Monday, April 10, 2017

Fake News in Paradise

We are living in crazy times. A lot of Americans have decided that a story is only true if it fits their political disposition. 

So here's a question: Did President Obama wiretap Donald Trump?

The answer, if you believe the FBI and other authoritative sources, is NO.

But,  if you really like Donald Trump, the answer is YES!

In an environment like this, where a story's truth depends on the reader's prejudices, Fake News will inevitably rear its ugly head. And sadly, the hoary visage of Fake News has succeeded in blemishing our own paradisiacal campus here at Rollins College.

The real story is this: A Rollins student, Marshall Polston, was temporarily suspended from the campus for his behavior which was making some people quite uncomfortable. Mr. Polston had, at the same time he was causing this discomfort, managed to have ongoing disagreements with Professor Areej Zufari, the instructor in his Middle Eastern Humanities class.

Mr. Polston has been spending a lot of time talking to right-wing media sources about his disagreements with Professor Zufari in connection with his suspension, but has apparently declined to mention to these sources that he was suspended not for any such disagreements but by virtue of the complaints made by those individuals, both females (one of them Professor Zufari), to whom he was causing distress.

Here is a link to an analysis by Snopes which includes a letter from Rollins to Mr. Polston which identifies those with whom he was instructed to avoid interaction. The student's name, no doubt for legal reasons, is obscured by a blue marker.

But Rollins is not the only place where Mr. Polston's behavior has caused trouble. Here is a March 31 story from the Independent Alligator of Gainesville, describing his suspension from the University of Florida for behavior similar to that which he has exhibited at Rollins.

But sadly, those sources that indulge in conservatively biased fake news have been posting headlines like this:

From The Blaze:

School suspends Christian student who challenged Muslim prof who said Jesus' crucifixion is a hoax

And from the Washington Times:

Rollins College lifts suspension of student who disagreed with Muslim prof over Jesus' crucifixion

In fact, Mr. Polston's suspension (from Rollins and, I'm guessing, from the University of Florida) had nothing to do with Muslims, Christians, crucifixions or hoaxes. It had to do with behavior that made  people uncomfortable both in and outside of class.

Mr. Polston has retained an attorney and, in addition to sending out misleading stories to fake news purveyors, has claimed innocence on the basis of a weirdly unconvincing videotape that he offers as proof that he was not present when he was described as being on campus causing distress. 

But I don't think Mr. Polston needs an attorney. He needs a friend. Or someone who cares enough about him to sit down with him and let him explore whatever impulses he is feeling that are causing distress to those around him. I believe that, though these individuals are upset by his behavior, he is, at bottom, more upset than any of them.

Best wishes to you, Mr. Polston. And please remember the commandment against bearing false witness. (I haven't been to church in about 50 years, so I can't say which number Commandment this is, but I'm quite sure it's one of them.)

           Rollins College - Paradise, I tell you!




Thursday, March 16, 2017

None Dare Call It Trumpcare

President Trump [sic] is having a tough week. The “repeal and replace Obamacare” operation is running into trouble because Obamacare (i.e., the Affordable Care Act) was designed to help poor Americans get and keep insurance while the GOP replacement plan is designed to make the rich and powerful richer and more powerful. This fact should not be a surprise since the rich and powerful are the Republicans’ favorite charity (about $33,000 in tax cuts for the one percent, $197,000 for the one tenth of one percent in the Republican health care proposal). What is surprising is Mr. Trump’s refusal to call the GOP plan “Trumpcare.” I’m not sure why. Maybe he’s just modest about putting his name on big expensive things.

Now perhaps you believe the GOP is making a good faith effort to help poor Americans keep their health insurance. And perhaps you are an idiot. The fact is Republicans hate Obamacare for three reasons; first, it makes insurance affordable to poor Americans by providing them with subsidies - which in GOP-speak is “a government takeover of health care;” second, once established Americans were certain to like it, or, as Senator Ted Cruz said in 2013, Americans were bound to “get addicted to the sugar” of Obamacare and therefore it would never be repealed; and third, it was President Obama’s signature program. This was the most damning feature of all, given that GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell had stated that the Republicans’ primary goal was to ensure that Obama failed as a president.

But Trumpcare (or Ryancare or Billionairecare or whatever) is in trouble now since conservative Republicans say it isn’t generous enough to the super-rich and moderate Republicans say that taking away insurance from 24 million Americans would make it hard for them to get re-elected.

And Trumpcare isn’t The Donald’s only problem. Just yesterday federal judges began telling him that his travel ban on six Muslim nations (whose citizens have been responsible for no terrorist attacks in the U.S.) is unconstitutional. Admittedly, Mr. Trump was facing a delicate problem here. Putting together a carefully constructed travel ban whose provisions would appeal to his base (which is chock full of anti-Muslim bigots), but making it seem to be totally unrelated to religious discrimination is not an easy thing to do. As President Obama said, being president is hard, and Mr. Trump seems to be starting to get that.

Making the job even harder is his having to deal with imaginary wiretaps. Just because they only exist in Mr. Trump’s head doesn’t make it any easier for him to endure them. I guess I shouldn’t say the wiretaps exist only in his head, because he did find them referenced on Breitbart or Bigots-R-Us or some other such “news” source that he likes to rely on. And think about this: just how hard is it going to be for Trump to handle the presidency when he starts seeing imaginary assassination squads coming after him?

As Americans, we naturally have to be concerned about the Trump presidency. Especially because we now face a growing nuclear threat from another national leader even more dishonest, deluded, and psychologically unstable than President Trump: North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

Maybe it’s just me, but I firmly believe that it is a crime for someone who is entirely unfit for the presidency to actually run for president. The question is, can we consider it the kind of high crime or misdemeanor that is the necessary basis for impeachment?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone.

He didn't say assassination squads, he said "assassination squads!"

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A First Spouse for the Twenty-first Century

I am so mad at Donald Trump. I was really looking forward to seeing Bill Clinton as First Gentleman (or First Dude or First Bubba, or whatever) in the White House this year. I feel sure that he could have proven, once and for all, that a man has what it takes to fulfill this demanding role as well as any woman could.


But what does the President’s Spouse role actually amount to? According to The Washington Post, a First Lady is expected to “…act as a hostess, and [have] a substantial paid staff (up to two dozen) to assist in planning massive lunches and dinners, supporting whatever cause she adopts and representing the country on goodwill tours.”

I feel Bill could have done all of these things, but now, thanks to President-Won-on-a-Technicality, we’ll never know for sure.

Of course there are those who consider certain aspects of the role of First Lady to be a bit of an anachronism. For example, my wife declared that these aspects amounted to (I am paraphrasing here) a bunch of @#&ing sexist bullshit.*

Still the question remains, who will fulfill this key position, now that Melania has decided that, like most normal human beings, she doesn’t want to live with Donald. For sure, Ivanka won’t do it. She has her hands full helping her dad in his campaign to hide his taxes, silence the media, and intimidate judges. These activities take a lot of energy and we can't expect Ivanka and husband Jared to do all that and cover the First Lady front as well. Meanwhile the boys, Eric and Donald Jr., need to make sure Trump’s economic policies continue to fill his gleaming coffers and ensure a fat inheritance for themselves.

Trump himself must spend his time continuing to “Make People Think He Will Make America Great Again,” in the hopes that he can dupe his Stockholm-syndrome-afflicted base into voting for him in 2020.

Who then, can we find to fulfill the First Lady role? How about Ivana? She might be encouraged to step up and help her former spouse. If patriotic duty isn’t enough to get her to commit, maybe she could take on the role in exchange for a rewrite of her original prenup with Donald.

If Ivana won’t help out, the only option left might be someone from among those various women whom Trump has “touched in a special way.”

It’s not impossible, I think, that we could count on a volunteer from among the ranks of such victimized women to step forward. If necessary, I’m sure we could provide a special secret service detail to protect this brave soul from further grabbing on the part of the president. I know, I know - such protection would undoubtedly cost many thousands of dollars. But is this too high a price to pay? I, for one, think not, especially in light of the money we are already spending just to keep Melania in New York: namely, one million dollars per day.

                              (Thanks CNN)

* Paraphrasing a little because I promised her that I would not let on that blatant sexism can provoke her to the point where she wants to swear like a raging stevedore.