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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Smokescreens

A decade ago, an editorial cartoon by the great Kirk Anderson observed that cats are like Democrats and dogs are like Republicans. The analogy remains as valid today as it was then.

But, in one sense, the reverse is true.

Consider the fact that dogs are uncomplicated, guileless creatures. Dogs have no hidden agendas. With dogs, what you see is what you get.

Cats, on the other hand, are sneaky little bastards, cold-hearted and lethal. With cats, you are advised to be on guard. The average cat is plotting something ugly.

Now consider how this observation plays out in our politics — how liberals conduct themselves compared to conservatives.

With the lefties, what you see is what you get. Liberals want to use government and our common resources to make life better and safer. They consider that to be the fundamental purpose of any government.

The liberal mindset is clear and straightforward. There are no facades, no deceptions, no smokescreens.

With conservatives, everything is a smokescreen. They are honest and candid about nothing.

At every opportunity, Republicans in Congress work to undermine government involvement in the healthcare system because they don’t believe government should be involved in healthcare.

But they don’t have the guts to admit it. They claim their goal is to make your healthcare better. Puh-leeze.

Republican politicians pass laws designed to make voter registration and voting more difficult, because lower turnout always benefits Republicans.

But they don’t have the stones to own up to what they’re doing. They insist they are protecting the nation from “voter fraud.” Voted fraud is a fabricated, non-existent, laughable threat.

Republicans despise government funding of social programs, Planned Parenthood, NPR, the arts, etc., because those are do-gooder programs. Do-gooder programs elevate the right’s collective blood pressure.

But they can’t make themselves admit that publicly. Instead, they claim they want to rein in wasteful government spending.

The irony here is that conservatives are just as transparent as liberals, and we all know it. But the right-wingers lack the conviction to admit their beliefs in the light of day. Hence, smokescreens.

Let’s be real. Republican politicians are an opportunistic, cynical, and despicable bunch. They reaffirm my contempt with every breath.

Most Republican voters, on the other hand, are normal enough people. While they clearly have more hang-ups and issues, they are no more evil and malicious than anyone else.

But they embraced a philosophy that is precisely that.

The Republican ideology is, on its face, selfish and mean. Fundamentally, Republican doctrine consists of the attitude, “I’ve got mine, go fend for yourself.”

Conservatives still believe, or profess to believe, in the tired old myth that welfare queens are bleeding the nation dry. They believe millions of lazy deadbeats are living the good life at the expense of honest, hard-working Republicans like themselves.

They believe that if you’re poor or sick, it’s your own fault; you didn’t work hard enough or plan ahead adequately. And furthermore, it isn’t the job of government to step forward and help you. Tough cheese, pal. Now get lost.

Sneaky, cold-hearted, and lethal. Cat-like to the core.

President Trump Speaks At The White House After The House Voted On Health Care Bill

 

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Blue Lies

You tell people a lie three times, they will believe anything. You tell people what they want to hear, play to their fantasies, and then you close the deal.

— Donald Trump in ‘The Art of the Deal’

————

Donald J. Trump, the Orange Vulgarian, was in the national spotlight for decades before he became President.

Over the years, Trump has been on regular display, making his name as a celebrity, a personality, an entertainer. The public had ample time to see him in action and observe how he thinks and operates.

Those years of exposure clearly revealed the man’s many unpleasant traits of personality and character. He was, and still is, coarse, tasteless, narcissistic, amoral, vindictive, and, underneath it all, needy and insecure. I make that diagnosis with full confidence that I’m right.

Trump being Trump makes him totally unfit for any position of public trust. Yet, great numbers of seemingly ordinary Americans voted for him.

Here was one of the most shallow, petty and unqualified persons ever on the national scene, and a huge chunk of the electorate, oblivious to reality, put him in office. To my eternal credit, I wasn’t one of them.

I still struggle to grasp the underlying psychology here. I don’t fully grok the motivation of the trumpophiles. I’ve had no eureka moment that allows me to understand fully why people voted for Trump and continue to support him.

Was he so convincing that he told his lies three times, played to people’s fantasies, and they believed him? Of course not.

Can his win be explained by anger in blue-collar America, hyper-polarization in society, and the Fox New bubble? Yes, to a degree.

The cloud over everything, of course, is the matter of Russian interference and influence — the meddling by Putin, the creepy web of connections/collusion between Russia and Trump’s inner circle. This is unprecedented stuff, with consequences yet unknown.

But, that aside, focusing on what was in the minds of the Trump voters, I’ve found a new piece of the puzzle that, for me, is very illuminating. It has to do with the art and science of telling lies.

Lying, the experts say, begins at about age three. That’s when children discover that adults can’t read their minds, and it’s possible to tell lies — self-serving black lies — to avoid getting into trouble. He hit me first. I didn’t do it.

By age seven or eight, kids learn the concept of white lies — tactful lies told to avoid unpleasantness or hurt feelings. Yes, ma’am, the meatloaf was great. That’s a pretty dress.

People lie, tactically and strategically, all their lives. Psychologists classify the lies we tell in various ways, usually something like this:

Black lies — Told for selfish reasons.

White lies — Told for selfless reasons.

Gray lies — Told partly to benefit yourself, partly to benefit someone else.

Red lies — Angry lies, told for spite or revenge, even at the risk of harming yourself.

And now, add to that list the concept of blue lies — lies told to benefit the group to which the liar pledges allegiance.

Think about how humans operate socially. By nature, we divide ourselves into groups, for protection as well as to share resources. For the most part, we are loyal and generous to others in the group. To our fellows, we are magnanimous and compassionate.

But, while we tend to be pro-social toward members of the group, we tend to be antisocial toward non-members.

Non-members are outsiders. Potential enemies, potential threats. They are easily dehumanized. They can become targets of suspicion, hate, and violence, usually in that order.

In that context, telling a blue lie can be positive and morally justified. It is seen as lying in the interest of the collective good, while simultaneously taking a shot at a perceived enemy.

Blue lies are told wherever people divide into groups — in politics, government, business, everywhere. We applaud our spies, who tell blue lies to defend the homeland. We accept lying as an appropriate weapon against enemy nations.

It follows, then, that lying to our political enemies is also acceptable.

Thus, when Trump tells a lie, the faithful don’t consider it a case of Donald making an outrageous, demonstrably false statement. They see it as a strike against their enemies. Their man is scoring one for the team.

Rational people can wig out all they want when Trump tells another obvious whopper. But the fact that he lied is of no concern to his supporters. Nor is the actual truth of the matter.

Trump’s conservative admirers rally behind a litany of familiar issues. Freeloaders on public assistance. Immigrants as a criminal threat, stealing our jobs. Climate change is a hoax. Government regulations hobble free enterprise. Hillary ran a sex ring out of a pizza parlor.

How much of that they believe, if any of it, is immaterial. More to the point, those issues amount to blue lies being used as weapons against enemy tribes.

The concept of using lies as a social force and a weapon explains a great deal. It helps me better understand the mentality and motivations of the Trump voters.

It also makes me thank God that I have a brain, a heart, and an empathy gene.

Us vs. Them

 

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The Man at the Bar

Now and then, you get a peek at how the brain of a modern-day political conservative functions. You get a glimpse of how the mental gears mesh, how the thought processes unfold. The experience is always depressing.

Last week, while out shopping, I stopped for lunch at On the Border. Being a party of one, I was ushered to a small booth in the bar.

Sitting here and there around the bar were several other parties of one, all 50-ish white guys. One was chatting with the female bartender. Mostly, I was tuning everyone out, until the man got my attention.

“Did you hear?” he said to the girl. “Obama’s new house in Washington has a damn bunker built under it. A huge compound for illegals. Might be 20,000 of ’em camped out there.”

The girl replied matter-of-factly, but I couldn’t make out what she said. It came across as sort of a wah-wah-wah, like Charley Brown’s teacher in the Peanuts cartoons.

“They’re gonna expand it, so many are crossin’ the border,” the man said. “They’re on Obama’s payroll. He sends ’em to the anti-Trump riots to cause trouble.”

The girl gave another wah-wah-wah reply and departed to help another customer, whereupon the tirade ended.

I thought about the incident on the way home, and it seemed obvious that the man got his information from the right-wing propaganda machine.

The aim of the story he related was clear: to vilify immigrants, vilify anti-Trump protesters, and stick it to Obama, who is still the cartoon evildoer of the conservatives.

I didn’t think it was a Fox News story. It seemed a step too preposterous, even for Fox.

I mean, really. A bunker under a rented house in a ritzy Washington neighborhood? For 20,000 people? Wouldn’t the neighbors object?

Actually, it sounded more like the kind of caustic, over-the-top, conspiracy-theory crapola peddled on talk radio. Maybe from Alex Jones and Infowars.

So, when I got home, I went online and Googled “Compound under Obama house.”

Sure enough, there it was on the Infowars website:

SABOTAGE: OBAMA IS COMMANDING AN  ARMY OF 30,000 ANTI-TRUMP ACTIVISTS FROM HIS HOME 2 MILES FROM THE WHITE HOUSE

The only real fact in the story is that the Obama family rented a house in a D.C. neighborhood. Two miles from the White House? Probably. The rest is baseless nonsense, fabricated from thin air.

The story uses words and images designed to incite the easily incitable — “command center,” “army of activists,” “riots,” “bunker,” “shadow government,” “community organizers,” “global elite.” If your brain functions in the normal manner, you can easily see it as a spin job.

But the man at the bar fell for the story. In fact, he embellished it. And it was interesting to see how much of the message, and which parts, he got wrong.

The article called its fictional subjects “activists.” The man heard “illegals.”

They were described as an “army” under Obama’s command. The man took that to mean they are literally on the premises. Under the house. The idea of  plans to expand the bunker, he seems to have dreamed that up on his own.

Also interesting is that he remembered the number 20,000, which was in the text of the story, not the number 30,000 from the headline. Maybe he was trying to be, you know, conservative. Wouldn’t want to exaggerate or overstate things.

I didn’t hear the man mention the proximity of Obama’s house to that awful Islamic Center, but there’s a story online about that, too.

My point is, the man at the bar is a prime target of right-wing propaganda and a poster child for absorbing the intended message.

I don’t mean to imply that the man is villainous in any way. He probably thinks of himself as a good citizen. He may well be an honest, hard-working, church-going family man.

But, like legions of his fellow conservatives, he gets most of his information from sources that are, on purpose, not factual. Sources that present outright lies as truth.

The man is fed, and he believes, information that is misleading, self-serving, sometimes preposterous, and often easily proven wrong.

But he and his fellow righties are okay with that. They are neither deterred nor impressed by reality, logic, or facts. The truth is, they chose a side long ago, and that’s that.

At this point, they are well-conditioned and do not flinch. If an inconvenient truth slips into the conservative bubble and slaps them in the face, they simply dismiss it. They literally don’t believe it.

What the right-wing has done is cynical and diabolical. But you have to admire the genius of a brainwashing apparatus that has, in just a few decades, successfully rewired the synapses in the brains of millions of people. They’ve managed to train people to dismiss reality and believe the unbelievable.

People like the man at the bar.

obama-house

This is the Obama family’s new home in Washington’s ritzy Kalorama neighborhood. It’s a rental, nine bedrooms, 8,200 square feet. Among their new neighbors: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Secretary of State/oil magnate Rex Tillerson.

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Follow the Money

Back in 1976, in the movie All the President’s Men, Woodward and Bernstein are told to “follow the money” to get to the truth, understand motivations, and see the big picture.

Follow the money. Always good advice, especially in business and politics.

For example, consider the following facts about Russia, the oil industry, and the orange vulgarian, Donald Trump.

————

In 2012, oil behemoth ExxonMobil entered into a partnership with the Russian oil company Rosneft (world’s 2nd largest oil/gas company, state-controlled) to develop oil reserves under 63 million acres in the Russian Arctic. The deal was estimated to be worth a mind-blowing five hundred billion dollars.

To celebrate, Vladimir Putin awarded the “Russian Order of Friendship” to Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil. As you may know, Putin, Tillerson, and Trump have a history of personal and business ties and speak glowingly of each other.

But then Putin invaded and annexed Crimea, and the United States and other countries imposed sanctions against Russia that blocked the Rosneft/ExxonMobil deal.

Tillerson and ExxonMobil lobbied strongly against imposing sanctions, but were unable to stop them.

At the moment, 15 of the 20 largest energy-producing companies in the world are state-controlled. This means the head of state is the de facto head of the energy company. Saudi Arabia’s oil company is the world’s largest, followed by Russia, Abu Dhabi, Iran, and China.

FYI, the U.S. has no state-controlled energy company. We’re the only major country that doesn’t own and control its oil and gas industries.

Also FYI, ExxonMobil is the world’s largest non-state-controlled oil company.

So, to summarize: a mammoth oil deal was blocked because Russia got punished for steamrolling and annexing one of its neighbors. Imagine the anger and frustration left seething inside Putin, Tillerson, and Trump.

When 2016 and the U.S. presidential election arrived, Putin and Russia interfered in the campaign to a degree we civilians don’t fully know. We’re aware that Russia spread fake news stories about Hillary Clinton, stole emails from Democrats, and arranged for the juiciest of them to go public.

All in all, Russia’s intention was to help Trump win. He did.

Almost immediately, Trump nominated Tillerson to be Secretary of State. Tillerson solemnly tendered his resignation from ExxonMobil, the only company he has ever worked for.

The resignation is meaningless, of course. It’s a bit like the Trump children running the family business while Dad is President: an un-blind trust.

There is much in the news lately about Trump and Tillerson bemoaning the bad blood between Obama and Putin. They muse about making nice with Russia. They wonder if sanctions are really, you know, such a good idea. Can’t we all just get along?

Whether the three of them can pull it off, can manage to get the sanctions lifted so their fat oil deal can proceed — well, that’s a jump ball. In time, we’ll find out.

But in the meantime, the moral of the story is clear: to get to the truth, follow the money.

puppies

 

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The Decency Test

Just as the legacy of the great crash of 1929 took several years to manifest itself, so the consequences of the financial crash of 2008 are only now becoming clear. There was nothing magical or inexplicable about 2016 [Brexit in the UK, Trump in the US]. We were merely reminded of what happens when most of us do not have enough money, and a few of us have too much.

— Decca Aitkenhead, The Guardian

————

I just got back from a two-week vacation in Arizona and New Mexico. The trip was fun and satisfying, not to mention nicely restorative, because it distracted me for a time from the appalling outcome of the presidential election.

It also helped me get my bearings and see the results more clearly. More than ever, I agree with columnist Ezra Klein, who nailed the situation days before the election:

The question isn’t whether Trump has any decency. We’ve known for some time that he doesn’t. The question is whether WE have any decency — whether we will elect this man, or even come close to electing this man, knowing all we know about him. Trump told us who he was, showed us who he was, again and again. The test here is not of his decency, but of our own.

The American public failed the decency test in spectacular fashion. To our children and to history, the Trump voters have no excuse, no defense. With a contorted, nightmarish logic worthy of Kafka, they have risked it all — plunged off a cliff and carried the rest of us with them.

At this moment, Trump, his underlings, and the vapid Trump clan are in the process of finalizing the new administration. For weeks, the parade of villains, buffoons, and charlatans has dominated the news.

They are a disgraceful bunch, and they’ve made quite a spectacle, lining up to kiss Trump’s ring and prepare to reap the rewards awaiting them at the public trough.

Most of the Trump appointees and hangers-on are just as toxic and ill-suited for their new roles as Trump himself. No one should have expected otherwise.

Through malice and incompetence, they will inflict untold damage. And most, while so doing, will enrich themselves at the nation’s expense. How badly this will harm us remains to be seen. This is, after all, uncharted territory.

Anything can happen. Will Trump follow his autocratic tendencies, muzzle the news media, quell dissent in ways the country has never experienced? Will he and his cronies blunder and precipitate a series of crises, nuclear and otherwise?

Until now, we have avoided such things because our leaders have been, on the whole, regardless of their politics, relatively competent.

But Trump is not competent. He is a noxious, erratic, petty, petulant child. He is amoral, greedy, tasteless, and tacky. He is a rich, malicious version of Cousin Eddie, minus the warmth.

Trump surrounds himself with cronies, toadies, and people so malevolent they previously hid in the shadows. Just as a safeguard, he could appoint people capable of governing while the pillaging proceeds. But that would never occur to him.

The Trump years will be a roll of the dice. It’s possible this will break us as a functional democracy, and we’ll begin a genuine decline. That’s probably inevitable anyway. In spite of our history of flag-waving and bravado, many of the democracies in Europe are far ahead of us in using their resources to benefit and care for their people. That, after all, should be the primary task of any sensible form of government.

But maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe we will dodge the worst of all the possible  catastrophes. I can even imagine a time years from now when the Trump era has faded into oblivion.

If luck truly is with us, maybe, generations from now, the 2016 election will be seen as a freak occurrence that interrupted the succession of American Presidents — a historical hiccup similar to Oliver Cromwell, the zealot who interrupted the succession of English monarchs in the 1600s.

If we are lucky, future Americans also will see the Trump hiccup as a cautionary tale — an admonition that we must never again elevate such a man to high office.

If, indeed, we survive this.

trump-dj

Trump.

cromwell-o

Cromwell.

cousin-eddie

Cousin Eddie.

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American Hustle

I decided to go ahead and write this post now, instead of giving my brain more time to process the outcome of the election, because I feel the need to vent. The reality that we elected a man like Donald Trump as President is making my stomach hurt.

Honestly, I thought his chances of winning were laughable. But it happened.

You can’t sugarcoat this. America has really stepped in it this time. This will not end well.

We all knew Trump had the vote of the conservative herd from the beginning. That was obvious. Those people were voting Republican no matter the candidate. And of the huge field of GOP hopefuls, Trump was such a charmer, SO entertaining and brash. He captured their hearts and minds easily.

I can hear them now, watching his daily outrageousness on the evening news. “Ha! Ol’ Donald! He really makes ’em squirm!”

A generation ago, their parents reacted the same way when one of the Three Stooges planted a pie in the face of a haughty banker or politician. Who doesn’t love it when The Man gets his comeuppance?

So, yes, Trump wowed the crowd and got the nomination. But that was just the voters in conservative La-La Land. In my heart, I believed that most Americans were sensible enough to reject him in November.

Surely — surely — people would see that Trump is, to choose an ironic term, deplorable as a candidate and a human being.

But I was wrong. I overestimated the citizenry. I gave them too much credit. They are much more gullible than I imagined.

In the last few days, I’ve listened to all the analysis, and I’ve read the opinion columns, and I’ve weighed the theories of how Trump and another wave of hidebound, Neanderthal Republican politicians were victorious.

Most of it is some variation of the same theme: the elites who run things are prospering, at the expense of working-class white people. Those disaffected people have been left twisting in the wind, and they resent it.

In their minds, they don’t have decent jobs or prospects for the future because the elites who run the country have sold them out and abandoned them.

The disaffected whites despise the wealthy for screwing them, despise the immigrants they believe are taking away their jobs, and despise people who get government help because they consider such people lazy.

Furthermore, thanks to 20 years of Fox News propaganda, they also despise government, as well as anyone who doesn’t swallow the Republican orthodoxy. The hated lib-tards.

That explanation of why disaffected white voters turned to Trump is probably accurate. Plenty of people have been shafted and left behind because of politics and economics.

In some respects, the complaints of the disaffected voters are genuine and their motivations sincere. But, really, their motivations don’t matter. What matters is their actions.

Not only did they elect a singularly unsuited and appallingly awful person to be President, but they got hustled in the process.

They think Trump is on their side. He isn’t.

They think Trump will bring back their jobs and dispatch all the boogeymen in their lives. He can’t.

They think Trump will make everything right, make American great again. He won’t.

If you think Trump is a champion of the common man, you are mentally ill.

Trump is, and always was, one of the hated elites who run the country. Now that the need for rallies is over, so is the need to associate with all those chanting, sign-waving disaffected voters. Trump has returned to Trump Tower and the warm embrace of his rich, privileged, and powerful friends.

Trump will not use the power of the office of President to help the poor saps who erected Trump signs in their yards. He will use it to help himself, his family, his businesses, and his fellow Robber Barons.

Meanwhile, as the disaffected types are getting stiffed even further, we are left with a President who is an arrogant, erratic, petty, petulant, self-centered, self-serving jerk and a genuine danger to the country.

Once in office, Trump isn’t going to change his stripes. He has been the same noxious person all his adult life, on public display. He isn’t going to get religion, see the light, and lead the nation to the promised land.

No, it’s inevitable that Trump will spend his time as President feeding at the public trough, using inside information and the power of the office to enrich himself further. Don’t doubt that for a second.

Beyond that, he might follow his authoritarian tendencies, clamping down on dissenters and stifling the news media, à la Vladimir Putin. That’s the most familiar route of would-be autocrats.

Or he might get bored with the job, go back to his gilded life, and leave the details of governance to his kindly, generous, civic-minded Republican friends.

Either way, the Supreme Court will belong to the hateful side for a generation or more.

Roe v. Wade is in peril. The modest progress we made under Obamacare is probably doomed. Power is now in the hands of people who don’t believe in science — or use that excuse because they are corporate pawns.

And then there is the matter of Trump in control of the armed forces, including the nuclear arsenal. I don’t want to contemplate that subject right now.

The bottom line: you can’t sugarcoat this. America has really stepped in it this time. This will not end well.

trump

 

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Madness

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