On Why We Must Not Turn Trump Into A Meme

Last night I went on somewhat of a rant on Facebook. It was actually a very mild rant, though if I had said precisely what I felt, I would likely have been banned from Facebook for life.  Yesterday morning, though I had many things that I needed to do besides write, I spent three hours without so much as looking up from my computer to get the piece on Donald Trump’s faux pas (alternative fact) about Sweden written and posted because I felt it was too important to wait.  I skipped both breakfast or lunch (one daytime meal is all I ever eat anyway), was late doing the grocery marketing, and was still folding laundry at 1:00 a.m. this morning.  But I prioritized and did what I thought most important first.

Then yesterday evening, I took a few precious minutes to log onto Facebook and within about two minutes saw no less than 15 memes about the Sweden remark posted by friends.  Some were only silly, fairly harmless, others mired in half-truths, and one was blatantly untrue.  Not a single one of the people who posted these had read my post, and likely none had any actual facts about the ill-conceived remark or bothered to seek facts.  I was tired, I could barely see, I had a house full of rowdy teens playing video games, chomping pizza, and knocking over lamps, and seeing all those inane memes was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Now, I realize that in these dark times we all need to laugh, we all need some humour in our lives, lest we completely lose our perspective, our balance.  It is why I write my Monday morning posts, it is why I read, per Hugh’s suggestion, a few comics every morning, and it is why, despite their rowdiness, I enjoyed my house full of teens last night – they make me laugh!  But Donald Trump and his ‘team’ of villains are not funny.  We cannot turn their lies and bad policies into our source for humour, for in so doing, we neutralize them, make them nothing worse than an object of ridicule.  It makes them seem funny, ridiculous, but rather harmless.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I thought a lot about the situation during the night and well into the morning, wondering if I was making a mountain out of a molehill, wondering why I keep writing to try to inform.  My conclusion on the first is that no, I am not over-reacting, though admittedly I could have taken an hour or so to think before I ranted.  But the reality is that we are facing a potential disaster and it is not a laughing matter, cannot be summed up by a silly picture accompanied by 15 words or so.  The danger in this, I think, goes beyond the fact that these things neutralize the situation, though that is also important.  But the greater danger is that when people post a meme that attempts to compress a complex, serious situation into a comic, that person is as guilty of spreading faux news as any others. It costs us our credibility. When one does not check their facts, just says, “Oh look … a cute meme that ridicules Trump … I shall share this,” even if there are no untruths involved (and usually there are), it reduces the seriousness of a situation into a one-liner.  And where facts are incorrect, it reduces the person sharing those lies to nothing better than a Breitbart writer.

Almost every person whose meme I saw last night are intelligent, well-educated and knowledgeable people, so one might brush it off, saying it was merely a joke.  BUT … each of those people have Facebook friends, many of whom are neither particularly deep thinkers nor knowledgeable.  THOSE people are just as likely to believe what they read in a Facebook meme as not, having no other point of reference. So no, I don’t think I was making a mountain out of a molehill, I do not see it as harmless fun, though I’m sure the same people will continue to post the same types of things.  Perhaps a few will think harder before they do it next time … I don’t know.

As to why I keep writing to try to inform … a dear friend has commented a few times that my blog doesn’t reach enough people to make a difference, and that anyway, I won’t change the minds of the Trump’s supporters.  To some extent, both of these are true statements, but I realized as I was over-thinking at 2:00 a.m. … it isn’t the trumpeters whom I’m trying to reach.  The person I am trying to reach is the person who sees what is happening, but does not see where it could lead and does not make a stand.  The person sitting in a group of friends who does not speak up when lies are told, who does not ask questions and force people to think in order to justify their position.  I’m not suggesting that we all go out and be obnoxious and get into barroom brawls, but simply that we cannot afford to remain silent. We need to continue contacting our representatives and senators to let them know our position, to remind them that they work for us.  We need to challenge friends when they choose to believe the pack of lies they are being fed by Trump and his minions. We need to use the tools at our command: facts, intellect, civil discourse. If we sit in silence now, some day a group of students will be asking their teacher “Why didn’t they speak out … why didn’t they DO something? Why didn’t they see it coming?”

The situation is becoming more grim by the day.  We have a narcissistic lunatic at the helm, being guided by an anti-government white supremacist.  Our government, a government that represents all of us, has insulted nearly every one of our allies, while forming close attachments with those who would do us harm. Our free press is being badgered and denigrated every single day. We have a man in charge of our environmental regulatory agency who is committed to removing most of the regulations that protect us and our earth.  We have a woman in charge of public education who is both under-educated herself, and against public education. And we have a blatant racist in charge of enforcing the laws of the nation.  That is not funny.  It is not a laughing matter.  It cannot be summed up in a cartoon, nor should it.

Did You Hear The Alt-News About Sweden?

Did you hear about the terrorist attack on Sweden last Friday?  If we had waited for the mainstream media to tell us about it, we still wouldn’t know.  But, since according to Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, we should get all our news directly from Trump, we now know about the attack.  Thank you, Donnie T. for the enlightenment!  Only one problem … there was no terrorist attack on Sweden on Friday … or any other time, for that matter.

For some reason, unbeknownst to mankind, Trump continues doing campaign-style rallies wherever he goes.  I suspect to keep the masses fired up with enthusiasm and as a venue to toot his own horn, since not too many people are tooting it for him these days.  So, on the taxpayers dime, he goes around spewing and spouting to crowds of thousands who are still goo-goo-eyed over him (for a reason that is beyond my comprehension).

At one such rally on Saturday in Melbourne, Florida, he spoke in an airplane hangar to a crowd of some 9,000 people.  Wait … there are 9,000 people in Florida willing to waste time on a Saturday listening to Trump?  What the …. ????  Anyway, he was doing his usual rant about the press,

“Life is a campaign. Making our country great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign. To make America great again is absolutely a campaign. It’s not easy, especially when we’re also fighting the press. When the media lies to people I will never ever let them get away with it. We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live and what to believe. We are free, independent people and we will make our own choices.”

He then reiterated that the press is dishonest, that he inherited a “mess”, and that the White House is running “so smoothly”.  He continued to criticize the judges who refused to fall under his spell and reinstate his travel ban.  And then came the kicker …

“We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.”

There was no attack in Sweden, and the only such incident I can find record of was in 2010 when a suicide bomber injured two people.  The bomber was a Swede.

Sweden, meanwhile, had some fun with Donald’s faux pas.

  • “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister.
  • “Due to harsh weather in northern parts of Sweden the road E10 was closed between Katterjakk and Riksgransen” and “a man died in hospital, after an accident in the workplace earlier that day” – Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper responded, were the biggest “crime” stories of the day.
  • “OK let’s not be fake news, this story took place in the autumn, but was reported Friday before lunchtime and we thought you would like it. A wooden moose got the attention of a lovesick moose bull.” – Aftonbladet
  • Another Twitter user posted a picture of famous Swedish export Abba, writing: “Four extremists responsible for #swedenincident are still at large, if you see these people phone @realDonaldTrump at once.”

Just for some perspective here, there were 112 reported cases of lethal violence in Sweden in 2015, an increase of 25 cases over the previous year.  Not terrorism, just your run o’ the mill rape, robbery, etc. Sweden has a long history of welcoming refugees — Jews, Iranians, Eritreans, Somalis, Kurds and people from the former Yugoslavia, among others.

In an essay in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the journalist Martin Gelin speculated that “Trump might have gotten his news from the countless right-wing media in the United States that have long been reporting that Sweden is heading for total collapse. Among Trump supporters, there are common myths that Sweden is in a state of chaos after taking in refugees from the Middle East. These are incorrect, made up and gravely misleading news items like this have spread to right-wing sites like Breitbart, Human Events, Drudge Report and Fox News, as well as the popular conservative radio programs that reach millions of listeners every day.”

And so, Trump himself joins the ranks of his minions Kellyanne Conway (the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre) and Sean Spicer (the Atlanta terrorist attack, repeated 3 times, where he obviously meant to say Orlando).  And yet, he complains about the “dishonest media” and “fake news”. I don’t get it … I just don’t get it.

Another Damn Shame: Scott Pruitt

I just need to figure out what company I would like to run.  Here’s the plan:  I determine what company I would like to run … I’m thinking perhaps the New York Times or the Boston Globe … or perhaps something more high-tech, like Google or Apple.  Then I sue that company 14 times … might cost a bit up front, but in the long run it should pay off.  After the 14th lawsuit, I will be asked to run the company!  Hey … it worked for Scott Pruitt!  He sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times, and now he sits at its head!

Remember the big brouhaha last year about Hillary Clinton’s emails?  They called it, improperly, a ‘scandal’, but it turned out to be nothing of the sort.  Still, the Republicans tortured and tormented us all with the non-news of the non-scandal and it likely played some part in her loss on November 8th, thanks to the Trump-Putin team and the media.  Well, Scott Pruitt has his own email scandal, and this one may well turn out to be scandalous.  But, we will not know until it is too late, as he has already been confirmed by the senate in a 52-46 vote, and was sworn into office on Friday.  Interestingly, two Democrats voted ‘yea’ — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The emails in question are ones Pruitt exchanged with oil and gas industry heads while he was serving as Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma.  He has been refusing for two years to hand over the emails, but on Thursday, an Oklahoma judge ordered him to release the emails no later than next Tuesday.  Senate Democrats sought to delay the confirmation vote until the emails had been reviewed, claiming that his relationship to the oil and gas industry is questionable, but the senate went ahead with the vote, and common sense lost yet another battle.

envir-3Back in December, when Trump first announced his choice of Pruitt to head the EPA, I wrote that it was nothing less than a disastrous choice.  I have heard nothing that has made me change my mind, and that which I have heard has merely confirmed what I already suspected:  Pruitt has every intention of hobbling the EPA as the Chinese once hobbled women’s feet.

Hundreds of former EPA staff members wrote an open letter against his appointment, some calling him an “unqualified extremist”.

Environmental campaigners see him as an oil and gas industry puppet who is “lukewarm” on the threat posed by climate change – they fear that hard-won environmental regulations will be overturned. As previously noted, freshman Republican Representative Matt Gaetz introduced a bill to end the EPA by the end of 2018, however that bill is not likely to pass even the House, though its simple verbage is chilling:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.

By most accounts, Gaetz’ bill is not likely to be taken seriously by many.  No, the real threat to the EPA comes from its own newly-dubbed chief, Pruitt.

envir-4Pruitt’s lawsuits against the EPA have often been in conjunction with the fossil fuel industry, attempting to overturn EPA air and water regulations – regulations designed to protect the planet we live on from future destruction. It is expected that Trump and Pruitt together will ‘turn the clock back’ on both through a series of executive orders, cuts in staffing, and legislation. It has been reported that Pruitt has simply copied and pasted suggested language from an energy company onto state letterhead, and then sent it to the EPA.

Pruitt is expected to slow or reverse previous legislation tightening federal standards for vehicle emissions, water quality and pollution at power plants. He describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”.  He is partially funded by the oil and gas industries, having received at least $270,000 in ‘donations’ over the years, probably more.

Pruitt’s right-wing ideology goes beyond just areas of environment.  He has been highly critical of the Supreme Court for refusing to support Oklahoma’s proposed definition of “marriage as only the union of one man and one woman”, and in 2014 he joined a lawsuit targeting California’s prohibition on the sale of eggs laid by caged hens.  Losing that, he later announced that he would investigate the Humane Society of the United States, one of the principal proponents of the California law. He lost in both cases, as the courts ruled the suit was acting in the interest of egg farmers, rather than the general public.  However, it proves a couple of things … like his new boss, he is a believer that the best way to solve differences and problems is via lawsuit, and that he supports business and industry over and above the public interest.

Pruitt has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Georgetown College in Kentucky, and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa.  Neither have any relation to science, yet he believes he knows more than all the climate scientists when he says about climate change and man’s involvement/responsibility: “the extent of that [human] impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

envir-2It is fully expected that Pruitt will quickly dismantle the Clean Power Plan, the linchpin of the United States’ plan to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement to lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by about 30 percent over the coming decades. The effects of such a move will be two-fold:  first, it will reverse progress made by the U.S. in the past decade to make a positive contribution toward a healthier, more sustainable environment.  Second, it will cause the U.S. to lose respect of the other 200 nations involved in the Paris Climate Accords who counted on the U.S. to uphold the agreement and do its part.

Trump and Pruitt have made clear their priorities, which are to open pathways for unscrupulous businesses to bypass current clean air and water regulations in order to maximize their profits, with complete disregard for the environment, for the earth and atmosphere, and for the people who inhabit the earth.  It is yet another shame in the cap of the 115th Congress and the man-who-would-be-king that Scott Pruitt is now the head of the EPA.  A damn shame.

envir-5

Freedom of the Press — GOING, GOING … Part II

When I wrote yesterday about Trump forcibly stifling Jewish reporter Jake Turx, who was not even allowed to ask his question, I thought it was going to be a solitary post.  That was my intention.  I never know, however, what will pop onto my radar, and apparently fate, kismet, karma or whatever had other ideas for me.  Thus, today I have written Part II of the story, and there may be many more parts to come.  Thank you all for taking the time to read … I greatly appreciate it!

lamar-smith

Rep Lamar Smith

On January 24th, Lamar Seeligson Smith, U.S. Representative for Texas’ 21st Congressional District for the past 40 years, gave a short speech on the House floor (see 30 second video).  It was a very short speech, but what he said in that short speech is a very big deal.  First he railed against the “unfair” way the press is treating Trump, but then … wait for it … “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” 

Upon reading these words, my jaw dropped and my heart took off like a bowling ball bouncing downhill.  He is telling us to get the “unvarnished truth” from the biggest liar that has ever resided in the White House, bar none???  This joker has been a Representative since 1987.  He is obviously unfit and is the epitome of the argument for term limits!

rick-casey

Rick Casey

Enter Rick Casey, who hosts a weekly public affairs program “Texas Week” on KLRN, a San Antonio public broadcast television station.  Casey’s jaw apparently dropped also when he heard of Smith’s remarks, and he decided to end that week’s program with a commentary about it.  Imagine Mr. Casey’s surprise when, watching the taped broadcast, his commentary had been replaced with one from an older program!  Why?  Because KLRN’s president and chief executive, Arthur Rojas Emerson, decided it was too risky to air it.  His concern was, “that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was under attack and that this would add to it.” The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides financing for public stations, including KLRN, and Mr. Trump’s election has heightened fears that its financing will be cut.

Nonetheless, the original commentary ran in the San Antonio Express-News, and astute readers noticed the difference.  The story started making the rounds in journalistic circles, and eventually reached the ears of Evan Smith, co-founder of the Texas Tribune.  “Holding people accountable in public life is so fundamentally important that this idea that somehow we’re going to stop doing that because we’re worried about what the government’s going to do to us, I so unbelievably reject that,” said Smith.

evan-smith

Evan Smith

As luck would have it, Evan Smith was in Washington D.C. for a meeting of the PBS national board, of which he is a member.  He talked to fellow board members, then called Mr. Emerson, who had made the decision to pull the commentary, and told him he might consider severing ties with KLRN over the censorship.  Emerson explained the reasons behind his decision, “clearly we always worry about funding for public television. We have to protect the neutrality of the station — somebody could have looked at it as slander.” But he acknowledged that it was a mistake and said he would be willing to let the commentary run as long as they designated it as “commentary”.

For this time, freedom of the press was rescued, thanks to men like Evan Smith and even Arthur Emerson, who realize the value of open communication and providing unbiased information to the public.  Next time we may not be so lucky.

What follows is Mr. Casey’s commentary.  I am taking liberties printing it in its entirety, but I am providing proper attribution, and I will take my chances, as I think this is too important not to share.

Many viewers may be aware of a controversy over a recent commentary I prepared that didn’t run. I’m pleased to say the issue has been resolved very much to my satisfaction and that of KLRN’s leadership.

KLRN President Arthur Emerson has publicly confirmed that the Last Word will continue to be a free-speech zone and will clearly be labeled as “commentary” to signify that. I want to thank Arthur, and I also want to thank all of you strong supporters of KLRN who let him know how much you care about the station, this program and the value of free speech.

And with that, here is the commentary that did not air two weeks ago.

San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith surprised me last week when he indicated a disrespect for Fox News.

True, his brief speech on the House floor was mainly a complaint about how the “national liberal media” are covering President Donald Trump, but it’s conclusion was more sweeping.

Smith listed a number of early accomplishments by the president, including a spike in the consumer confidence index. and said the liberal media “won’t print that, or air it, or post it.”

Actually, I Googled “spike in consumer confidence index” and the very first entry was a Dec. 27 report from that pillar of the liberal media, the New York Times.

It read: “A measure of consumer confidence shot to its highest level in more than 15 years in December as Americans saw more strength ahead in business conditions, stock prices and the job market following the election of Donald J. Trump as president.”

But don’t sweat the details. Smith is right that the media have been tough on Trump. It’s Smith’s solution that intrigues.

“Better to get your news directly from the president,” he said. “In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”

That’s where he disrespected the “fair-and-balanced” cable channel. But Fox can fend for itself.

Smith’s proposal is quite innovative for America. We’ve never really tried getting all our news from our top elected official. It has been tried elsewhere, however.

North Korea comes to mind.

If Americans were to adopt this approach, here are some of the unvarnished truths we would have learned.

That Trump’s inauguration crowd was “the biggest ever.”

That he gets far bigger crowds than Beyonce and Jay Z.

That Trump would have “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

That Americans aren’t interested in his tax returns.

These are just some of the things we would have learned since his inauguration. During his campaign we would learn that thousands and thousands of Arabs in New Jersey publicly celebrated as the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11.

We would learn Congressman Smith is right in thinking climate change is a hoax, but that Trump was only kidding when he tweeted that it was created by the Chinese to hurt America’s competitiveness.

And, of course, we would learn, as Trump recently taught, that members of the media are “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

That, as Lamar Smith understands, is why media outlets have debunked every one of the above “alternative facts.”

Smith also appears to be getting all his news from the White House regarding President Trump’s temporary bans of immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim nations.

“I appreciate President Trump’s effort to protect innocent Americans from those who enter the United States to do us harm,” he said in a press release that mirrored several White House talking points.

Smith’s young colleague Will Hurd, the other Republican congressman from San Antonio, hasn’t got the message. Hurd, a former CIA agent, told USA Today Trump’s order has caused a rift with U.S. allies in the fight against terrorism.

“Let’s look at a place like Iraq and the men and women of the U.S. armed services,” he said. “Who protects the perimeter of the base? Iraqis.”

He added that Iraqis are also fighting ISIS, and he has friends in Yemen fighting Al-Qaida alongside Yemenis.

Pulling no punches, he said Trump’s order has “put a target on the back of the almost 10,000 U.S. service members and diplomats and intelligence officers who are in those regions.”

Hurd also noted that some terrorist groups are touting Trump’s order as proving that the United States is at war with Islam.

“When terrorist groups are excited about this executive order, that’s not a good sign,” Hurd said. “It’s a tool that terrorist groups get to use to recruit more followers.”

Would we ever have learned that from President Trump? 

Commentary by Rick Casey, Posted by Patrick Driscoll on Feb 16, 2017 at 7:54 pm

Note:  After I had finished and scheduled this post, a New York Times headline caught my eye:  “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities could all be eliminated.”  Sigh.  More to come, folks.

Freedom of the Press — GOING, GOING …

“It is mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction.” – Statement by the Anti-Defamation League,  02-16-2017

“Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather to help solve a problem that, for many, is real and menacing.” – David Harris, American Jewish Committee, 02-16-2017


In Turkey, after the failed coup that was likely orchestrated by none other than Erdoğan himself, in order to curtail the power of the press, he simply had journalists arrested and shut down independent news agencies.  Trump has not, as yet, figured out a way to do that, since freedom of the press is an integral part of the U.S. Constitution, so he has another tactic, another ‘trick up his sleeve’:  bullying.

Throughout his year-and-a-half long campaign, Trump denigrated almost every major news outlet, except Fox and Breitbart, and banned a number of highly reputable news agencies, including The Washington Post, from his rallies and campaign events.  Since his election win last November, he has continued to criticize and threaten the press, calling them “fake news”, “dishonest”, “scum” and more.  We are becoming inured to it, and his rhetoric has become just so much noise in our minds.  However in his bizarre ‘press conference’ yesterday, he did something that I found deeply disturbing.

turxJewish reporter Jake Turx from Ami Magazine had a question about the recent episodes of anti-Semitism around the nation.  He prefaced his question by saying he did not see evidence the President or his staff were anti-Semitic. He even mentioned Trump’s Jewish grandchildren. Clearly Mr. Turx wanted to be sure Trump understood that he was not levelling accusations at Trump or his staff, but merely asking a question.

“What we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.” 

Trump interrupted, “See, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it’s not.”

Turx:  “It’s an important one.”

Trump: “Not a simple question. Not a fair question. OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. So here’s the story folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.”

Turx raised his hand and again tried to speak, but was told, “Quiet, quiet, quiet. See he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.”

Trump: “But let me just tell you something: I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me — and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Benjamin Netanyahu, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, ‘I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time,’ and then he said, ‘Forget it.’ So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”

The question was not rude, insulting, repulsive nor difficult.  The reality is that there has been a surge in anti-Semitism since the November election including bomb threats and hate mail.  Jewish Community Centers in 27 states received some 60 bomb threats in January alone.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified some 1,600 Twitter accounts that have been used to send more than 2 million tweets containing anti-Semitic language and threats.

The question was “what is the federal government doing about this issue?” The answer was simple:  The FBI and Justice Departments are investigating, and working in conjunction with the ADL and local law enforcement to monitor the situation and ensure the safety of the Jewish community.  It isn’t rocket science, and it did not warrant Trump’s outburst.

When the man who is considered to be, acknowledged by most to be, the leader of a nation of some 300 million people cannot answer a simple question without twisting the question into a personal affront, then that nation needs to re-think their choice of leadership.  Period.  This is why hate groups like alt-right and the KKK believe they have the support of the president when they commit crimes against humanity.  Trump will not even speak out and admit that such crimes are an atrocity and that his administration will work to ensure the safety of its citizens.  Yet, he is adamant about reinstating his ban against people of the Muslim faith from at least seven countries in the Middle East … people who have done us no harm.

To my original point, from which I seem to have strayed, Trump’s refusal to answer a simple, straightforward question is bad enough, but then to tell the journalist to sit down and shut up, refusing to give him a chance to even finish asking his question, is a violation of the 1st amendment.  The first amendment does not state “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press as long as president likes the questions they ask …

In telling Mr. Turx to ‘sit down and be quiet’, Trump violated the reporter’s right, and perhaps most importantly of all, he violated our rights … the right of every citizen in this country.  It is not the first time, and undoubtedly will not be the last, but it stands out as a blatant example of a president who takes the law into his own hands, who does not understand the very Constitution that he swore to uphold less than a month ago.  He curtailed the freedom of the press yesterday every bit as surely as Erdoğan did when he ordered journalists arrested.  We have already begun to lose our constitutional rights, and this is only the beginning.

Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!

An Immediate Crisis

Erik Hare of Barataria fame has hit the nail right on the head. No commetary from Filosofa … just read Erik’s post! Spot on and thanks, Erik! (Here, by the way, is an annotated transcript of the press conference to which Erik refers)

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

You realize we’re less than one month into this circus, yes?

After a press conference today the problem at hand should be obvious to absolutely everyone – the President has a severe mental illness. Nothing else matters at this point. There will be many sentences written, many hours of panel discussions, and hundreds of facebook posts shared going around this simple and obvious fact. But like the vast majority of our politics, it will be irrelevant.

The only thing which matters at this time is the peril faced by the United States, and indeed the world, because so much power is in the hands of someone obviously not well.

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In Praise Of Conservative Columnist George Will

I have always rather liked George Will, a columnist for The Washington Post.  At one time, he was a regular on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and since I was a regular viewer, I saw and heard him frequently.  I used to read his column occasionally, and though I disagreed with his ideology much of the time, I respected his style as a writer and the fact that he was never brash, always thoughtful and respectful — more centered than far right extremist.  But, for the past year-and-a-half, I have been so inundated with news about first, the train-wreck that we called the 2016 election, and then the transition and ultimately the presidency of Trump, that I have neglected some of the columnists I used to read, including Will.  And so it was that I did not know George Will had left the Republican party!  In June 2016 – eight months ago!  So much for me being right on top of the news, huh?

Will, a committed conservative, did not go so far as to join the Democratic party, but announced he was switching from the Republican party to ‘unaffiliated’.  Will, apparently, is not a fan of Donald Trump, saying, “This is not my party”.  He also urged fellow conservatives not to vote for Trump, but to “Make sure he loses. Grit their teeth for four years and win the White House.”  This may be the biggest surprise I have had since Trump actually won the election!

Part of the reason for his departure, says Will, was Paul Ryan’s endorsement of Trump.  He stated that a Trump presidency unchecked by a Republican-led Congress would be worse than a Hillary Clinton presidency with a Republican-led Congress.  Trump, naturally, had something to tweet about this:

“George Will, one of the most overrated political pundits (who lost his way long ago), has left the Republican Party.He’s made many bad calls”

As I said, I have always respected and rather liked Will, but now I like him even more!  And the latest news is that Will is also leaving Fox News, though apparently not voluntarily.  Will left ABC News in 2013 and joined Fox News, primarily as a commentator on Chris Wallace’s Sunday show as well as on Bret Baier’s “Special Report” on weekday nights. His reason for leaving ABC News after a 32-year stint was not ideological differences, but rather logistical.  Since Stephanopoulos was hosting Good Morning America in New York during the week, the Sunday show, long based in Washington, D.C., began taping mostly in New York, and in the capital only about once every four weeks. Will, who lives in the D.C. area, informed ABC News that traveling several weekends a month was becoming tougher for him, according to a spokesman. At the time, he was 72 years old, so I certainly understand.

His reason for leaving Fox is simply that they informed him they would not be renewing his contract. Will does not seem too upset over it, saying only, “They just said that they weren’t going to renew. They didn’t say, and I didn’t ask … it’s their toy.” Now almost 76 years of age, perhaps he is ready to slow down a bit at any rate.

Will has not been kind to Trump in his recent columns.  In a column about Trump’s inaugural address, Will begins:

“Twenty minutes into his presidency, Donald Trump, who is always claiming to have made, or to be about to make, astonishing history, had done so. Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, had promised that the speech would be “elegant.” This is not the adjective that came to mind as he described “American carnage.” That was a phrase the likes of which has never hitherto been spoken at an inauguration.” 

And he ends by saying

[James] Madison anticipated and as the nation was reminded on Friday, “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

Truer words were never spoken.

While remaining a conservative ideologist and thinker, Will is, nonetheless, a man of good sense and intelligence and he, like David Brooks, Elliot Cohen and David Frum, understand that there is a difference between true conservative thinking and the radical no-holds-barred policies of Trump and his administration.  If we are ever to begin to heal the divisiveness of the present, we need more voices like these to bring both sides back to the table, more toward the center where they can at least speak to one another in a civil manner. Voices like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and the Breitbart team can only push the two sides further into the great divide that will lead us all over the chasm.

In a recent column in The Atlantic, writer Peter Beinart sums up the difference between what I refer to as the sensible conservatives like Will, Brooks, et al, vs. the radical elitists:   

“For them, conservatism is about prudence, inherited wisdom, and a government that first does no harm; they see none of those virtues in Trump. They see themselves as the inheritors of a rich conservative intellectual tradition; Trump’s ignorance embarrasses them. And they believe America should stand for ideals that transcend race, religion and geography; they fear white Christian identity politics in their bones. They are, to my mind, highly admirable.”

great-divide

Ever since the ‘tea party’ movement began in 2009, the divide between conservative and liberal political ideology has widened.  As conservatives moved further to the right of center, the center shifted and liberals maintained the balance by moving further to the left, leaving an almost insurmountable chasm in the middle.  As writers, journalists and politicians finally begin to understand, and respond to, what is happening, there is hope that some, like Will, will refuse to become entrenched in party ideologies and move back toward the center line.

We The People must rely on the media for our news, and to a large extent we form our opinions based on the news and what those we respect in the media say. Though George Will and I will always be ideologically opposed in many areas of policy, I respect him for being a thinker, for not allowing the rhetoric spewing from his former party to sway him, and for standing for his beliefs.  We need more writers and journalists to take a stand for what is right, rather than merely feeding the hysteria of the masses.

The Canadian Guy Has Class!

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to visit and to discuss ongoing policies with Trump.  Trudeau had hoped for an audience with the President of the United States, but in lieu of that, he got Trump.  Of course, the U.S. was embroiled in the scandal of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and whether he did or didn’t give Russian ambassador Kislyak a heads up about impending sanctions by President Obama back on Christmas day, so it is understandable that the U.S. news outlets were too busy to cover more than the barest details of Trudeau’s visit.

trudeau-trump-shakeNonetheless, there were some pretty great moments, like when Trudeau got to have his picture taken standing to the left of Ivanka Trump, with a beaming proud Papa Trump on her right.  And speaking of Ivanka, let us not forget the iconic photos of Ivanka gazing with adoration at the handsome, young Trudeau!

trudeau-trump-ivanka.png

The take on the visit depends entirely which side of the border you are on.  The U.S. press called the meeting boring, but the Canadians were thrilled.  Both reactions seem to be a result of the fact that Trump didn’t throw any of his bombastic temper tantrums during the Trudeau visit.  U.S. citizens seem to have come to a point where they look forward to these daily, sometimes hourly events, but Canadians, having a bit more sense of propriety, find them unamusing, to say the least.

trudeau-ivanka

Their major differences are in the areas of immigration, trade and climate change.  As we all know, Trump is determined to have his way in banning refugees from at least seven Middle-Eastern nations from entering the U.S. and is not above verbally abusing judges and others in order to see his ‘orders’ carried out.  Meanwhile, Trudeau welcomes refugees and the cultural diversity they bring.  Asked for his opinion on Trump’s refugee ban, PM Trudeau tactfully declined to opine, saying instead, “The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves.”

us-canadaCertainly the main point PM Trudeau came hoping to come to an agreement with Trump about was regarding trade, given that Trump has repeatedly said he would either ‘rip up’ the NAFTA agreement, or renegotiate it in terms more favourable to the U.S.  Canada counts on trade with the United States for about 25 percent of their country’s gross domestic product and 73% of their exports.  PM Trudeau and President Obama had forged a mutually beneficial working relationship, so it is no wonder that Trudeau was a bit unsure what to expect from the contentious Trump … heck, those of us who live in the U.S. do not know what to expect of him from one day to the next!

A little known episode from last month:  a group of six Canadian women and two French nationals tried to enter the U.S. in order to attend the Women’s March on 21 January, but after a two-hour ordeal at the border which included a search of the car, their mobile phones being examined, each person fingerprinted, and their photo taken, they were denied access and told that if they attempted to cross the border again during the weekend, they would be arrested.  Another Canadian and a British citizen were also turned away after informing border patrol agents the reason for their visit was the Women’s March. The same day, a resident of Montreal was turned away after being asked by border patrol agents whether he was ‘pro-Trump’ or ‘anti-Trump’.  He was then fingerprinted, photographed, and denied entry.

At least one Canadian school district has ceased their periodic field trips into the U.S., citing safety concerns in light of Trump’s immigration ban and the unpredictability of what might happen next. We certainly can no longer claim to be a nation of hospitality, can we?

trudeau-welcome.jpg

PM Justin Trudeau welcoming newly-arrived refugees to his country

Justin Trudeau is a class act, much the same as was President Obama.  Though we have the impression that he strongly disagrees with Trump’s stance on immigration and his ‘executive order’ to ban mostly Muslims from the U.S., Trudeau has never specifically criticized Trump.  He has merely stated the importance of welcoming more refugees, without mentioning Trump by name.  As I said, the man has class, something which is sorely lacking in Trump.

On a final note, the day after the meeting and press conference with PM Trudeau and Trump, Sean Spicer had this to say in the morning White House press briefing:

“Yesterday the president set — had an incredibly productive set of meetings and discussions with Prime Minister Joe Trudeau of Canada, focusing on our shared commitment to close cooperation in addressing both the challenges facing our two countries and the problems throughout the world.” Um, Sean?  It’s Justin … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Not Joe.

I asked one of my Canadian friends if we could trade leaders … just for a year or so.  Her response, verbatim, was: “Over my dead body (and those of millions of Canucks!!) Sorry…”  Guess that means ‘no’, huh?  And I was even willing to throw in Bannon, Miller, Spicer, Conway, Sessions and DeVos as a bonus!  Well, can’t blame me for trying.  Sigh.

Uneasy Civilization

My blogger-friend Hugh is a philosopher, a deep thinker. Whereas I look at the political turmoil and upheaval of current times, both in the U.S. and on the other side of the globe, and wonder why some people are so determined to destroy our society, Hugh finds the answers to those questions in the works of the old philosophers. His post today is an excellent analysis of why people are so willing to follow and support leaders like Trump, LePen and Wilders in spite of, or perhaps because of, the chaos they create. Please take a few minutes to read Hugh’s post and think about what he says. Thank you Hugh for the implied permission to share this post!

hughcurtler

In 1929 Sigmund Freud wrote his famous and truly remarkable book Civilization and Its Discontents. The latter term, in German, is “Unbehagen,” which means, literally, “uneasiness.” In any event, Freud pointed out that civilization is bought at a price. He never suggested that the price was not worth paying, but those who followed him and had a much less penetrating insight into the trials and tribulations of civilized people decided that the price was not worth paying. Freud worried about repression and sublimation (which actually resulted in creative activity) whereas his acolytes preached that mental health consists in the absence of restraint in order to foster increased pleasure and “realizing one’s potential.”

What followed in this country within a decade or two was a plethora of pop-psychologists telling Americans that repression was a bad thing and the values that had created what we call “civilized society” were a sham. Following Nietzsche, they…

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