and the cranks and foreign influences who benefit from the WBBD’s behaviors. I’ll continue to follow the old mainstream and some outlets that were distinctly more progressive than the mainstream, trying to take nothing for granted but giving them the benefit of the doubt compared to the rabble-rousers who seem to think the WBBD’s words are truthful and moral when most of us can plainly see they aren’t.

I hope “American Carnage,” isn’t something I come to recognize. I hope the undocumented workers among me in the community aren’t rounded up and deported for no more cause than their lack of legal status here. I hope my LGBTQ friends and friends of friends can continue to live their lives openly and happily, as families or in whatever form they prefer.

I am once more part of the opposition, even more than I ever was during any prior Republican administration.

I hope this is our low point, when the scales fall from the eyes of the blind and all of us are galvanized to say, “This isn’t normal; this isn’t right; this isn’t what I want.”