Saturday, December 1, 2018

Thoughts on a Thoughtful Man

Former President George H. W. Bush in 2002 (Kimmo Mantyla/EPA)
When I turned on the news this morning, the first thing I heard was that former US president George H. W. Bush had died at the age of 94. I wasn't that surprised. In the past year, he's battled one health crisis after another, and I thought losing his beloved Barbara would have left a huge hole in his life. The TV news shows spent most of their time remembering the US president known as 41 (his son was the 43rd president), and the words that kept coming up to describe him were kind and gentle. And yet no one would ever accuse George H. W. Bush of being a wimp.

As I've thought about him today, I've realized that of all the Republican presidents in my lifetime -- Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George Bush, and now Trump -- George H. W. Bush has been the one that governed and led the country, who respected precedents and principles, and believed in public service as well as the great American people. When he told the United Nations that he would not go to Baghdad when he led a coalition of nations into Kuwait to kick Iraq out of that country, he kept his word. He was soundly defeated in 1992 by Bill Clinton, and yet he and Clinton became good friends. He was definitely not put off by a little rain.

He must have been shrewd and a highly intelligent man, however, to have survived and thrived as long as he did in US politics. He served the country from the age of 18 when he joined the Navy in World War II. He went skydiving to celebrate his 90th birthday. This kind, gentle man was clearly much more than kind and gentle.

Another thing I kept hearing during the news coverage this morning was how George H. W. Bush was the last of the breed of politicians who worked both sides of the aisle, who believed in building coalitions, who had the courage of his kind and gentle convictions. He believed in working together to accomplish great things, not in partisanship and obstructionism. Then during Clinton's presidency, Newt Gingrich rose to political prominence and transformed working in government from serving the public and governing to winning power and accumulating money to keep power using partisanship and obstructionism. We are seeing the fruits today of Gingrich's labor, as McKay Coppins wrote in the November 2018 issue of The Atlantic ("Newt Gingrich Says You're Welcome"). American democracy continues to crumble before our eyes under the current president who cares nothing about kindness, gentleness, governing, or public service. He serves only himself. The Republicans care only about keeping power and will do anything (like gerrymandering, voter suppression) to keep it.

Rest in peace, President George H. W. Bush.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Kindness was Really Something Else

Kate McClure and Johnny the Homeless Vet
A year ago, as part of the We Are the World Blogfest that I was participating in, I wrote a post about unexpected kindness that showcased a young woman named Kate McClure who had run out of gas on a highway outside of Philadelphia. A homeless vet had helped her out with his last $20 so she could buy gas. The post that I linked to on the Good News Network told the whole story. It described how McClure had given the homeless vet food and clothing in return, and then had taken her gratitude and kindness to the next level by starting a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help him.

Now, a year later, I've been horrified to learn that the entire story was a scam, and that McClure, her boyfriend, and the homeless vet had scammed well-meaning and kind people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. CNN does a good job of summarizing the case so far.

What I find particularly awful is that the original story about McClure running out of gas had been a fiction. It's something that could easily have happened which is probably the reason they used it. And a stranger's kindness and generosity -- isn't that something that we would all hope for in a time of need?

Media in a Trap

You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.

~Winston Churchill

One thing that has bothered me from the day after the November 2016 US election is the current US president's obsession with Twitter. It's one thing to be a private citizen tweeting away, or even a celebrity building audience; but quite another for a US president to allow himself to be caught up in really trivial things on Twitter. Plus, really, I thought the job of president would leave anyone little time to spend watching TV much less tweeting all the time on Twitter. I've wished for Twitter to shut down the account, for the Secret Service to shut down the account, for his wife to shut down the account. It's embarrassing. He has no clue the image he's projecting to the world through that account. And it's not dignified, intelligent, statesmanlike, or compassionate. And definitely not presidential. He throws stones at every dog that barks at him.

Equally disturbing is the attention paid by the news media to that Twitter account. I've often wondered what would happen if they just stopped reporting on it, stopped giving attention to the attention-craving narcissist. On the one hand, it's entertainment, and the news media has moved deeper and deeper into entertainment in order to sustain itself and pay the bills. On the other hand, how is that account news? He rarely says anything on it that could be considered newsworthy (or even worth saying, in my opinion). Just because he's the president, I suppose, the reasoning is that it needs to be monitored and reported. Can you imagine how much he loves that? Clearly he doesn't think anything he says is "fake news" even if it's reported by the news outlets he accuses of reporting "fake news." Isn't it time to finally just say that what he says is "fake news" is really just reportage that he doesn't like or that is unflattering to him?

Bald Eagle in Bear Trap
The US news media, it seems to me, is caught in a trap. It has a responsibility to the citizens of the US to report on what's happening in the country and the world, to inform the citizenry, and to insure that those people who are public servants are held accountable. Freedom of the Press plays a crucial role in a free society. Without it, who could know what was really happening? So, the news media today reports on everything that comes out of the US White House, including on the president's Twitter account, even if it's not newsworthy. They spend that time on giving him the attention he craves when it could be better spent shining a harsh light on Senator Mitch McConnell and how the Republicans have slowly undermined American democracy through, obstructionism, gerrymandering, voting rights suppression, tax cuts for the wealthy as a strategy to destroy Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, among others. What's the US news media to do? They are damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

The recent US midterm elections brought some heartening news. The Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives. As Nancy Pelosi commented as well, now Congress can better serve the American people by fulfilling one of its crucial duties of being a check and balance for the Executive branch, i.e. the president. Will that give the US news media an escape door out of its current trap? 

Will someone finally shut down the US president's Twitter account? 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Protest is Part of Democracy

The current president would have you believe that protest is bad. Protests are embarrassing to the country. In fact, he would outlaw protests. That would mean that anyone who demonstrates against public policy or who protests could be arrested and prosecuted. You know where that happens? In a totalitarian dictatorship or in a communist country. The people who live under a dictatorship or communist government have no freedom of speech, no free press, no freedom of assembly, no freedom of religion, in fact no freedoms at all. And the president of the United States, a democratic republic, wants effectively to rescind the Bill of Rights.

That seems a bit extreme reaction to the current president being embarrassed about protestors who are speaking out against him and his policies. But this president still thinks he's in a corporate boardroom and can do whatever he likes. He swore an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution then turns around and attacks it? I wonder if he knows what he's doing. I wonder if he knows anything about American history, American government, and American democracy. He's free to express his opinions on Twitter and in interviews because of the Bill of Rights. And unfortunately, he's free to embarrass the country.

He clearly has no grasp of how the rest of the world views American democracy. Protesting with the freedom to do so without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or being disappeared is a hallmark of American democracy. There are people in other countries who observe this phenomenon with amazement because they cannot speak their true minds in their countries without fear of reprisal. Ask people in other countries what they think of American protests. Those who live in democracies where they enjoy the same freedoms as Americans will still support defending those freedoms from anyone who would take them away.

By Mobilus In Mobili - Women's March on Washington, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Just when that idiocy was fading into the sunset, the current president decides that he wants to repeal the 14th Amendment by executive order. The 14th Amendment states that anyone born in the United States is a citizen of the United States. I must admit, when I heard about this plan of his, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. First, it seems every time he opens his mouth he reveals the depth of his ignorance. Second, every time he opens his mouth he reveals his narcissism. If he can't have everything the way he wants it, then by god, he's just going to get rid of whatever is standing in his way. That's not how the United States government works, though. He's lived in this country for over 70 years and he still doesn't know that?

Garrett Epps at The Atlantic does a thorough job of examining the current president's plan, his reasons for it, and its ramifications in "The Citizenship Clause Means What It Says."

What would happen if the president had the power to repeal a Constitutional Amendment (which the president does not have the power to do)? He repeals the 14th Amendment. That immediately results in all citizens of the US no longer being citizens, including the president. Since elsewhere in the Constitution it says that candidates for the presidency must be citizens of the US, the current president, no longer a citizen, would no longer be the president. Bet he didn't think about that.

The current president really dislikes the Constitution and all its Amendments, including the Bill of Rights. He doesn't like laws. And he really doesn't like anyone telling him that he's wrong. He does want to be loved by the country, and he wants to have unlimited power and wealth as he's demonstrated through his actions and words before he ran for president as well as after he took office. If he truly cared about the country, and not his own enrichment, he would have done what every president has done since the late 60's -- release his tax returns in full for the last 10 years, put all his investments in a blind trust, and remove himself from any position of control in his businesses. He'd also tell his family members to go find other jobs and his friends that payments to him in return for plummy government jobs are no longer possible.

Yeah, like that's ever going to happen with this president.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Think for Yourself

'Tis the season for outrageous political advertising. During every election cycle, I think I've seen the worst, the most outrageous, but then the next election cycle comes along and tops the one before. This year is really no exception. During the workweek, I must rise at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for work and my commute, and my routine includes local TV news. That early in the morning, the bombardment of political TV ads has shocked me.

Colin Kaepernick kneeling (Photo credit: Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

One ad caught my attention. It claims that Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem because he was protesting against the anthem. Really? Well, no. That wasn't what Kaepernick was protesting at all. So if you believe that ad and don't question it, you're letting someone else think for you.

Mother Jones takes a look at the facts and that specific claim here. The National Republican Congressional Committee is behind this ad which targets Dan Feehan, the Democratic candidate for the open seat in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District. What Kaepernick protested by kneeling during the National Anthem was the indifference to police brutality and structural racism in American society. He was exercising his right to freedom of speech or expression. The NFL thought otherwise, however, and punished him for his protest. He's basically lost everything for standing up for his convictions and protesting.

The National Republican Congressional Committee would have you think otherwise, of course. They want you to believe that Kaepernick was protesting against America and the anthem. There's a Democrat equivalent out there as well. Politicians don't want you to think about how they're not doing anything to resolve the issue of structural racism -- they, by their inaction, encourage it. In fact, there are stories everyday of politicians in office who are trying to rig the system in their favor through gerrymandering (redrawing district lines to favor one political party over another), creating obstacles to voting like requiring photo ID, and even dropping voters from the rolls. American politicians don't really want you to think for yourself. They want you to swallow their bait -- hook, line, and sinker -- and vote for them so that they will stay in power whoever they are.

Government by the People

The Founders of the United States of America envisioned a republic where the people governed themselves through elected representatives who were responsible to the people, not to a political party or swearing personal loyalty to a president. They didn't want a king. They created checks and balances on the executive branch in order to prevent a strong president who could become a king. Since the 1980's, the political parties have been eroding what the Founders had put in place, allowing what we have today to come to be.

There are people, American citizens, who would turn this movement away from a democratic republic that has been gaining momentum through the Republican Party and return to what the Founders had in mind. And it's very important for each American to take steps to ensure that in 20 years we will still have the freedoms we have so blithely taken for granted.

 Think for Yourself

If an ad sounds outrageous, it is. It's important to cultivate a healthy skepticism about what politicians say and to challenge everything that comes out of their mouths. All politicians. They need to show the evidence to back up what they say. And you need to make the effort to inform yourself about the issues, i.e. all sides of the issues.  Politicians would have you believe that their view is the only view and that there is only one side to the issues. There is never only one side.

 Inform Yourself

Seek out trusted sources of information, i.e. sources that report on more than one side of an issue, sources that work hard to find the facts and report them. I'm amused by Fox News because they so fiercely attack "liberal media" for being biased. Well, duh. Fox News is just as biased. It's hard to find trusted sources of information in our society because money has so much power and the media needs money. But it's not impossible.

Try stepping outside of our country, for example, and seeing our society through the eyes of the media of England or Australia or Canada. You might be surprised how intelligent their coverage is, and how accurate, as well as examining two or more sides of situations. You'll also find out how appalled the rest of the world is about what's going on in America right now.

Listen to the Opposition

Supporters of the current president don't want to listen to anyone but him, and unfortunately, he's really not as smart or knowledgeable as he would have the world believe. In fact, he's a terrible president who's more concerned about his personal business than the country (unless, of course, the country's business would affect his personal business as he so vividly demonstrated during the Jamal Khashoggi murder investigation and his response to it -- he has a lot of business with the Saudis himself). He is not a trusted source. I also would not trust those close to him in his administration. But I still listen to what they say. After all, how can you know what all the sides are if you don't open your ears and eyes and seek out all the sides?

While the Republicans have established their talking points for this election, the Democrats have been floundering. This has been a disappointment. In Minnesota, we also have an Independent candidate for the Senate who has positioned himself as just that -- independent. Who encourages you to think for yourself, to question, who really listens to what you have to say and who understands your concerns? These are all important considerations and I have not seen many during this election cycle who truly do all those things.

Act for Yourself

What issues are the most important to you? Are you concerned about protecting access to affordable health insurance? Do you want Social Security to still exist by the time you retire? Are you concerned about entrenched corporate power? Who's talking about the things that are important to you and how are they talking about them? Think hard about what you hear, make the effort to find out the facts, and then decide for yourself.

Take back your country from the politicians.