Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reince Priebus - You Are Such A Liar!

I’m old enough to remember Ronald Reagan proclaiming to us on national television these words: “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages — nor will we.”

Later President Reagan admitted that he was — repeat — WAS lying when he made this claim. (Reagan did not do the repeat thing when he admitted to lying; that’s me being snarky.)

But this was not actually Reagan’s biggest lie in my opinion. When he said, in his 1981 inaugural address, that “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” that was his biggest lie. It’s a lie whose consequences we have been living with for 35 years as his efforts to shift the tax burden onto the middle class, cut funding for education, and hold down the federally mandated minimum wage by breaking the power of unions, have paid off for the “one percent.”

In addition to this there is the web of lies surrounding President Reagan’s support for the Contras, the conservative terrorist organization that was trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s left-wing government. I remember this aspect of Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal vividly because I went on a fact-finding trip to Nicaragua in 1984 and, during a visit to a rural area, was told that the Contras had killed a Swiss ambulance driver with a roadside bomb on the very road we were then cruising along. About a year and a half later I was in Switzerland visiting friends in the Canton of Fribourg and was upset to see newspaper clippings they had saved that described the killing, by the Contras, of the ambulance driver, their countryman.

Our tax dollars at work.

President Reagan managed to survive the Iran-Contra scandal, though, for a time, it looked like he might face impeachment. As details of Iran-Contra surfaced, the public gradually concluded that the President had been dishonest about the whole affair. According to one poll, only 12 percent of Americans believed him when he claimed he had no prior knowledge of U.S. government funding of the Contras.

So why isn’t Ronald Reagan known as a “congenital liar,” to use the words once employed by conservative columnist William Safire with reference to Hillary Clinton? And how can RNC Chair Reince Priebus get away with saying of her that she is “incapable of telling the truth?” Even more to the point, how can Priebus make this obviously dishonest claim (i.e., lie) about Hillary Clinton with a straight face while at the same time supporting someone like Donald Trump? I, for one, would pay good money to see Mr. Priebus attempt to defend the honesty of Mr. Trump’s various ridiculous claims, starting with his insistence that no, he was not responsible for those Trump-promoting phone calls by “John Miller” back in the 1990s.

But back to Ronald Reagan: his lies were much more blatant and significant than any slick talking or sneaky email usage that Hillary is guilty of, so why should she be perceived as not trustworthy in a way that Reagan never was?

The short answer, as I’ve said elsewhere, is that she has been relentlessly hammered by a Republican Party obsessed with portraying her and her husband as dishonest. These endless attacks have had a payoff, even though they almost invariably turn up no evidence of deceit or wrongdoing on her part. What they do turn up – the emails again – is trivial compared to the deceit and wrongdoing of which Ronald Reagan was guilty. The point is, if the Democratic Party had made up its mind to portray President Reagan as a habitual liar, “incapable of telling the truth,” his reputation would certainly have suffered. I’m glad the Democrats never engaged in such a campaign, however, since I think this kind of character assassination is bad for the country as a whole.

I’m not picking on this particular late president because I believe him to be unusually dishonest. Actually, I think he is about average or maybe only slightly below average in honesty, but no worse or barely worse than most. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is above average. I say this because, first of all, a PolitiFact study of deceit by politicians found her to be above average in her degree of honesty and, secondly, because, despite the mind-numbingly incessant attacks leveled against her since 1992, nothing she has been shown to have done matches in dishonesty Reagan’s Iran-Contra actions. Nor, for that matter, Vice President G. H. W. Bush’s dishonest claim to have been “out of the loop” during the Iran-Contra scandal. Nor George W. Bush’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” and connections to 9-11. In light of the dishonesty represented by these various scandals, Hillary is clearly better than most of her predecessors where honesty is concerned.

I say “predecessors” because I believe that she is likely to be our next president. Certainly a win is not in the bag, but the odds are very much in her favor. And when I vote on November 8, part of me is going to be motivated by my hostility toward the character assassinating tactics that the GOP has tried to use against her. I look forward to being able to say, “Congratulations, Madam President. You have prevailed despite the morally repulsive actions of these unscrupulous and small-minded men who have tried to bring you down.”

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mob Sourcing

Godwin’s Law says that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches certainty. So let me cut to the chase here and refer directly to Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. This extraordinary film concluded with an impassioned crowd screaming, “Make Germany great again!” and (with reference to Hitler’s main political foe) “Lock her up!”

OK, I lied about those last two things.

However, the Republican convention crowd did give me the creeps. I mean, why were those mad screamers shaking the heavens with cries of “Lock her up!”? Don't they care that the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email usage found no basis for indictment, much less conviction? Have Donald Trump’s followers given up entirely on the rule of law? Of democracy itself?

Well, yes. And this to me is the most disturbing aspect of Trump’s rise. Not only does he have a weird tendency to praise demagogues and dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, but he also seems to relish mindlessly hostile and violent mobs.

Lots of observers have talked about the emotional appeal of what we might call Trumpism. A big part of it is racism and the feeling on the part of all too many white people that Trump has given them permission to let their bigot flags fly. But in addition to this there is the economic distress of people with dwindling resources. These folks harbor a feeling that “the government” isn’t responding or even paying attention to them. The resentment born of this idea leads a lot of voters to want to send Trump to Washington even if he makes a shambles of everything. They seem to be thinking that at least he will kick some ass while he’s there.

And they may be right, though I am much more worried about the shambles he would create than the ass kicking he might indulge in.

But back to the RNC mob: the single most unsettling thing about Trump’s rise is that it reveals just how vulnerable many Americans are to the appeal of “the Great Leader.” Like almost everyone, I have been amazed at how successful Trump is at whipping up a following, and I continue to be amazed (and troubled) at how it reveals that a lot of Americans don’t care as much about democratic institutions as they do about kicking ass.

But we may, at last, be seeing the beginning of a turning point, if not an actual repudiation of mob madness. Trump has stumbled by stepping on some sensitive patriotic toes with his blustering swagger. Today he is being lambasted for criticizing Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim parents of a fallen American Army Captain. Of course, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have as yet declined to criticize Trump by name, but at least Senator John McCain has stepped forward to defend the honor of the Republican Party (and by implication, the entire country) with these words:

“In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”

Thank you, Senator McCain. But as for Ryan and McConnell, I guess they have drunk too much of the Trump-Aid. They continue to run with the mob.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Guns and Posers

For about 30 years (ca. 1982-2012) I wrote a more or less monthly column for my old hometown’s newspaper, The Ledger, of Polk County. Sometimes my writing was rewarded with hate mail, and it gradually dawned on me that the two topics that generated the most hate mail from my fellow Floridians were guns and racial equality. The writers of the hate mail loved the former and hated the latter. At first I didn’t see a link between these two issues, but finally I got it: what connected them was paranoia, irrational fear of a supposed threat. So if you want to receive hate mail, I recommend you write a piece like the one I'm working on here - a quick blurb that does not show love for the gun industry.

Today Orlando, of all places, has become associated with gun control issues, and this, along with the Democrats’ Congressional sit in, forces me to think about guns, something I generally don’t like to do.

   Orlando, Florida - my Boring, Bougie Neck of the Woods

 Actually, when the killing at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub took place, I was in Canada attending a wedding with my family. Because of this, I didn’t feel the emotional impact as powerfully as I might have, had we been home at the time. The impact did get to me, however, yesterday when I visited the site of the crime and saw the many comments and symbols left by caring individuals on behalf of the victims. I was surprised at how quickly I was reduced to tears at the site. Perhaps it was because it is a hangout for a lot of people who are dear to me - friends and former students.

           Pulse - With Wall and Memorial Markers

While we were in Canada, my wife and I had dinner at a Toronto restaurant in which a friendly waiter chatted with us about our trip. When we mentioned we were from the Orlando area, the mass shooting came up at which point he said to us, “That was an attack on my community.” At first I didn’t get what he was saying, and I asked him if he was also from Orlando. “No,” he said, “I’m gay.”

I should have understood more quickly. After all the Orlando killer didn’t target Pulse because of the city in which it was located.

       Winter Park's First Congregational Church 
                Birthplace of Rollins College

But back to guns. A terrific article in the current New Yorker by Evan Osnos digs into the multiple strands that bind the arguments over guns together. One point that leaps out at me in his piece is the fact that the gun industry is fundamentally anxious to maximize its profits by boosting sales. This, of course, is normal capitalism, when normal products are at issue.

What makes the “maximize profits” precept problematic here is that the proliferation of guns is resulting in deaths that need not occur – a few of which Osnos’s article describes. The current scenario, in which the gun industry, bolstered by the lobbying power of the NRA, pushes gun sales to the limit, reminds me of the tobacco industry in the 1950s and 60s. Tobacco executives at that time, though they knew their product was killing people by the thousands, peddled a bogus story that helped it maximize profits, no matter the cost in lives.

As Osnos writes at one point, “…a whistle-blower named Robert Hass, who had been Smith & Wesson’s marketing-and-sales chief, said that companies knew far more than they admitted about how criminals obtained guns, and that ‘none of them, to my knowledge, take additional steps…to insure that their products are distributed properly.’”

Of course they don’t, because capitalism says you must maximize profits, and taking such steps would surely put a dent in those profits. It seems the magic of the marketplace can make both ethics and lives disappear in a puff of smoke.

Osnos concludes his terrific piece with the comment that the pro-gun and anti-gun worlds are growing further apart to the point where each side is coming to see the other as wishing to inflict harm. I can’t say I disagree with this entirely, though as someone who would like to see stricter gun controls, I don’t think of myself as exactly “anti-gun.”

I can sympathize with hunters, with people who, misguided though their ideas may be, would like to have protective guns in their households, and so on. What I don’t have any sympathy for are such grossly misguided notions as that household guns are necessary for our “freedom,” and that increased regulations are somehow the tools of tyranny. These ideas are - not to put too fine a point on it - nutty. And I am especially hostile to the linking of ever-increasing gun sales to the raw avarice of the profit motive – a motive that has no regard for the bloodletting it triggers.

            On the Memorial Wall outside of Pulse