Thursday, December 31, 2015

Response to Sexual Politics

(See: Just Above Sunset: Sexual Politics)

Here's Donald Trump, justifying his retort to Hillary Clinton after she accused him of sexism for using the word "schlonging":

"Frankly, Hillary brought up the whole thing with 'sexist', and all I did was reverse it on her because she's got a major problem, happens to be right in her house."

In fact, whatever Trump thought he was responding to in his reply to Hillary on "sexism" had nothing to do with sexism. It seems that "sexism", like "racism", changes its meaning each time some ill-informed blockhead uses it, and its meaning becomes whatever anyone anywhere wants it to mean.

And yes, I understand the difference between dictionary definitions and real life, but the fact remains that "having sex" is actually not sexism, nor is cheating on your wife, both of which I think Trump has admitted to having at some point done himself, sometimes even bragging about it:

"Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, 'Can you believe what I am getting?'"

Has Hillary, or has even Bill, ever publicly said anything that lounge-lizardy? And he's going to call those two out for being sexists?

I could also ask, had this lowlife not become extremely rich, if he ever would have been able to lure any of those "top women in the world" into his bed -- but that would not only be actually sexist, it's also an unseemly way to talk about someone who could possibly become our next president -- unless saying something "unseemly" is no longer considered political correct this year. (Yes, it's true, I'm having a hard time following all of this stuff.)

The fact is, words do matter, and in this case, it can probably be demonstrated that neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton are "sexists", while Trump obviously is -- and the fact that someone treats women as commodities and inferior to men is probably more important to most voters than any sex they ever had. But add to that the fact that whatever extra-marital sex Bill Clinton got involved in is not something that can be easily pinned on his wife anyway, I have a hard time imagining this becoming an issue in the general election.

In fact, I'm not even sure that, as Josh Marshall calls them, the "agitated and conservative middle aged white men" that vote in the Republican primaries would even care about any of this so-called "sexist" stuff either. They seem to be more concerned with getting their country back, whatever that means.

As a matter of fact, if you want to read something that could possibly, if anything can, really get The Donald where he lives -- that is, his ego! -- then read this:

In her memoir, Trump's first wife, Ivana, alleged her husband hit her while recovering from surgery to reduce the bald spot on his scalp. Trump has denied the accusation; his former wife has backed away from her claim.

No, no, not the allegations that he beat his first wife! I'm talking about this:

Do Trump's followers realize he had surgery to reduce that bald spot on his scalp?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Response to Exactly Revenge

(See: Just Above Sunset: Exacting Revenge)

Eugene Robinson, of the Washington Post, makes a good point about Donald Trump:

What Trump has done is call out the establishment on years of dishonest rhetoric. ... 
The Republican Party promised – with nods, winks and dog-whistle toots – to change all of this and make everything the way it used to be. In practice, however, party leaders were compelled to deal with the world as it actually is – hence, for example, the establishment view a couple of years ago in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. ... 
Enter Trump, who has the temerity to point out that the party establishment says one thing but does another. He launched his campaign by calling the GOP’s bluff on immigration: If the 11 million people here without documents are really “illegal,” as the party loudly proclaims, then send them home. Other candidates were put in the position of having to explain why, after claiming that President Obama was somehow “soft” on immigration, their position on allowing the undocumented to stay is basically the same.

This reminds me of my time in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the early 1970s when I launched a TV Magazine program on public access cable and was hanging around a local Democratic club, the Park River Independent Democrats, to find out how politics worked in the neighborhood.

One big issue at the time was the "51st State Movement" that had many New York City Democrats wanting the city to secede from the state because the Republicans in Albany were mistreating us. The club had set up card tables on Broadway and 72nd Street and were asking passersby to sign secession petitions.

I remember asking Henry Berger and Paula Weiss, the two leaders of the club, if they really believed secession possible, or was even a good idea, and both laughed -- and I'm paraphrasing here: "Of course not! First of all, it's a pretty stupid idea, but second, it'll never happen!"

Then why are you soliciting petitions for it?

Their answer was that they were trolling for new members for the club, figuring that citizens who care enough about this issue to sign a petition might start coming to club meetings, get involved with local politics, and will hopefully stay involved long after this whole stupid secession movement is dead and gone and forgotten.

It was a ruse, albeit from their perspective, a well-intentioned and forgivable one.

The difference between the so-called Republican "establishment" and the so-called Republican "base" is the difference between the leadership of that Democratic club and the rubes who stopped to sign the petition. The establishment is sophisticated enough to know what needs to happen to get real things done, even if they have to pull the wool over the eyes of rubes to do it -- which is fine until the rubes catch on. Then? All the plans fall apart and nothing of import happens.

Donald Trump isn't just calling the GOP's bluff, he represents the logical extension of everything Republicans secretly think but are afraid to say out loud.

Politics may have kept John Boehner in check, keeping him from accomplishing anything Republicans really wanted to do, but Trump's not a politician, so he can promise, at least at this point, to deliver things that politicians never could deliver. Whether Trump would actually break the machine if he became president, or would miraculously smarten up and just be an Obama third term, is an open question at this point.

But can Ted Cruz beat Trump? One reason I doubt it is that all he has going for him is that he's an outsider, but he's an outsider who has been working on the inside, and has still demonstrated that he is totally feckless at accomplishing anything -- which gives Trump supporters no good reason to abandon him for Cruz. After all, if you're going to fail at achieving your agenda, you might as well do it with some guy who goes around loudly saying outlandish and controversial things that nobody else has the guts to say.

The real issue may be the future fate of the Republican party. 

I see this as a huge game of Jumbo Jenga, where you stack up a tower of wooden pieces that players then pull out one by one, seeing how long they can do this before the whole structure inevitably tumbles over. (By the way, in recent years, I've googled to see whatever happened to the Park River Independent Democrats club back in Manhattan, and it seems to have vanished.)

I think everything points to the national Republican Party eventually breaking down into two separate parties made up, on one side, of relatively moderate wrong-headed conservatives, and on the other, outright wackadoodle wrong-headed conservatives. This may temporarily please us Democrats, but only until it dawns on us that both those groups carry guns.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Response to Policing America

I just want to introduce one possible complication to what seems like an otherwise very thorough take on the Tamir Rice killing in Cleveland.

At first glance, and without looking too closely, this case seems to be an exception among those cases of white cops shooting black people, especially the two in Chicago -- shooting some guy across the street sixteen times, and shooting a woman and teen in a doorway from twenty feet away. Those two shootings seem absolutely indefensible, and to claim those cops felt their lives were threatened is total nonsense, an example of the sort of absurdity you'd expect to see in Franz Kafka's "The Trial".

I keep wondering if, when he was shooting away at Laquan McDonald, Officer Jason Van Dyke was taking into consideration that the odds were seemingly in his favor of getting away with this since, according to Huffington Post:

Van Dyke's indictment was the first time in more than 30 years that a Chicago police officer had been charged with murder. If convicted, he could serve 20 years to life in prison -- and would be the first Chicago cop in the modern era to be convicted of first-degree murder from an on-duty shooting. 

But it's a different case when a cop car pulls right up next to a suspect, and before the wheels even stop rolling, the cop comes out of the car and sees the suspect pulling out a gun. In this case, as awful as it is, I can understand him doing what he did.

A few years ago, the security department at my wife's employer (CNN) invited her to participate in one of those simulated training sessions in which you, the cop, standing there with a gun and watching a film of suspects popping out of various places, have to decide whether to shoot them or not. I can't remember the details, but I think she accidentally shot down several innocent civilians, but also decided to not shoot somebody who then, first, shot her, but then shot some innocent bystander that wouldn't have been shot, had she been doing a better job of being a cop. She found the whole experience illuminating. I'm thinking we should offer everyone in America the chance to go through one of those sessions.

But it occurs to me today that one thing that her simulated shootout didn't take into account was this business of “officer-created jeopardy” -- that is, what did my wife do to get herself in that situation in the first place where she was forced to think about shooting someone?

The answer, of course, is nothing. She just showed up at the pretend crime scene with her pretend gun drawn because the cameraperson showed up at that specific location and filmed it. Jane had no choice in the matter.

And what of Officer Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot Tamir Rice? Shouldn't he have approached his suspect from farther away?

I would say yes, but the truth is, he apparently didn't have a choice either, since it was not he who was driving the patrol car, it was his partner, Officer Frank Garmback. In this case, Loehmann can't be held accountable for placing himself in the wrong location, and I'm not even sure whether Garmback can either, since he didn't do the shooting -- although I would think he should be somehow, since had he not driven up so close, we might not all be talking about this shooting incident today.

I understand that all this is playing out within the context of the national issue of too many white cops shooting too many black youths, with members of "Black Lives Matter" taking to the streets to protest each suspected case, but I would also hope that even the protesters could recognize that some cases don't fit that profile, and that the Tamir Rice case, in particular, seems to be far different than those Chicago cases, in that, rather than blatant police misconduct, it was just a tragedy that we really need to find out how to avoid in the future.

Examples of some things we could look into that, had they been in place, could have saved Tamir Rice's life:

* Should cops be required to keep their distance from suspects, and not drive right up to them? Should they be charged if they fail to do this?

* Should 911 operators be obligated to pass on bits of information to dispatchers that they hear from the callers, such as that this seemed to be a boy who was playing with a toy gun -- and the dispatchers be required to pass these on to the patrol officers responding to the call? Should there be legal consequences if they don't?

And only slightly off the subject but still sort of relevant: Should not the people who originally set up the "Black Lives Matter" movement instead have called it "Black Lives Matter, Too"?

I think that would have made the point more clearly, without so much chance of misunderstanding, and done it by staking a claim on the middle ground, which would have partly pulled the rug out from under all those Fox News-types or whomever it is that are now depicting the movement, with a certain amount of success, as some sort of anti-white hate group.

In fact, it may not be too late. If someone with influence in "Black Lives Matter" is reading this, it's not too late for you to convince everyone to change the name of the movement to "Black Lives Matter, Too!"

It'd be quite the public relations coup, assuming you care about that sort of thing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Response to Nothing to Fear

(See: Just Above Sunset: Nothing to Fear)

It's a rare day that I find myself disagreeing with Kevin Drum, but today is indeed one of them. Here he is, responding to Democrats blaming GOP candidates for "Exploiting Working-Class Fears":

Here’s the thing that liberals tend not to want to accept: different people evaluate threats in far different ways. This is not right or wrong. It’s just human nature.

Okay, this takes me back to my favorite study by John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

"We know that liberals and conservatives are really deeply different on a variety of things," Hibbing explains on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast [See #88 on list.] "...We can measure their sympathetic nervous systems, which is the fight-or-flight system. And liberals and conservatives tend to respond very differently." 
For example, startle reflexes after hearing a loud noise were stronger in conservatives. And after being shown a variety of threatening images ("a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," according to the study), conservatives also exhibited greater skin conductance — a moistening of the sweat glands that indicates arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, which manages the body's fight-or-flight response. 
It all adds up, according to Hibbing, to what he calls a "negativity bias" on the right. Conservatives, Hibbing's research suggests, go through the world more attentive to negative, threatening, and disgusting stimuli — and then they adopt tough, defensive, and aversive ideologies to match that perceived reality.

But Drum, who lives in California, continues:

In my case, I never even bother getting out of bed if I feel an earthquake. I just roll over and wait for it to stop. 
This is, by almost any measure, stupid. ... Wouldn’t it make sense to at least hop out of bed and get ready in case my house starts to collapse? Yes it would. I’m putting my life in danger by underplaying the threat.

Not really, he's only acting like a conservative, by giving into his fears instead of dealing with them rationally.

First of all, concerning earthquakes:

Like Kevin, l've lived in California (I was born there, and lived there from age four to twelve). I "experienced" several earthquakes -- and I put that in quotes because, although they happened, I never once felt one. I remember several times in class, everybody would stop talking and the teacher would say, "You feel that? It's an earthquake!" I would sit there and look at everyone sitting still, looking fearful. 

The topper was the time that I woke up one morning and the family all said, "Boy, that was something last night!" My older brother said it shook him out of bed (the top bunk!) onto the floor. I told everybody I never felt it and they took me out back to show me the swimming pool, which was 20 feet by 40 feet and eight feet deep, and it was half-empty, the water having shlossed out into the gully behind our property.

I guess I was a born liberal because it didn't scare me. Or maybe I just figured the big one would kill me in my sleep, so I wouldn't suffer.

But I think Kevin is wrong on this:

Not only do I, as a liberal, accept that, because of human nature, liberals and conservatives evaluate threats in different ways, but I also think liberals are right, which means that conservatives are wrong.

In National Review, there's Jim Geraghty, answering that Saturday Night Live skit with a faux Chris Christie, pronouncing that, “Mothers are putting their kids on buses, and these buses are being driven off cliffs by terrorists!", by quoting, I guess as a corrective, the real Christie,saying this:

America has been betrayed. We’ve been betrayed by the leadership that Barack Obama and Hilary [sic] Clinton have provided to this country over the last number of years. Think about just what’s happened today. The second largest school district in America in Los Angeles closed based on a threat. Think about the effect that, that’s going to have on those children when they go back to school tomorrow wondering, filled with anxiety, to whether they’re really going to be safe. 
Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound. 
Think about the fathers of Los Angeles, who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children. 
What is it that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton done to this country? That the most basic responsibility of an administration is to protect the safety and security of the American people.

(Did you get how Obama and Hillary supposedly caused the thing in Los Angeles to happen? Me, neither, but never mind that.)

Better yet, think about the senseless fear that the leadership of Los Angeles propagated by closing down the second-largest school system in America in the face of the same threat that the wiser leadership of New York, the first-largest, were able to see was a hoax. Yes, New York took a chance that could have backfired on them, but it wasn't "rolling the dice", it was using their brains and showing leadership in combatting terrorism, since closing down a school system for every fake threat that comes along is expensive and cowardly, and just hands the bad guys an easy victory.

So instead of fear-ridden New Jersey Governor Chris Christie running for president, maybe courageous and proven-capable New York Mayor Bill De Blasio should take his place? (No, never mind that. The Democrats are not in need of capable candidates. Although maybe De Blasio could run as a Republican?)

What Obama is trying to say, although probably not with the specificity that's required, is that although ISIL (that's what he calls ISIS) will continue trying to attack us, and although a few of them will get through and kill some of us here and there, we have been successful over the years of thwarting many such attacks, and they will not come anywhere near to destroying our country, much less taking us over and making us part of their so-called "caliphate". So since the chances of you or anyone you know being an actual victim of terrorism are minimal, you will only be a victim of your own exaggerated fears if you allow yourself to give in them. So don't.

Think of Britain during the Blitz. Even though German bombs killed close to 40,000 of them, they stayed calm and carried on, and finally ended up the victors. We're not suffering anywhere near those casualties, and yet the conservatives seem to be quivering in their boots. Remember, the real question is not whether you're afraid, it's how you are able to handle your fears without losing your sense of direction.

So yeah, our fears differ, but that doesn't mean conservatives aren't scaredy-cats. They are, and they should be ashamed, and should just man up and try to control themselves!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Response to Political Anomalies

It's fun to think Vladimir Putin endorsed Donald Trump, but the truth is, he didn't; in fact, he made a point of saying it's up to the American people.

He was only responding to reporters random questions, saying, depending on which translation you believe, that Trump is “an outstanding and talented personality", or else that Trump is "flamboyant", which might mean something else altogether. But the next thing, we're all talking bromance, or at least that the two guys are, in many ways, very much alike.

Which, according to Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, is largely true:

"Putin respects fighters and he respects aggression and he doesn’t respect sort of calm and deliberation,” Gessen said. “He wants a manly adversary. He wants somebody he can understand.”

("Manly"? Hey, not that there's anything wrong with this, but the little guy is only 5' 7" tall! The next time he's in Moscow, Obama, who is 6' 1", should challenge Putin to a little game of one-on-one basketball. If Putin insists, he can even be "skins"!)

But remember, Putin expects to compete against this adversary, and he also expects to win. It's easier for him to win against somebody he can understand, someone like Trump. It's harder for him to win against someone he doesn't understand, someone like Obama, and maybe even Hillary. 

Trump and Putin both fit the Mussolini strong-man image of leadership. This country doesn't need a "strong-man" leader who does a lot more posturing than thinking. Obama has played Putin fairly well when it was necessary -- getting him involved in removing chemical weapons from Syria, for example -- and Republicans, who tend to focus more on posturing than actual diplomacy, never acknowledged that.

One thing Trump -- who says he wants to "Make America Great Again!" -- seems not to understand that this country has an actual two-hundred-plus-year history of lofty ideals that have served it well, at least until now. Just as he can see us throwing away what the United States stands for, he can also see himself as its strongman leader along the lines of Vladimir Putin, who also wants to return his own country to the greatness of the past, which, in his case, was always a nation mired in misery, ruled with an iron fist by ruthless czars and commissars, all with inferiority complexes.

Instead of trying to "make America great again" by changing it into Russia, Trump should audit a few courses on American history to learn a little more about the country he is threatening to dismantle. 

And so, by the way, should all of those "low-information" followers of his, who may actually be the real villains of this piece.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Response to Political Indigestion

This was good.

Yes, there was a lot of good material to chew on in that debate the other night, but maybe too much -- so much that it was overwhelming. I'm surprised anybody had the heart and the energy to sort it all out. Kudos.

But that runaway convention thing sounds pretty good, especially if it brings with it the possibility of us retaking the Senate and maybe even the House? I hadn't heard that speculation before. Is that really being discussed out there?

Yep, that scenario certainly would be better than a "President Rubio" or even a "President Jeb!", either of which I think is still a possibility if the Republicans wake themselves up in time. But if they don't, this whole era of backing clueless "outsiders" -- and refusing to even sit down in the same room with Democrats -- may serve as an epic object lesson to those people over there on the other side.

Man, I can't wait to see Reince Pubis' post-mortem after that all happens.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Response to Angry Gloom and Doom

(See: Just Above Sunset: Angry Gloom and Doom)

Kevin Drum, of Mother Jones, live-blogged last night's debate, and I saw he wrote this at 9:07 PM:
These folks are still obsessed about whether Obama will say radical Islamic terror. Can someone please ask why they're so fixated on this? Do they really think that saying this over and over actually makes a difference?
I wish I could cite the sources who can document this, but it is apparently true that if you say "Radical Islamist Terrorist", then Muslims the world over, most of whom don't understand English, just hear "blahblahblah Islam blahblahblah".

I've always wondered why nobody ever seemed to ask one of the Republican candidates about this, point blank, and was pleased to see on CNN, after the debate, Jake Tapper ask Ted Cruz, specifically wondering out loud if he couldn't see how damaging this can be in that it seems to tell the world that we are at war with Islam itself!

Paraphrasing Cruz's answer (which I can't quote because I don't have a transcript) was, No, no! The Democrats refuse to say the term because of political correctness! They just don't want to hurt someone's feelings.

There you have it! Occam's razor! The truth is just too complicated to be true.

So who won the debate, you ask?

Since there's nothing substantially new in successive debates, so maybe it doesn't really matter. The only thing I haven't heard anybody mention is Rand Paul bringing what sounded like an entourage of maybe eight to ten people, with instructions to try, after everything he says, to be as loud as everybody else's followers. I think the campaign calculated that this would bring his poll numbers up from the basement, but I seriously doubt it worked for him.

I'm convinced that having so many debates, with so many candidates repeating the same stuff over and over, is not just destructive to their own party, it's destructive to the whole American zeitgeist. After all, with interest rates going up today, one more indication that the economy is coming back, what do the Republicans have to sell except fear that something awful is going to happen? By hearing this doom and gloom repeated over and over again, in debate after debate, citizens have little choice but take it for granted that the country is in deep doodoo -- which it isn't -- and that weakling Barack Obama and feckless Hillary Clinton have royally screwed things up -- which they haven't.

Still, asking who wins these Republican dog-and-pony shows is like asking who won last year's "Puppy Bowl" on Animal Planet. Do you remember? Of course not! Nobody does. People watch the "Puppy Bowl" just for the senseless spectacle, and when any contestant wins, it's largely by accident. 

But something else the two events have in common is that contestants of both know about equally as much as the other about which part of the nuclear triad to upgrade first.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Response to No Growing Up

(See: Just Above Sunset: No Growing Up)

Two comparisons worth a closer examination, being between Donald Trump and (a) Richard Nixon, and also (b) Fascists:

First, Hunter S. Thompson, who said of Nixon that he was "a man with no soul, no inner convictions", has his own colorful memory of Richard Nixon:
"The Nixon I remembered was absolutely humorless; I couldn’t imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn’t quite reach the lever on the voting machine.”
That surely is reminiscent of Donald Trump recently doing his impersonation of a disabled newspaper reporter, which should help remind us of the fact that conservatives, except for a few warped examples of mockery, such as these, don't seem to have much of a sense of humor.

But wasn't Nixon, as many have noted, actually just a liberal in conservative clothing, the president who brought us the Environmental Protection Agency, the famous opening up of China, and Wage and Price Controls? Liberal, Schmiberal, the man had no ideology and did pretty much only what he thought was politically expedient at the time, which is what all those programs were. For example, there were also those stories of Nixon seeking reassurance from Henry Kissinger just before the China trip that historians would indeed treat him kindly for doing it.

And when it comes to Trump, his politics also have been all over the map, and those accusations that he was once a liberal, while having some truth to them (remember him famously telling Wolf Blitzer in 2004, back when he wasn't running for anything, that the economy always seems healthier under the Democrats), seem to give him more credit than he deserves for thinking things through. Actually, he, somewhat like Nixon but with less thinking involved, just says what he thinks and feels, at the moment, will impress his followers, at that moment.

Which brings us to what Mark Bowden says about what he learned about Trump from interviewing him, in his recent (and wonderful) Vanity Fair article:
He has no coherent political philosophy, so comparisons with Fascist leaders miss the mark. He just reacts.
Yes, he certainly does, but the Fascism comparisons "miss the mark"? Not so fast, Mr. Bowden! You may be giving into that modern-day prohibition about referencing WWII Axis-types when discussing latter day misbehavers.

First of all, Fascism is a "coherent political philosophy"? Here's what George Orwell said about that, in his "What is Fascism?" back in 1944, when Fascism itself was in full bloom:
Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.
In a word, Bingo!

The popularity of Fascism that arose after WWI was, for the most part, a reaction against the failures of the past. In the words of Wikipedia, "Fascists view World War I as having made liberal democracy obsolete, and regard total mobilization of society under a totalitarian single-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties" -- not so much a coherent philosophy as merely a thoughtless gut response of lazy thinkers to the times they live in. 

That sounds pretty Trumpian, to me.

One more irony regarding Trump mocking that disabled reporter is that, if everyone thought it was okay to make fun of people with infirmities, everyone would be making fun of Trump for his seemingly-overt "Cluster B" personality disorder.

Oh, wait! We do!

Okay, well, nobody's perfect.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Response to Affirmative Inaction

(See: Just Above Sunset: Affirmative Inaction)

Remember the Bakke case, back in the late 1970s? That was the beginning of what we're seeing today:
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. It upheld affirmative action, allowing race to be one of several factors in college admission policy. However, the court ruled that specific quotas, such as the 16 out of 100 seats set aside for minority students by the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, were impermissible. 
Although the Supreme Court had outlawed segregation in schools, and had even ordered school districts to take steps to assure integration, the question of the legality of voluntary affirmative action programs initiated by universities was unresolved. Proponents deemed such programs necessary to make up for past discrimination, while opponents believed they were illegal and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. ... 
Allan P. Bakke, an engineer and former Marine officer, sought admission to medical school, but was rejected for admission by several, in part because, in his early thirties, he was considered too old. After twice being rejected by U.C.-Davis, he brought suit in state court. The California Supreme Court struck down the program as violative of the rights of white applicants and ordered Bakke admitted.

But the Supreme Court back then still bought the argument about affirmative action, that "such programs [are] necessary to make up for past discrimination", so rather than ruling it unconstitutional, it just started watering it down a bit.

Fast-forward to today, to a case which one might make the mistake of jumping to the conclusion that those who think society picks on white people too much may have jumped the shark. Scott Lemieux explains in the Guardian:
Early in the arguments, [Justice Antonin] Scalia asserted that “there are­­ there are those who contend that it does not benefit African­ Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well.” Scalia’s apparent assumption, albeit one that he attributed to others, that African Americans admitted under affirmative action programs must be unqualified is offensive in itself – and particularly offensive given how marginal the qualifications of the plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, were. 
As the 5th circuit court of appeals observed in its opinion upholding the UT affirmative action program, Fisher almost certainly would not have been admitted even if UT used strictly race-neutral admissions criteria. The argument that colleges should not even consider the racial diversity of its student body in order to give white applicants with poor qualifications a very slightly better chance doesn’t strike me as a very compelling one. 
And I must have missed Scalia condescendingly suggesting that Fisher would have been better off at a less-demanding school.
Boy, our country really must be going down the toilet, so much so that the concept of so-called "reverse discrimination" has seemingly made so much headway that mediocre white people are now arguing that they deserve to be given advantages over mediocre black people -- since not to be given them is just a form of racial prejudice. Incredible logic!

Two can play that game: The Court could take heed of Fisher's argument, that we shouldn't take one's race into consideration, by simply throwing the case out of court -- since with absolutely no consideration of her race, there goes her claim of being discriminated on the basis of her race, and she's got absolutely no case!

But considering the regressive zeitgeist of 2015, a legal decision like that would surely be seen as a huge leap forward, and might be just enough to start a revolution in this country -- that is, if Republican voters could only tear themselves away from all that other stuff that always seems to have their shorts in a bunch.

But speaking of the country? I want my country back.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Response to Reductio

(See: Just Above Sunset: Reductio)

Try these two headlines out as examples of Reductio Ad Absurdum:
Trump Reclaims Lead in Iowa Polls
You think that would do it? Probably not. His fans don't care what he says or does, as long as it's not "politically correct". I think the man has sold his soul to Satan.

Think about this Muslim ban:

As Martha Raddatz pointed out on ABC's "Good Morning America" this morning, Trump would ban Muslims on athletic teams from entering the country? He'd ban King Abdullah of Jordan? He'd ban Malala, the little girl who won the Nobel Peace Prize? And remember, by far most of the Muslims in the world are not in the Middle East, they're in Asia and the Pacific Rim, so he would be banning all Indonesian diplomats from showing up at the UN in New York.

Also on GMA this morning, George Stephanopoulos talked with Trump about his new plan:
GS: Let's talk to Mr. Trump himself, he joins us via the phone. Donald Trump, thank you for joining us again this morning. You've heard that chorus of condemnation, not only from (inaudible) but from a lot of Republicans as well, including the Chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party; she says it's Un-Republican, Un-Constitutional, Un-American. Do you have any second-thoughts at all that you may have gone too far? 
DT: Well, first of all, George, she's a Bush person and she wants to see Bush, and Bush has crashed like nobody's ever seen anyone crash before. Uh -- we have had tremendous support. We've had calls in, thousands and thousands of people. You saw last night, we were on a ship, there were thousands of people there, there were thousands of people outside that couldn't get in, and frankly, it was a standing ovation that wouldn't stop. Uh, the people, and you did polls, I mean, people went and interviewed the people that were at my speech last night, and they just want to see something happen.
His argument here being that, forget America, forget the Constitution -- and not to forget to forget the Republicans! -- people are eating it up!

Forget morality and American traditions of fairness that have developed and survived down through the centuries, what's important here is that thousands and thousands and thousands of people are trying to get on a ship to give me a standing ovation that won't stop.

So just in case you're buying his argument, that his poll rankings should outweigh constitutional concerns, someone needs to refer him, first of all, to Nate Silver's wise admonition, back on November 23rd, to not get all that excited about Donald Trump's poll numbers:
If even by New Year’s Day (a month before the Iowa caucuses, which are scheduled for Feb. 1) only about one-third of Iowa voters will have come to their final decision, the percentage must be even lower now — perhaps something like 20 percent of voters are locked in. When you see an Iowa poll, you should keep in mind that the real situation looks something more like this: 

  • Undecided 80% 
  • Donald Trump 5 
  • Ben Carson 4 
  • Ted Cruz 3 
  • Marco Rubio 2 
  • Jeb Bush 1 
  • Carly Fiorina 1 
  • Mike Huckabee 1 
  • Chris Christie 1
So in reality, Trump wasn't leading in Iowa at that point, "Undecided" was leading in Iowa, with 80% to Trump's 5%.

But, second of all, I'll go Nate further by noting that those percentages only apply to Republicans, and that if we, for argument's sake, estimate that half the state is Democratic -- I doubt that it is, but anyway -- that would give him only about two-and-a-half percent!

Of course, it would really be even less than that, since Republicans and Democrats share the state with lots of political Independents, along with members of third parties.

To put that another way, while Donald Trump's answer to all criticism of his proposal to turn the United States into a dictatorship, in which a popular leader can do anything he wants, is that most people seem to like it -- he needs to look a little closer at his numbers, and he might find out that most Americans actually are not with him, to the tune of probably somewhere over 98%.

And while we're contemplating glimmers of good news about Donald Trump, we need to keep in mind that if we lived in that hypothetical country in which Donald Trump could actually do all the unconstitutional things he is proposing, then we would also be living in a country that could very easily lock Donald Trump up, just for being a humongous jerk.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Response to Longing for Cheap Talk

(See: Just Above Sunset: Longing for Cheap Talk)

Do we have any quotes anywhere from anyone explaining why it's important to call our enemy "Radical Islamic Terrorists" or whatever? Although I'm glad to finally see this from Matthew Yglesias:
The Oval Office address represents Obama's best effort to meet the psychological needs of a frightened nation under attack...
Of course, Matthew Yglesias is not a conservative candidate for president, and although he does seem to be generally discussing the kind of things those people fault Obama for not addressing, he's not specifically talking about what to call the terrorists. Still, it's the closest answer I've seen to what I'm asking, so it'll have to do.

And yet, has any reporter ever asked Trump and that gang for a good reason to refer to those people with a phrase that has the word "Islamic" in there? Or, just as good, have any of the candidates, or even their acolytes, ever volunteered an answer, without having been asked? And if not, why not? Do they assume the answer is so obvious that no one need ask?

Mind you, we've all heard Obama and others give us any number of times the explanation of why we shouldn't lump Islam into the phrase -- no matter what we think we mean by using that word, the "undecided" Muslims in the middle see it as us being involved in some sort of "War of Civilizations", the West versus all Islam, which is exactly what the extremists hope to achieve -- but the Republicans never seem to acknowledge even hearing that explanation.

Worse yet, many in the media don't seem to understand this any clearer than the Republicans do. I've heard several mainstream, theoretically objective journalists lately (I think I heard it from Chuck Todd this past Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press") seem to wonder out loud when the Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, will finally cave in and somehow use the word "Islamic". We need to keep asking all these people, Republicans and journalists alike, "Are we at war with Islam? Do you want us to be? If not, then why do you keep trying to tell the whole world that we are, since that's what moderate Muslims hear over there?"

Those "psychological needs" probably don't just include the feeling that our president understands, first of all, that we're at war, and also who we're at war with, but also that, with every new event, the inkling that he will offer a change in approach, even if no new approach is necessarily called for.

Here's something else Yglesias said:
The deaths in San Bernardino were both tragic and horrifying. But if there is one thing the United States has learned from Sandy Hook and Charleston and Colorado Springs and scores of other mass shooting events, it is that the United States of America is fundamentally robust to the occasional spree killing.
In fact, that's a point that I wish Obama had made in last night's speech.

Americans might not understand when Obama tells them that ISIS does not present an "existential threat" to America -- if they ever do try to "take us over", they will fail miserably -- but I do think it would help to let them know that there will probably be more attacks, and that more Americans may die, but we will withstand them, and maybe even survive just as Britain heroically survived the German bombardment in 1940. That way, he could cover himself after the next terrorist attack, instead of us having to endure the wailing of those delicate flowers who, panicked, will be once again shrieking, "Look! It happened again! And he has still done nothing to prevent it!"

Yet, believe it or not, not doing anything in response could actually discourage homegrown terrorists, since it would show them that their feeble attempts to stir us up have no more effect than getting us all onto discussing gun control. It would be our version to the stiff-upper-lip UK response of "Keep Calm and Carry On" to War of Britain bombings in WWII.

But yes, I realize that conservatives too often look to Hollywood for positive examples of fictional American presidents with the kind of backbone they admire, not the least of which being President James Marshall, the Harrison Ford character in "Air Force One".

In real life, Harrison Ford's father's family is Irish Catholic and German, and his mother's is Jewish:
When asked in which religion he and his brother were raised, Ford has jokingly responded, "Democrat," "to be liberals of every stripe". ... Like his parents, Ford is a lifelong Democrat, and a close friend of former President Bill Clinton. ... 
In 2003, he publicly condemned the Iraq War and called for "regime change" in the United States. He also criticized Hollywood for making violent movies, and called for more gun control in the United States.
In case you missed the point, Hollywood's most heralded tough-guy president, Harrison Ford, is a Democrat -- as have been most of our recent, most exemplary presidents.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Response to The Outcome of Outrage

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Outcome of Outrage)

So the big question on everybody's mind this morning, because it's really hard to tell at this point, is, is this guy "mentally unwell" or is he instead acting on his overripe outrage over some actual political principle or other? On the other hand, does it really even matter why somebody does something really bad?

What? Who? No, no, I'm not referring to Donald Trump this time, I'm talking about that bearded guy in the weird mugshot. Although it is true that we question the level of derangement of each, do we measure it by the severity of the act (murdering three people) or the magnitude of its reach (electing a president who refuses to admit that thousands of Arab-Americans in New Jersey did not jump with joy as they watched the Twin Towers come down)?

While we don't know yet whether the national buzz over Planned Parenthood really motived the shooter to shoot up the place, I'm not really fixing to join that fight even if it ever resolves itself, since it so often happens that some crazy person does some crazy thing in the name of some crazy cause or other, and we're never really able to figure out how much is the craziness and how much is the cause, that I'm all tuckered out trying to keep them all straight.

But I will venture this thought:

It does seem that, of most the causes that all those crazy people do crazy things in the name of, rarely do they ever seem to be causes I agree with. Maybe John Brown, trying to do something to end slavery, but I'm not really even sure that's really what he was fighting for. Most of them seem more like what John Wilkes Booth did in the name of Confederate glory.

But this, from Josiah Hesse of the Guardian, seems to sketch the outlines of our problem with guns in this country as well as just about anything else:
Three weeks before Friday’s Planned Parenthood shooting, a man was seen brandishing a rifle while walking down the streets of Colorado Springs on Halloween morning. A concerned citizen called the 911 Emergency Line to notify the police, but was told by the operator: “Well, it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it,” referencing state laws that allow the brandishing of a firearm in public. 
Shortly after the call the man shot and killed three people before being shot dead by police.
So let's presume, just for fun, that this bearded Planned Parenthood shooter is mentally ill: Now what? Is it against the law to be mentally ill? Can you be arrested for that? Maybe a better question is, what would a conservative -- someone who thinks guns don't shoot people, mentally ill people shoot people -- what would a conservative who thinks mental illness is the real problem propose we do about him, and do early enough to save the lives of those three people?

And if nothing, what if he had walked into the parking lot, or even into the building, "brandishing" a gun or two? Until he actually shoots somebody, he's not doing anything anybody is supposed to even notice.

And also, if nothing can be done, do we just consider these deaths the price of liberty? The price of living in a free society, where we are not only free to own deadly weapons, we are free to "bear" them? To "brandish" them? Even, in the case of George Zimmerman, to gun some unsuspecting stranger down with them?

There was a time not too long ago that, if you saw a gunman walking around with a gun, you would call the cops, but times have changed. Now when you call, in the time it takes the 911 operator to explain to you that there's nothing wrong with a gunman doing that, the gunman guns three people down. Or, for all we know, he robs a Waffle House. Or some six-year-old girl, finding the gun in the couch cushions, guns herself down.

Fortunately, she lived in America, Sweet Land of Liberty, where people have the Constitutionally-protected right to do that sort of thing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Response to The Counterattack

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Counterattack)

I have been wondering lately what odds-maker Nate Silver has to say these days, and here he is, in his latest, which he titled "Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls":
Lately, pundits and punters seem bullish on Donald Trump, whose chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination recently inched above 20 percent for the first time at the betting market Betfair. Perhaps the conventional wisdom assumes that the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris will play into Trump’s hands, or that Republicans really might be in disarray. If so, I can see where the case for Trump is coming from, although I’d still say a 20 percent chance is substantially too high. 
Quite often, however, the Trump’s-really-got-a-chance! case is rooted almost entirely in polls. If nothing Trump has said so far has harmed his standing with Republicans, the argument goes, why should we expect him to fade later on? 
One problem with this is that it’s not enough for Trump to merely avoid fading.
Based on his assumption that too many of us are basing our excitement with Trump on the so-far meaningless polls for Iowa and New Hampshire, he's sticking by his earlier reckoning, that Donald Trump will not become our president.

So why does he insist those caucus and primary polls are essentially meaningless at this point? Because despite how much election stuff we see on TV right now, most voters in those two states aren't paying attention yet, with large percentages not deciding until the final week -- roughly 39% in Iowa, 50% in New Hampshire. In fact, calculating from past elections the percentage of voters in Iowa who have probably decided by now, Silver figures only about 20% have so far, so the real polls right now should look like this:

Undecided -- 80% (leading in the polls)
Trump -- 5%
Carson -- 4%
Cruz -- 3%
Rubio -- 2%
Bush -- 1%
Fiorina -- 1%
Huckabee -- 1%
Christie -- 1%

Silver's like the mommy at the slumber party, where all the girls are screaming-scared as they watch the horror flick, and Mommy has to come in the room and remind them that, calm down, kids, Freddy Krueger doesn't really exist! So, yeah, Nate, like a typical mom, really knows how to take the fun out of something.

But if we're really lucky, the Republicans will go ahead and "treat" Donald "unfairly", even knowing that this "breaks the deal" -- which would just be like them to, once again, do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and it would also be just like Trump to then ponder running as an independent, just to get even with them. Although if that happens, I'm betting it would be to just toy with them for awhile, just long enough to put the real scare into them that he thinks they deserve, and after what seems like an eternity, he'll announce that he's decided not to run.

Let's face it, he knows he wouldn't win as an independent anyway, so why waste all that time and money, especially if the end result would only be his forever being remembered as that egotistical schmuck who unilaterally put Hillary Clinton in the White House?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Response to Dark Days Returning

(See: Just Above Sunset: Dark Days Returning)

In spite of what a lot of people think, the 1960s were indeed dark times, with all the assassinations and political turmoil, mostly over that stupid war, and yet I don't think they were anywhere near as dark as the 1930s, especially in Europe.

On the day JFK was shot, I was taking a one-year "sabbatical" from college, so old enough to realize this was a big thing, comparable in scope to Lincoln's assassination. But by the time MLK's death came around -- and then especially RFK (who I had already decided I would vote for over Gene McCarthy) -- I had gotten blase about it all. Killing famous people started looking like the new normal, but still, I felt no sensation that the country was headed into the dark ages, simply because you never heard anybody, except maybe a few flakes, say these assassinations were a good thing. Ironically, despite a few stray violent radicals, most Americans were basically singing from the same page of the hymnal throughout the 1960s.

But the 1930s and 1940s were another story. We could look back on those decades and wonder what the hell was going through the minds of the Nazis and the Fascists, plus all the citizens of Germany and Italy who allowed them to do what they did. It would never have occurred to us in the 1960s to set up concentration camps and death camps, and most of us were shocked that we had once created internment camps for the Japanese in our own country. How could all the good people of those countries allow this stuff to happen?

And yet, maybe many of us in the '60s started realizing that future generations might ask the same of us in our own times: How could those people back in the '50s and '60s have allowed so much racial discrimination in the land of the free? In fact, it may have been that realization that pushed so many whites back then to join up with blacks in the Civil Rights movement.

We may be getting close to asking that question again: How can so many Americans be backing Donald Trump, a despicable and ignorant tough guy who is constantly, and almost proudly, lying through his teeth, with impunity? It almost seems like 1930s Europe, all over again:
Sunday afternoon, Trump did his weird version of a manual retweet of an image depicting a man (in this context, assumed to be black), with a bandana over his face pointing a gun sideways towards a list of wholly fabricated statistics. ... 
The image alleges that 97 percent of African-Americans were killed by African Americans, while only 1 percent of murdered African-Americans were killed by police. ... It also claims 81 percent of whites who are killed are killed by blacks, which is pure race-baiting at its most ignorant. The numbers in this erroneous image are attributed to the “Crime Statistics Bureau - San Francisco,” and reflect 2015 data. 
For one thing, a “Crime Statistics Bureau” does not exist. The FBI is responsible for this data and they have yet to release a report on 2015, because, well 2015 is not over yet. 
Secondly, whoever made that image did so with the intent of lying about the percentage of white Americans killed by black Americans. In 2014, that number was 14 percent, not 81 percent. Additionally, in the graphic, only 16 percent of whites are killed by other whites. In the same FBI report, it clearly states that 82.3 percent of whites are in fact killed by other whites ...
And then there was this happening in Birmingham, something right out of early 1930s Germany that reportedly happens a lot at Trump rallies:
Mercutio Southall Jr. — a well-known local activist who has been repeatedly arrested while fighting what he says is unfair treatment of blacks — interrupted Trump’s rally and could be heard shouting, “Black lives matter!” A fight broke out, prompting Trump to briefly halt his remarks and demand the removal of Southall. 
“Get him the hell out of here, will you, please?” Trump said on Saturday morning. “Get him out of here. Throw him out!” 
At one point, Southall fell to the ground and was surrounded by several white men who appeared to be kicking and punching him, according to video captured by CNN. ... As security officers got Southall on his feet and led him out of the building, he was repeatedly pushed and shoved by people in the crowd. The crowd alternated between booing and cheering. ... 
“Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” Trump said on the Fox News Channel on Sunday morning. “I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a trouble-maker who was looking to make trouble.”
Don't you, as I do, long for those simpler times when a candidate could single-handedly implode his own campaign by promising in a debate to close three government departments, but then be able to name only two of them?

And yet, just as I had become hardened to assassinations in the '60s, Americans today have become so totally accustomed to the nastiness of Trump and his campaign, and even that he still hasn't as yet been drummed out of the race, most of them probably didn't even notice these two incidents.

Back in earlier times, being caught sending out a tweet filled with false statistics to make some racist point, or defending the beating of a protestor at one of your rallies, would, for sure, get you immediately bounced out of the race. No, it's not your party or even the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) that would have done it, it would have been the voters themselves who would have known that you crossed a line.

But these days, it seems there are no lines. What changed?

Probably the voters. Back in the old days, voters might tolerate a little funny business here and there from their candidate, as long as the infraction wasn't very serious and there was "plausible deniability" to hide behind. Nowadays, telling an obvious untruth just doesn't have the currency it once did, especially among conservatives, probably because the people backing Trump -- and, to some extent, all of the other Republican candidates -- don't really care about what's true or not as much as they care about their candidate. After all, it's all those folks they don't like who seem to be constantly obsessed with the so-called "truth"!

So we're not only losing common grounds for discussion these days, we're losing that sense of decency that everyone once, back when the professionals were in charge, took for granted. Our only hope for 2020, when elections once more roll around, everyone will demand that their choice for president not be an outsider, but someone who can prove that they know how to do this politics stuff, and is someone with some record of having worked inside the system.

If, that is, this country is able to survive the elections of 2016.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Response to The Final Descent

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Final Descent)

It's a long one today, but I did want to make two points.

FIRST, I WANT TO REITERATE and elaborate on what I said yesterday, since I think it's worth repeating:

I see Donald Trump presenting more of a threat to America than ISIS does. Seriously, I mean it! Just this once, I'm not trying to be cute or ironical.

The threat of ISIS is that it is an evil entity that seems to be trying to gobble up much or all of the world, starting with the Middle East. In the short range, it's destroying human lives over there, and it's demanding that we reconsider sending not only bombs and missiles but also troops and money, into what, based on our previous experience, has often seemed to be a mistake. We may have to change our minds, and soon, about not getting heavily involved in fighting them.

But in the long haul, ISIS presents itself as not much more than a huge nuisance to us, since they will never, ever successfully take over this country, as least as we are formulated now. They may attack us and kill a few of us, but in the long run, we will win.

The threat of Trump is more of an actual clear and present danger, and is afflicting us already, whether or not he wins the nomination.

For one thing, his crazy-legged and half-baked ideas have attracted a large following of people who like crazy, half-baked thinking, probably because they somehow find so much to not like in a world run by the normal people who pay attention to what they think and say. These followers, which we could call the "Trumpers" and "Trumpettes", see "careful thinking" as mere "political correctness", which they despise, and the people who practice it as "liberal elites", which they also despise.

But for another thing, Trump has campaigned so successfully that he's got all his opponents trying to catch up with him, either emulating him or trying to out-Trump him with their own terrible ideas that have no relationship to reality and show a shocking failure to fully understand the lessons of history. It's easy to imagine that whichever candidate wins the nomination, we will have a Republican candidate who will have to be, if not a full-blown sufferer of Trumpitis, at least a carrier of the disease who might easily pass it on to future generations of political leadership.

Maybe the real problem is not in our political stars but in our non-political selves. Specifically, I mean those Americans who decide to pay no attention to the world until suddenly something strikes their fancy, so they then call up their congresswoman and demand she vote for some senseless Republican-sponsored bill or other, insuring that our refugee vetting process, the only problem with which may be that it takes too long, will now take even longer with all that passing around of documents so they can get signed.

AND SECONDLY, there's something else we need to be aware of:

Trump and other Republican candidates make heaps of noise about how there's way too much "Political Correctness" in this country -- which they seem to assume is a liberal disease -- and yet, without conservative Political Correctness, all the Republican campaigns would simultaneously implode, leaving them all dumbstruck, with nothing to talk about.

Just a glance at a sizable alphabetical sampling of what makes up "Conservative Political Correctness" should show us that they pretty much all seem to be non-existent issues:

* Anchor Babies -- Does this involve non-citizens crossing the border to give birth to a baby that somehow will protect them from deportation? If so, forget it. Those babies don't really exist, since even parents with American citizen babies get deported all the time. When it happens, they are given the choice of taking their little American with them, or leaving them with some American citizen who is here legally. This is not to say illegal immigrants don't have babies here. Lots of people, not just illegal immigrants, even in America, give birth to babies. Get used to it.

* Birthright Citizenship -- First, see "Anchor Babies", above. Yes, you can try to change the interpretation of what the Constitution says about what it takes to be a natural-born American, but to what end? It won't dissuade people coming to America to give birth because nobody's really doing that now. Can't you find something more useful to do with your time?

* Calling the Enemy "Radical Islamists" -- Republicans keep criticizing Democrats for not having the "courage" to do this, but (a) never seem to explain why it's so important to "call a spade a spade" (their words, not mine), and (b) never seem to understand the reasoning behind not doing this, nor come up with a rejoinder, decent or otherwise, to those who tell them why it's a bad idea -- which is this:

Even George W. Bush learned early on that any description of who we're fighting that includes the word "Islam" tends to make it easier for the bad guys to convince the Arab "Street" -- that is, those undecided Muslims in the middle who we want to be on our side, but who all the bad guys want backing their side -- that there is a "clash of civilizations" going on, and that the West, indeed, is waging a War on Islam itself. Which, by the way, we're not.

* Defunding Planned Parenthood -- The point being, what? You're trying to reduce the amount of money were paying those people to perform abortions? Except that we're not paying any money to those people to provide abortions! And as for those dummies who say that PP is probably moving money around, because "We all know that money is fungible", those people don't know how the system works.

The only reason Republicans are after PP, as if I need to tell you, is that, in addition to providing ordinary health services to people, especially in out-of-the-way places, the non-profit offers abortions to those willing to pay for them. So anti-abortion social conservatives are attempting to misuse the government in order to vandalize some organization they don't like, because it does things they don't like, even though none of that has anything whatsoever to do with government. Hey, you looking for some way to be useful? Find something else. Volunteer in a soup kitchen or something.

(By the way, if you're one of those people against birth control, maybe you could start a campaign to defund CVS Pharmacy! I visited my local CVS today and saw an aisle labeled "Family Planning"! Yes, as far as I know, CVS receives no federal funding, but does that really matter? That shouldn't stop you from passing a bill and sending it to White House, and if your lucky, we might even talk enough spineless Democrats into joining you, just to make it veto-proof.)

* Gun Control (or the lack thereof) -- Despite the fact that Americans shoot themselves and each other, often resulting in someone's death, at a much higher rate than folks living elsewhere, American conservatives of both parties (but mostly the Republican one) inexplicably insist on protecting the right of Americans to keep doing this.

In fact, the anti-control "Gunmen" make such a compelling case that, even though they are a minority, most Americans settle on merely seeking ways of controlling guns instead of banning them, apparently thinking the latter is essentially impossible. Still, a day may come when America's huge pro-control majority will tire of the NRA arrogance and just cut to the chase, outlawing personal weaponry altogether. And as they say, when that day comes that they outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns -- and if you know what's good for you, try not to be one of them. I have a hunch living your life as an outlaw is not as much fun as it seems.

* Immigration Problem, The -- Essentially, there isn't any. There are no statistics showing that Mexicans crossing the border illegally are "rapists and murderers", although, in fact, there are statistics showing crime rates for illegal immigrants are probably lower than for whatever miserable group of citizens you belong to. And I think there are probably statistics somewhere showing that the jobs illegal immigrants take are jobs that the rest of us refuse to do, even at higher wages.

(In fact, I have anecdotal evidence from a friend of mine whose parents decided to only hire American citizens to clean the rooms of the hotels they own. First, they found that nobody would do it unless they raised the rates, and so they did that. But after three weeks or so on the job, they kept finding the Americans leaving, often without notice, having found a better job somewhere. After a while, they could no longer pass the higher wages on to their guests, so they gave up, and went back to hiring only illegal immigrants.)

* Keystone Pipeline -- As everybody knows by now, this issue is totally symbolic, for both sides. Conservatives want to make some point, that the Democrats are refusing to exploit all our forms of energy to make America strong and "energy independent", even though the crude under discussion here doesn't come from our country, it comes from Canada -- which should instead qualify as "imported" oil -- but also, much of it won't even go to us anyway, much of it will go to some refinery on the Gulf Coast, then get shipped overseas.

Meanwhile, liberals want to make the point that, instead of continuing to search for cheaper ways to smog up the atmosphere by extracting more dirty oil from shale (which, it has now been confirmed, has been causing earthquakes in Oklahoma), we ought to instead be concentrating on developing safer and cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and sun and electricity that you can store in batteries -- which, in addition to being sources that won't run out some day, have the added advantage of actually making us independent from all those countries whose constant wars always seem to be luring us into the fight.

So yes, it's all just symbolic on both sides, and I, for one, think the Democratic symbolism here is far more meaningful than the Republican symbolism. And so should you.

* Syrian Refugees -- This is the newest non-issue to tickle the conservative fancy, maybe because all those other non-issues were getting stale. Does it matter to Republicans that there is already in place a program for vetting refugees, even Syrian ones, that seems to have been working perfectly well?

Of course not. The way to deal with that, they seem to reason, is to merely add something to that program -- making sure the DHS and FBI and DOJ are each made to sign off on every refugee man, woman and child -- just to make it look like Obama wasn't doing enough to keep Americans safe. Getting this stupid bill passed will give them one more phony thing to make hay about during some debate, as we approach election day.

* Voter Fraud -- The cases of actual voter fraud are so incredibly rare, they are statistically non-existent.

The real reason Republicans have pushed "Voter ID" laws on states they control, allegedly as a way to combat voter fraud, is to make it harder for poor people to vote, since poor people usually vote Democratic. When this issue came up before the Supreme Court, the Justices ruled that the Republicans could go ahead and do whatever they want, whether or not there is an actual voter fraud problem in America. Which, as everybody knows, there isn't.

* War on Christianity -- This seems to be less and less of an issue every year. Whether or not this "war" actually exists all seems to depend on whether Bill O'Reilly and Fox News choose to wage it each year. They seem, for some reason, to be perturbed at the way we Americans celebrate our holidays, and that most of us choose not to rudely get in the face of, and push our holidays on, those who don't celebrate them. I haven't heard yet whether or not the Fox people have decided to wage the war this year, but if you really need to know, give them a call (212-301-3000), then let me know what you find out.

Why, you may ask, do Republicans attach themselves to all these quixotic crusades?

The answer, I think, is two-fold: (1) Because all the real issues are already taken by the Democrats, although that doesn't matter because Republicans don't really want those things to happen anyway -- real things, like more jobs, higher pay, equal pay, better public education, cleaner environment, consumer protections, better opportunities for minorities and women, more control of who gets their hands on guns, fewer dumb wars, and a less belligerent approach to other countries, just to name a few; and (2) I'm sure Republicans think their issues have more pizzazz than ours. And they're probably right.

But If you have any doubts that the above non-problems all help define conservative PC, try telling your conservative friends that any or all of their so-called issues are simply conservative Republican versions of PC, and see how they react.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Response to Never Choosing Sides

(See: Just Above Sunset: Never Choosing Sides)

It's occurred to me recently that Republicans -- and specifically, presidential candidates -- may need a brush-up course on how to make analogies. They keep coming up with analogies that don't work.

Let me set the stage for the first example:

On Monday of this week, Obama was in Turkey for the G20 Summit, and during a press conference, he said this:
“When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who is fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful, that’s not American, that’s not who we are”, Obama said during a G20 press conference, making a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the reckless rhetoric of GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, whose parents fled to the United States from Cuba.
Later that same day, CNN's Dana Bash got a chance to ask Cruz about this:
“What would have happened if your father, who was trying to get from Cuba to the United States, and the political leaders said, ‘Nope, we don’t think so, because who knows? Maybe you could be somebody who could, you know, commit crimes against Americans,’” CNN’s Dana Bash asked the Texas senator during an interview on Monday, pointing out Cruz’s apparent hypocrisy. 
“See, that’s why it’s important to define what it is we’re fighting,” Cruz said. “If my father were part of a theocratic and political movement like radical Islamism that promotes murdering anyone who doesn’t share your extreme faith or forcibly converting them, then it would have made perfect sense,” Cruz said.

Okay, there's a problem with that, and it's that nobody, repeat nobody, is claiming that even one of, much less all of, the 10,000 refugees we're pledging to resettle here are radical Islamists, or belong to any group whatsoever that promotes murdering people who are not like them, yatta yatta. Refugees to this country have traditionally been, and will continue to be, subjected to an intense screening that takes up to two years -- more than long enough to test the patience of any self-respecting terrorist who, I'm sure, could easily find a better way to sneak into the country, and probably one in which he wouldn't be caught -- which he would be, under our rigorous admissions process.

A better analogy to the Syrians would be U.S. authorities putting Ted's dad, Rafael, on a list of people going through a two-year process of applying for entry, and he wouldn't be given the okay until it had been absolutely determined, beyond a doubt, that he would not present a danger to the country -- such as being a member of some communist organization, or whatnot.

As far as I know, Rafael Cruz never went through anything like that back in 1957, despite his (at least claim of having) fought for Fidel Castro, someone who was soon thereafter to become our enemy. How the guy got in so easily, since he was allegedly a rebel, fighting against our ally, is a mystery in itself. Maybe they should have screened him more carefully, as we now know he did bring a threat to the United States, if only indirectly.

My second example is what Ben Carson said recently:
“For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination.”
Carson caught lots of criticism for comparing Syrians to dogs, which an insider-type politician with more experience would have seen coming.

I think a better analogy would be this:

"Let's say you see five or six puppies running around your neighborhood. You're probably not going to assume something bad about those puppies, such as that they have rabies or anything, and probably not gonna put your children out of the way. Instead of assuming the worst, you'll probably try to figure out what you can do to protect them from getting hurt, have a vet give them vaccinations, and maybe then even try to find them homes." 

Or, if you prefer, make that five or six kittens, which works just as well. I realize that's not the point that President Brain Surgeon was trying to make, but I don't care. At least my analogy actually works.

And for my third example, there's Donald Trump:
Speaking to Sean Hannity, of Fox News, on Tuesday, Trump said that, in order to forestall possible attacks on American soil, the federal government might have to close down synagogues. “Nobody wants to say this, and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions,” Trump said. But, he continued, “There’s absolutely no choice. Some really bad things are happening, and they are happening fast.”
Okay, to be fair, his statement wasn't really an analogy, but only turned into one once I "improved" it.

And yes, he actually said "mosques", but can't you almost hear him say "synagogues"? I guess Trump could argue that it's all our Jews that are the problem, since all Muslims hate Jews and maybe that's why they're all trying to come here in the first place, just to kill our Jews! What, that doesn't make sense? Okay, but does it make any less sense than anything else he says, such as saying we may have to keep a database of all Muslims and shut down their mosques?

Although truthfully, it could just as easily have been Presbyterian churches, which have already proven themselves a danger to American society, since Presbyterianism is what seemingly brought us Donald Trump.

And the truth is -- and I know I would probably get into lots of trouble for saying this if anybody actually read the stuff I write -- the truth is, when it comes to assessing real threats to our country, I actually fear a Trump presidency more than I fear an ISIS takeover, largely because a Trump takeover of this country seems a lot closer to ever happening.

Go ahead, admit it! Don't you, too?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Response to American Mockingbirds

(See: Just Above Sunset: American Mockingbirds)

I must confess that I like mockery, actually. In fact, I was quite proud of the last line in my very long comment on Tuesday. After a long recounting of the history of the MS St. Louis, the German ship that sailed back and forth across the Atlantic, unsuccessfully seeking a safe place to drop off 900-some Jewish refugees in Cuba and the U.S., finally got permission to deliver them to Belgium:
Researchers later determined that, of the 620 returned passengers, 254 died in the Holocaust. 
But it’s probably just as well that none of them ended up in my own state of Georgia, since for all we know, one of them might have been a Nazi.
Yes, it was snarky. I suppose I was thinking somebody who was against our taking a chance on accepting Syrian refugees would either read it and realize the errors of their ways, or else maybe would feel terribly insulted, a feeling I decided they richly deserved.

Still, Kevin Drum does have a point when he says liberals who mock conservatives are practicing bad politics:
Maybe it’s true that we’re only mocking some of the most egregious politicians. And maybe it’s true that they deserve it. But who cares? Ordinary voters won’t make the distinction -- they’ll just hear the mockery -- and it doesn’t matter what anyone deserves. What matters is what works. On issues of interest only to wingnuts, go ahead and mock. We’re not going to persuade them of anything no matter what. But on issues like this, where a quite understandable fear is shared by a broad slice of the electorate, mockery is death. We can persuade these folks, and the way to do it is to acknowledge the problem and then fight the fear with facts. 
Will it work? Maybe, maybe not – but it’s got a way better chance than mockery does.
Does my mockery work? Depending on what my goal was, probably not. But I know I was not trying to persuade my Republican governor, Nathan Deal, nor any of his fellow travelers, since my experience tells me hardcore conservatives are not open to persuasion about anything, especially once they've taken a public stand. If, after hearing all the arguments from hospitals and others in the state, he still refuses to expand Medicaid, I'm sure I won't be able to talk him into changing his mind on accepting these refugees, even with my soberly reminding him of a shameful time in our history when Americans turned away Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis, sending many of them to their deaths.

But Drum's real argument isn't about persuading politicians, it's about swing voters -- well-intentioned people who might not be keeping up on the news and haven't given this issue all that much thought, who just might not be all that invested in the anti-refugee position being adopted, one by one, by Republican governors. These people, it's believed, might just see the lampoonery as rude and insulting, and would put them off.

And therein lies a major problem behind the concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people: How can a country be run by The People when The People aren't paying attention to what's going on?

No, I don't want to push voters away by insulting them, but what chance do any of us have of convincing them to have enough courage to trust their country, and all those American values that we learned back in grade school, to think and act like the good guys we are?

There seems to be an almost irresistible allure to the (especially right-of-center) idea that, to fight the bad guys, we have to become bad guys ourselves -- which, if you think about it, is exactly backwards. Despite our occasionally falling off the wagon, what Americans need to be proud of is a history of often being the good guys -- of appealing to, as Abe Lincoln put it, the “better angels of our nature.”

It's what we like to think of as what sets us apart, that we are somewhat handicapped in fighting our enemies because, unlike them, we refuse to chop off heads. But when given an honest and free choice, what people would freely choose to be ruled by folks who chop off people's heads?

Even in that MS St. Louis story, contrary to the popular urban legend of FDR refusing to allow the refugees to land, the real story was how hard he and his administration worked to get around our deeply-embedded xenophobic immigration laws that were leftovers from the twenties, working with other governments and with American Jewish groups to try to save the lives of those refugees, and ultimately mostly succeeding.

Where this leaves me is, while Kevin Drum is right on the politics, one can hope to sway only those independent souls who are already seeking the truth, and the few of them that there are out there should be smart enough to figure out the right path without any help from me.

Besides, as those kind of people are precious as hen's teeth these days anyway, I think that, instead of trying to proselytize amongst the unconverted, I'll just stick to trying to give comfort to those who already agree with me by assuring them that, yes, those conservatives on the other side are indeed as whacky as they seem.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Response to Falling Asleep Again

(See: Just Above Sunset: Falling Asleep Again)

Here's two things that have been pissing me off today:

As a (former?) journalist, some of those years working for so-called "Mainstream Media", I get annoyed when I hear someone talking about media going wild with glee over some story or another, when most of the time, it's not really a reporter in the media showing glee, but the media reporting on someone else going wild with glee, or whatever. Often, although not always, when somebody calls into question some objective reporter's objectivity, that somebody is whistling through his hat, so to speak.

For example, here's Jack Mirkinson, Senior Media Editor for The Huffington Post, in a piece for Salon entitled “Why can’t we take out these bastards?”: Why the media’s apocalyptic Paris response should be making you very nervous: Following the horrific events in Paris, establishment press figures have been united in one thing: A call for war":
“Why can’t we take out these bastards?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked President Obama at a press conference on Monday. Acosta’s language may have been rougher than some might have used, but he was speaking for a press corps whose thirst for an apocalyptic confrontation with ISIS has been let loose by last Friday’s attacks in Paris. ... 
Listen to the language being used here. “Kill as many of them as you possibly can.” “Take out these bastards.” This is the hyper-macho language of some two-bit action movie, not a foreign policy strategy. It’s also evidence of the way that a supposedly “objective” press can reinforce one very narrow view of the world through its own ideological insularity.
Wouldn't one expect that a "Media Editor", and especially a "Senior Media Editor", even if only for such a non-professional outlet as The Huffington Post, would not jump to the conclusion that a reporter who asks a question of the president of the United States in a presidential news conference "was speaking for [the] press corps", much less a press corps "whose thirst for an apocalyptic confrontation with ISIS has been let loose by last Friday’s attacks in Paris"?

Back in the old days, presumably before Mirkinson was born, it would have been assumed that such a reporter, in this case, Jim Acosta, was playing Devil's Advocate. Maybe Mirkinson read somewhere about Acosta's question, instead of watching the video of it on TV, in which case I suppose maybe he can be excused thinking this -- but no, he can't. He should know better.

As far as I can tell, Mirkinson isn't used to watching TV news. In fact, after he wakes up, he first reads in on AP and Reuters, and then a few other things. But then...
For the rest of the day, Twitter is the ruler of everything. I think that’s not an uncommon thing for people in our line of work to say. It’s really trumped everything else. When I started this job almost four years ago, I wasn’t even on Twitter and I barely used it as a source. But then, gradually, it took over my entire brain. There are a lot of really annoying things about Twitter. It can have a propensity for real shallowness and attention deficit disorder, but in terms of having to cover any kind of news there’s really no substitute for the amount of information that it brings you.
As for TV?
I love Scandal like nobody’s business. ... I’m also watching Parks and Rec, I like Brooklyn Nine-Nine a lot, and I just started watching Cosmos. I went through this whole phase recently where I was watching a lot of BBC nature documentaries. And another crucial staple of my media diet is musicals, whether of the filmic or theatrical variety. I’m trying to watch less TV and watch more movies. Basically I'm trying to regain my attention span. I think sitting around all day and watching a billion tweets go by can do a real number on your ability to concentrate.
I guess his job as "Media Editor" doesn't include "News Media"? Being addicted to Twitter helps explain his lack of knowing what a TV White House correspondent is doing when he asks a question of the president, but doesn't quite explain why he blathers on about it as if he does know -- and in public.

And yeah, I understand Mirkinson isn't the only media critic to land on this trope, but I only pick on him because I assume "he speaks" for all those others who don't know what they're talking about.

By the way, here's the text of Acosta's question, at the same link as the video above:
“And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is – and if you’ll forgive the language – is why can’t we take out these bastards?”
As you can probably see from his evoking "a lot of Americans", he's emulating the language of some random "frustrated American", probably but not necessarily a conservative, who would ask that question and would likely use that exact word. I don't know if there's something Mirkinson knows about Acosta that the rest of us don't, but from the face of it, it cannot be assumed that CNN's Senior White House Correspondent is "speaking for the press corps", or even that he is speaking for himself

Yes, the president seemed annoyed with the question, which is understandable, since, firstly, he seemed very tired, and secondly, as he said, he just answered it several times, but I think Acosta was just trying to get Obama to answer it in the terms that the average Joe on the street would understand. 

Yeah, it didn't work, but at least he tried.

And to slightly change the subject, this is from Washington Post's Greg Sargent:
Ted Cruz has warned that “ISIS plans to bring these acts of terror to America,” and he has called for Muslim Syrian refugees to be barred from entering the United States. Jeb Bush has similarly said that our focus should be on Christian refugees. This drew a very sharp response today from President Obama, who decried the notion of a “religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted,” adding that “we don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
As well he should.

And before all these governors (mostly Republicans, apparently, including Nathan Deal, of my own state of Georgia) who are thinking of barring refugees from their states give their final answer, maybe they should revisit some of the darker corners of American history:
The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner most notable for a single voyage in 1939, in which her captain, Gustav Schröder, tried to find homes for 908 Jewish refugees from Germany, after they were denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada, until finally accepted in various European countries, which were later engulfed in World War II. 
Historians have estimated that, after their return to Europe, approximately a quarter of the ship's passengers died in death camps. The event was the subject of a 1974 book, Voyage of the Damned, by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. It was adapted for a 1976 US film of the same title.
The ship took off from Hamburg in May 13, 1939, headed for Cuba:
The vessel under command of Captain Gustav Schröder was carrying 937 refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. ... 
The journey to Cuba was a joyous affair. The passengers aboard the St. Louis were "treated with contempt before they boarded, but once on the ship they were treated like privileged tourists."... 
Upon the ship's arrival in Cuba, the Cuban government, headed by President Federico Laredo Brú, refused to accept the foreign refugees. Although passengers had previously purchased legal visas, they could not enter Cuba either as tourists ... or as refugees seeking political asylum. On May 5, 1939, four months before World War II began, Havana abandoned its former pragmatic immigration policy ... Permits and visas issued before May 5 were invalidated retroactively." None of the passengers were aware that the Cuban government had retroactively invalidated their landing permits.
After a few passengers who had proper papers were allowed to disembark, and after Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State, and Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury, via telephone, failed to persuade Cuban officials to change their minds about the rest, the ship headed for Florida.
Some histories recount that on June 4, 1939, Schröder believed he was being prevented from trying to land St. Louis on the Florida shore. Reports from that time were conflicting. According to the authors Rabbi Ted Falcon and David Blatner in Judaism for Dummies, when the "St Louis was turned away from Cuba ... America not only refused their entry but even fired a warning shot to keep them away from Florida's shores". Legally the refugees could not enter the US on tourist visas, as they had no return addresses. The US had passed the Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted numbers of new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. 
Schröder said he circled off the coast of Florida after leaving Cuba, hoping for permission to enter the United States. At one point, he considered running aground along the coast to allow the refugees to escape. He was shadowed by US Coast Guard vessels that prevented such a move. US Coast Guard historians maintain the two cutters involved were not ordered to turn away St. Louis, but dispatched "out of concern for those on board". Ultimately the United States did not provide for entry of the refugees.
There were some academics and clergy in Canada who tried to persuade Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to intervene and grant sanctuary, but in the end, he refused, and Captain Schröder, seemingly out of options, returned the ship to Europe.
As the situation of the vessel deteriorated, he personally negotiated and schemed to find them a safe haven. (At one point he formulated plans to wreck the ship on the British coast to force the passengers to be taken as refugees.) He refused to return the ship to Germany until all the passengers had been given entry to some other country. US officials worked with Britain and European nations to find refuge for the travelers in Europe. The ship returned to Europe, docking at Antwerp, Belgium, on June 17, 1939 with 907 passengers. 
The United Kingdom agreed to take 288 of the passengers (31.76%), who disembarked and traveled to the UK via other steamers. After much negotiation by Schröder, the remaining 619 passengers were allowed to disembark at Antwerp; 224 were accepted by France (24.70%), 214 by Belgium (23.59%), and 181 by the Netherlands (19.96%). 
Without any passengers, the ship returned to Hamburg. The following year, after the Nazi German invasions of Belgium and France in May 1940, all the Jews in those countries were at renewed risk, including the recent refugees.
Researchers later determined that, of the 620 returned passengers, 254 died in the Holocaust.

But it's probably just as well that none of them ended up in my own state of Georgia, since for all we know, one of them might have been a Nazi.