Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Letter

It is said that the only way to eradicate the darkness 
is to make progress in the light.

This is a letter I wrote recently to a friend who is a Trump fan, a friend I treasure though our politics are worlds apart in some ways.  She sent me an article that complained how Trump was being harassed by Democrats to divest himself of his business interests before assuming office. It's sort of my message to the world this Christmas. 

"My wonderful friend, I love you dearly. 

"This story has been all over the news for weeks. Especially in the New York Times and foreign newspapers.  Because it's actually a big deal. The emoluments clause of the Constitution requires that all presidents do what the Democrats are demanding Trump do. Why his own party isn't demanding this as well is certainly weird. The old Republican Party of say 1970 would have. Every president in the past has done this, sold their properties and investments, usually before they even begin campaigning, so as to not have any conflict of interests while in office. Trump hasn't released his tax returns either, and I find that troubling.  Every US president since the 50s has released their returns during the campaign. There's a good reason for that. To show they have nothing to hide, for one.

I consider myself an truly independent thinker when it comes to politics, but I fear this is going to be a sad era for the country. As if things weren't bad enough already, (and I blame Democrats as well as Republicans for that), now we have billionaires who will run the country for their own profit and to our ruin as a nation. I am fearful for everyone's future and pray that  the half of the country who feels no obligation as citizens to actually vote might change their minds and vote next time, once they see how bad things can really get when business tries to run government. Business is not about people, it's about profits, and there is little or no profit in caring for the sick and elderly, educating our children, and promoting healthy families and lives, fixing roads and bridges, seeing that the people have clean air and water, that workers have dignity.

I know that you and I feel the same about these things, we value the same good things. We care about the less fortunate. I do think you might want to read some more authentic news sources rather than these websites that are weak on facts and big on getting folks so riled up they can't see their fellow citizens whose opinions might differ from their own as anything but enemies, when they're just people too trying to figure it out.  I think all this alt-right stuff is mighty un-Christian in spirit. It's mean and dangerous. I know my Testament as well as anyone and have no doubt all the hate and intolerance engendered by the Trump campaign is something Jesus would condemn strongly. I always remember how He tossed the money lenders out of the temple (where they didn't belong). The only time in the entire New Testament Jesus actually loses his temper.  I don't think Trump has a Christian bone in his body. He demonstrates time after time he's out for one person - himself. The arrogance of a man so obviously unqualified for the office, who during his entire life has never shown any interest in benefitting society, and with a documented history of ripping workers off,  thinking he deserves to be leader of the free world is just shocking to me.  God help us all, is all I can say. As ye sow...

Still, I hope your Christmas is a Merry One. You're so lucky to have [a granddaughter] to celebrate it with.  I love you and miss you more than you know. You are a true Christian woman and a good person. We should all be asking ourselves WWJD more often. Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, deal with the beam in your own eye, etc.  These things help keep the world a sane and loving place.

 I'm always so glad to hear from you. Be well. Stay in touch. Love to J---- if you see her.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Grim Tuesday, We Reap the Whirlwind

Shanghai Smog, What Price iPods?

Below arrived this morn from a pal in the UK, where the Tories are doing their best to outlaw workers' right to strike, the last recourse of working stiffs against the oppression of the rentiers.
Pretty soon, as Eddie Izzard would say, no talking and no drinking in bars.

The  making of a Lawyer.....
A father told his 3 sons when he sent  them to the university: "I feel  it's my duty to provide you with the best possible education, and you do not  owe me anything for that. However, I want you to appreciate it. As a token,  please each put $1,000 into my coffin when I die."

And so it happened. His sons became a  doctor, a lawyer and a financial planner, each very successful financially.  When their father’s time had come and they saw their father in the coffin,  they remembered his wish.

First, it was the doctor who put 10  $100 bills onto the chest of the deceased.

Then, came the financial planner, who  also put $1,000 there.

Finally, it was the heartbroken  lawyer's turn.  He dipped into his pocket, took out his checkbook, wrote  a check for $3,000, put it into his father's coffin, and took the $2,000 cash.  

He later went on to become a member of  Congress...

 I noticed on the BBC today that one of the Republican electors from Ohio wore a cowboy hat?  Since when are cowboy hats a thing in Ohio? The world is truly at sixes and sevens.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

So To Summarize....

From the weekly  Top Ten comments chosen by the editors of the NY Times:

4. Let’s see, so far we have a guy from Alabama dedicated to upholding the fine Southern tradition of voting prevention heading up the Justice Department, an alleged reincarnation of Patton affectionately known as “Mad Dog” for defense secretary, a general who wants to expand the Al Qaeda terrorist training camp in Guantánamo for Homeland Security, a conspiracy theorist as national security adviser, a fast-food billionaire who opposes health care benefits and better wages as labor secretary, a guy with a plan to dismantle health care access as Health and Human Services, a neurosurgeon with zero leadership experience for Housing, a billionaire who wants to divert funds from public schools for Education, a climate-change denier from fracking earthquake country for the Environmental Protection Agency, an interior secretary who wants to sell off public lands and half of the top management of Goldman Sachs for the rest.
What could go wrong?
— Look Ahead in Washington, reacting to an op-ed by Frank Bruni about Donald Trump’s search for a secretary of state.

What indeed? Oh let me count the ways. Most alarming to me is Trump's pick for Education Secretary. A woman who, in this moment of falling US international test scores (see PISA 2015 stats) –– the US didn't even make the top 10 –– she's looking to turn US schools into charter US Christian madrassas. I simply cannot believe this is happening and no one in government is publicly challenging the potential for severe damage to the demos.

Again, from today's Times:

"Betsy DeVos stands at the intersection of two family fortunes that helped to build the Christian right. In 1983, her father, Edgar Prince, who made his money in the auto parts business, contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as extremist because of its anti-L.G.B.T. language.

"Her father-in-law, Richard DeVos Sr., the co-founder of Amway, a company built on “multilevel marketing” or what critics call pyramid selling, has been funding groups and causes on the economic and religious right since the 1970s.

"Ms. DeVos is a chip off the old block. At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, she singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to “greater kingdom gain.”

"And so the family tradition continues, funding the religious right through a network of family foundations — among others, the couple’s own, as well as the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, on whose board Ms. DeVos has served along with her brother, Erik Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater. According to Conservative Transparency, a liberal watchdog that tracks donor funding through tax filings, these organizations have funded conservative groups including: the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal juggernaut of the religious right; the Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family; and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy."

H. L. Mencken wrote: an election is a battle for the soul of the American people, a war, if you will,  of words and ideas.  But if truth is the first casualty of war, how is a nation of citizens – raised in an education system subject since the early seventies to decades of dumbed down and increasingly locally designed, ideologically influenced curricula – a nation not given to critical discernment, to see through the fog of war?  It never will if Ms. de Vos has her way.  This is Erik Prince's sister, for God's sake. The Prince of Evil himself, Cheney's personal hitman, a guy who singlehandedly created a privatized the US military to promote and protect the agenda of the rentier class and its government handmaidens, and at twice the price of a "government run" military. 

I don't know how much more I can take. I mean, it's not Aleppo, but the world seems so sharply divided these days, not between two opposing points of view, but between thinking people who have an appreciation of the negative effects of thoughtlessness and intolerance and plain ol' nihilists.

The Founders were revolutionaries of a sort, but they weren't nihilists. They had at least some appreciation that there is a benefit to considering the common good. What happens when that idea is no longer part of the equation?

Monday, December 12, 2016

The "Gaslighting" of America

The article below by the Editor of Teen Vogue is a ballsy, scathing critique of Trump's shell game politics. 

[And for the record, regarding Trump's recent crack (a lie) about the CIA and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the very weapons we sold them throughout the years of the Reagan administration, the very weapons the Bush Administration harassed a reluctant CIA into verifying despite evidence to the contrary, Wiki reminds us: " On March 21, 1986 the United Nation Security Council recognized that "chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces"; this statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained).[38]  "On March 23, 1988 western media sources reported from Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan, that several days before Iraq had launched a large scale chemical assault on the town. Later estimates were that 7,000 people had been killed and 20,000 wounded. The Halabja poison gas attack caused an international outcry against the Iraqis. Later that year the U.S. Senate proposed the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, cutting off all U.S. assistance to Iraq and stopping U.S. imports of Iraqi oil. The Reagan administration opposed the bill, calling it premature, and eventually prevented it from taking effect..." 

Fuck Ronald Reagan. Fuck The Bushies, And Fuck Donald Trump. And Fuck the Fascist "Alt-Right" Nazis. And if you haven't yet seen Oliver Stone's History of the US on Netflix, tune in soon. Most viewers will find themselves surprised at how much we don't know about our own government's shenanigans.]

Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America by Lauren Duca

The CIA officially determined that Russia intervened in our election, and President-elect Donald Trump dismissed the story as if it were a piece of fake news. "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," his transition team wrote in a statement. "The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again'."

It wasn't one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history, so presumably that's another red-herring lie to distract from Trump treating the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States like it is some rogue blogger to be cast to the trolls. A foreign government's interference in our election is a threat to our freedom, and the President-elect's attempt to undermine the American people's access to that information undermines the very foundation upon which this country was built. It's also nothing new. 

Trump won the Presidency by gas light. His rise to power has awakened a force of bigotry by condoning and encouraging hatred, but also by normalizing deception. Civil rights are now on trial, though before we can fight to reassert the march toward equality, we must regain control of the truth. If that seems melodramatic, I would encourage you to dump a bucket of ice over your head while listening to “Duel of the Fates." Donald Trump is our President now; it’s time to wake up.

"Gas lighting" is a buzzy name for a terrifying strategy currently being used to weaken and blind the American electorate. We are collectively being treated like Bella Manningham in the 1938 Victorian thriller from which the term "gas light" takes its name. In the play, Jack terrorizes his wife Bella into questioning her reality by blaming her for mischievously misplacing household items which he systematically hides. Doubting whether her perspective can be trusted, Bella clings to a single shred of evidence: the dimming of the gas lights that accompanies the late night execution of Jack’s trickery. The wavering flame is the one thing that holds her conviction in place as she wriggles free of her captor’s control.

To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country. He gained traction in the election by swearing off the lies of politicians, while constantly contradicting himself, often without bothering to conceal the conflicts within his own sound bites. He lied to us over and over again, then took all accusations of his falsehoods and spun them into evidence of bias. 
At the hands of Trump, facts have become interchangeable with opinions, blinding us into arguing amongst ourselves, as our very reality is called into question.

There is a long list of receipts when it comes to Trump's lies. With the help of PolitiFact, clear-cut examples of deception include Trump saying that he watched thousands of people cheering on 9/11 in Jersey City (police say there's no evidence of this), that the Mexican government forces immigrants into the U.S. (no evidence), that there are "30 or 34 million" immigrants in this country (there are 10 or 11 million), that he never supported the Iraq War (he told Howard Stern he did), that the unemployment rate is as high as "42 percent" (the highest reported rate is 16.4 percent), that the U.S. is the highest taxed country in the world (not true based on any metric of consideration), that crime is on the rise (it's falling, and has been for decades), and too many other things to list here because the whole tactic is to clog the drain with an indecipherable mass of toxic waste. The gas lighting part comes in when the fictions are disputed by the media, and Trump doubles down on his lies, before painting himself as a victim of unfair coverage, sometimes even threatening to revoke access. 
Trump has repeatedly attempted to undermine the press, including such well-respected publications as the New York Times. He has disseminated a wealth of unsubstantiated attacks on the media, though this baseless tweet from April pretty much sums it all up, "How bad is the New York Times -- the most inaccurate coverage constantly. Always trying to belittle. Paper has lost its way!" 

As a candidate, Trump's gas lighting was manipulative, as President-elect it is a deliberate attempt to destabilize journalism as a check on the power of government. 

To be clear, the "us" here is everyone living under Trump. It's radical progressives, hardline Republicans, and Jill Stein's weird cousin. The President of the United States cannot be lying to the American electorate with zero accountability. The threat of deception is not a partisan issue. Trump took advantage of the things that divide this country, pitting us against one another, while lying his way to the Oval Office. Yes, everything is painfully clear in hindsight, but let’s make sure Trump’s win was the Lasik eye surgery we all so desperately needed. 

The good news about this boiling frog scenario is that we’re not boiling yet. Trump is not going to stop playing with the burner until America realizes that the temperature is too high. It’s on every single one of us to stop pretending it’s always been so hot in here.

There are things you can and should be doing to turn your unrest into action, but first let's empower ourselves with information. Insist on fact-checking every Trump statement you read, every headline you share or even relay to a friend over coffee. If you find factual inaccuracies in an article, send an email to the editor, and explain how things should have been clearer. Inform yourself what outlets are trustworthy and which aren’t. If you need extra help, seek out a browser extension that flags misleading sites or print out a list of fake outlets, such as the one by communications professor Melissa Zimdars, and tape it to your laptop. Do a thorough search before believing the agenda Trump distributes on Twitter. Refuse to accept information simply because it is fed to you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. That is now the base level of what is required of all Americans. If facts become a point of debate, the very definition of freedom will be called into question. 

It will be far easier to take on Trump’s words when there is no question of what he’s said or whether he means it. Regardless of your beliefs, we all must insist on that level of transparency. Trump is no longer some reality TV clown who used to fire people on The Apprentice. He is the President of the United States.

The road ahead is a treacherous one. There are unprecedented amounts of ugliness to untangle, from deciding whether our President can be an admitted sexual predator to figuring out how to stop him from threatening the sovereignty of an entire religion. It’s incredible that any of those things could seem like a distraction from a greater peril, or be only the cherry-picked issues in a seemingly unending list of gaffes, but the gaslights are flickering. When defending each of the identities in danger of being further marginalized, we must remember the thing that binds this pig-headed hydra together. As we spin our newfound rage into action, it is imperative to remember, across identities and across the aisle, as a country and as individuals, we have nothing without the truth.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Noam Chomsky on the new Trump era

And let me reiterate:

In 1938 President Roosevelt warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.”

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." --H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956

Triumph: DiEM25 on how progressives must react (reprinted here from Diem25 site)

Donald Trump’s victory marks the end of an era when a self-confident Establishment preached the end of history, the end of passion and the supremacy of a technocracy working on behalf of the 1%. But the era it ushers in is not new. It is a new variant of the 1930s, featuring deflationary economics, xenophobia and divide-and-rule politics.

Passion has returned to politics but not in a way that will help the 80% left behind since the 1970s. Passion is now fuelling misanthropy. Passion is exploiting the anger of the 80% to re-arrange power at the top, while leaving the 80% moribund, betrayed and divided. And it is our job to stop this. It is our job to harness passion in the cause of humanism.

The Establishment’s folly is causing its demise. Unable to come to terms with the economic crisis they created, they crushed the Greek Spring because they could. They pushed the majority of British families into austerity-induced hopelessness. They committed millions of Germans to mini-jobs. They conspired to keep Bernie Sanders at bay. And when Golden Dawn, Brexit, the Alternative für Deutschland and Donald Trump were the result, they responded with a mixture of condescension, denial and panic.

Politics is undergoing a shake up that the world has not seen since the 1930s. A Great Deflation is now gripping both sides of the Atlantic, re-kindling political forces that had been dormant since the 1930s. President Trump’s use of Mussolini-like tactics and narratives is a mere symptom of the rendition of that bleak era.

What should we do?

The spectre of a Nationalist International that is upon us (from Trump and the Brexiteers to Poland’s and Hungary’s governments, the Alternative für Deutschland, Austria’s next president, Marine Le Pen) can only be defeated by the Progressive International that the Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM25, is building in Europe.

But, clearly, Europe is not enough. Progressives in the United States, those who supported Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, must band together with progressives in Canada and Latin America, to build a Democracy in the Americas Movement. Progressives in the Middle East, those who are shedding their blood against ISIS, against tyranny as well as against the West’s puppet regimes, must band together with progressive Palestinians and Israelis to build a Democracy in the Middle East Movement.

In 1930, our ancestors failed to reach out to other democrats across borders and political party lines to stop the rot. We must succeed where the others failed. Today, on the day of victory by the politics of fear, loathing and division, we pledge to take the fight to the Nationalist International, to form an effective Progressive International and to press passion back into the service of humanism.
Carpe DiEM25

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Paul Krugman Tells the Truth

In 1938 President Roosevelt warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.”

Following is the Joke of the Day, but is it?

Donald Trump and Barack Obama somehow ended up at the same barbershop.
As they sat there, each being worked on by a different barber, not a word was spoken.
The barbers were even afraid to start a conversation, for fear it would turn to politics.
As the barbers finished their shaves, the one who had Trump in his chair reached for the aftershave.
Trump was quick to stop him saying, 'No thanks, my wife will smell that and think I've been in a whorehouse,'
The second barber turned to Obama and said, 'How about you?'

Obama replied, 'Go ahead, my wife doesn't know what the inside of a whorehouse smells like.'

"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. "