Et Tu, Democrats?

Roughly, we now know the ratio of compromised Senate Democrats to compromised Senate Republicans, when it comes to “Big Pharma.” It’s 3 to 1 in favor of compromised Republicans. And although that sounds pretty good, it isn’t good enough. In fact, it’s pretty damned pathetic.

Now, I expect the big business-friendly GOP to be corrupted by an industry that enjoys high profit margins, the highest of all industries. And I expect a few Democrats to be influenced by lobbyists and industry money, money from an industry that keeps substantially raising drug prices every year. That’s just human nature. But I confess I thought such corruption would be rather limited among members of a party that purports to be on the side of the “little guy.”

Image result for prescription drugsOn a budget resolution advanced by Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, one crafted to allow cheaper prescription drugs from other countries, where drugs are less costly, to be imported into the U.S. so consumers could benefit from the lower prices, 13 Democrats sided with 39 Republicans to kill it. That’s 13 Democrats—27% of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

There were plenty of excuses from tainted Democrats—future presidential hopeful Corey Booker (laughingly) said he opposed it because of a lack of “safety standards,” as if other countries don’t give a damn whether prescription drugs kill people—but the bottom line is that the damn thing would have passed if a few more Democrats would have found it within themselves to ignore the powerful tug of corporate power and signed on to a sensible resolution, even if only for the symbolism. They didn’t. And here is who didn’t:

Corey Booker (NJ)
Bob Menendez (NJ)
Chris Coons (DE)
Tom Carper (DE)
Bob Casey (PA)
Maria Cantwell (WA)
Patty Murray (WA)
Heidi Heitkamp (ND)
Joe Donnelly (IN)
Michael Bennett (CO)
Martin Heinrich (NM)
Jon Tester (MT)
Mark Warner (VA)

Kudos to Missouri’s Claire McCaskill—who is as vulnerable as any red-state Democrat in the country—for voting in favor of all of us who rely on prescription medicine. And to hell with Missouri’s Roy Blunt, who doesn’t give a damn about us, as this vote confirms, as well as his notorious support for Big Tobacco.

Trump’s Birth Certificate Moment

The story is all over the place now. What began in July, with Trump begging the Russians to help him beat Hillary Clinton, and continued through October with the Obama administration formally accusing the Russians of hacking the Democrats and Mother Jones’ David Corn publishing a story about the possibility that the Russians have for years been trying to “co-opt and assist Trump,” finally hit the big time yesterday when CNN did a tardy “breaking news” story:

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

By now, if you have been paying attention, you know what the “compromising personal” information might be, but in case you don’t, here is the PG version from Newsweek:

The story began making the rounds at Washington dinner parties late last summer: Donald Trump had been caught in a compromising sexual position by Russian intelligence agents during a business trip to Moscow. According to one version, told by a high-ranking Obama administration diplomat, Russian intelligence services, acting on Trump’s well-known obsession with sex, had arranged an evening for him with a bevy of hookers, with hidden cameras and microphones recording all the action. The jaw-dropping detail that topped the story? Trump had somehow engaged in “golden showers,” sex acts involving urine.

Now, I don’t personally give a damn whether an entire brothel full of hookers pissed on his orange coif, his tiny hands, or any other part of his anatomy. The fact that he admitted to sexual assault on that infamous pussy tape is much more damaging than any revelation, true or not, that he got a urine bath in Moscow. That pussy tape is a thousand times more revealing of who he is than any pissy tape.

What does bother me about this issue, and what should bother all Americans, is the potential “compromising…financial information” the Russians, or others, may have related to Trump. As I write this, the Russian-Trump story is still developing. The latest, reported on MSNBC and NBC, is that Trump was not told in an intelligence briefing about the potential compromising information, nor were any documents presented to him indicating as much. Who knows at this point. But here’s something we know for sure: Trump trusts the Russians more than he trusts his own government. He tweeted this morning:

Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.” Very unfair!

“Russia just said,” Trump madly tweeted. Think about that. This man will soon be in the White’s House. But he didn’t stop there. An hour later, he said:

I win an election easily, a great “movement” is verified, and crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS. A sorry state!

Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?

Besides having fascism on his mind, clearly Trump thinks the present U.S. government is out to get him and he finds it okay to cite the Russian government as a reliable source.

But Trump tweeted something else that should be the focus of all journalists, and all investigative agencies:

Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!

There is no ambiguity in that SHOUTED declaration. It is absolutely clear. And because it is so specific and so clear, it can be proved or disproved. And Trump has all the information, including his tax returns, that can prove or disprove it.

Back in 2011, after President Obama released the long form of his birth certificate because he was tired of all the stupidity surrounding “papers please” birtherism, Donald Trump took credit for his “big role” in the release. “I am really proud, I am really honored,” the race-baiter said. The next year he tweeted:

An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.

Well, today an “extremely credible source”—a former British spy who American intelligence officials apparently have some confidence in—has suggested that the Russians have compromising financial information that they can use to play Trump, and which would explain his creepy cheerleading for Putin. In short, Trump is a fraud, if what the British operative was told is true.

Thus, unlike the birthers, we have very good reasons to suspect Trump is hiding vital information. All he has to do is show us his financial birth certificate. Show us his papers. Prove to us who he is, that he is telling the truth about his lack of Russian connections.

He will have a chance to begin clearing this up as early as this morning during his first press conference since that infamous one last July. Every journalist who gets to ask a question should not move on to something else until Trump agrees to release all his financial information—including his tax returns going back many years—until he backs up what he tweeted this morning. Journalist after journalist, question after question, should focus on this one, vitally important, issue.

Because if Trump has been compromised by the Russians, we are in a world of trouble.

The Huffington Post’s Bad Headline, Entitlement “Reform,” And A Theory Of Trump’s Potential Impeachment

Every now and then, contrary to the 140-character Zeitgeist, I like to go into the weeds. So, let’s start with the headline itself:

Reince Priebus: Donald Trump Won’t ‘Meddle’ With Social Security And Medicare

The story, written by Daniel Marans, began this way:

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared to confirm that President-elect Donald Trump would stand by his campaign promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Notice that word “appeared.” It wasn’t in the headline, which clearly claimed that Priebus said Trump “won’t” meddle with Social Security and Medicare. But Priebus didn’t say that, as the lead clarifies. Also notice that word “confirm” in the lead. Priebus “appeared to confirm Trump’s campaign “promise.” Think about that one. We are asked to believe that Priebus, one of Trump’s many obfuscators, not only appeared to confirm” Trump’s promise, but that Priebus actually possesses the ability to confirm it. We know, though, that no one, including Priebus, actually can confirm anything Trump has said or will say. We know that because Trump is both a pathological liar and a pathological denier, and the trump-ss-cardword “promise” has no real applicability to him. Trump can’t even confirm something he himself said. What he promised yesterday, what he promises today, Trump can, and will, deny tomorrow. And his surrogates will follow suit.

That’s why journalists and headline writers have to be careful. They have to stop playing by the old journalistic rules, which no longer apply. Social media-obsessed people, as we all know, skim headlines as a shortcut to understanding what’s going on in the news. And that HuffPo headline—an outlet that ought to know better—is particularly harmful to the public’s understanding of what is going on, or, more to the point, what might happen in the months to come, in terms of Social Security and Medicare and, before it’s over, Medicaid.

Let’s look at the transcript of what Priebus said on CBS’s Face the Nation:

JOHN DICKERSON: Quick question on replace. Donald Trump has campaigned on the idea of not touching Medicare. That’ll be his position still?

REINCE PRIEBUS: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think President-elect Trump wants to meddle with Medicare or Social Security. He made a promise in the campaign that that was something that he didn’t want to do. But what he wants to do is grow the economy, help shore up Medicare and Social Security for future generations. And if we can get three to five, 6% growth, we’ll do that. And we’ll explode the economy, and bring jobs back, and make trade more fair across the world, lower rates for everyone, and I think hopefully get businesses going again so people can put more money in their pocket.

Notice a couple of things. First, why is John Dickerson only asking a “quick question” about “touching Medicare”? Doesn’t the possibility of Trump joining Paul Ryan and the reactionaries in his party, in their effort to destroy Medicare as we know it, deserve more than a quick question? Of course it does. But apparently TV journalism has its priorities, and understanding whether Trump intends on preserving Social Security and Medicare doesn’t happen to be one of them. So, because Dickerson did not follow up on Priebus’ assertions, we will at least examine his words ourselves:

1. Note that Dickerson did not specifically ask Priebus about Social Security (even though he should have). Priebus brought up Social Security on his own. Why? We can guess it’s because Priebus knows “entitlement reform” is a big deal to Paul Ryan and his Houseful of reactionaries, and that Ryan’s so-called reform includes mucking with Social Security in ways that will screw needy beneficiaries, many of whom voted for Trump. Thus, the “Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance” program—which is what we rubes know as Social Security— was on his mind.

2. Priebus said “I don’t think” Trump “wants to meddle with Medicare and Social Security.” He didn’t say “I am certain.” He didn’t say “I am absolutely confident.” He merely said he didn’t think Trump would renege. He was speculating not asserting. He was, purposely, leaving room for future betrayal. Because, as noted, no one can confidently assert anything regarding any statement Trump has made—or will make.

3. Priebus’ weak speculation that Trump won’t bother Social Security and Medicare is based on certain assumptions, like Trump bringing us explosive economic growth, bringing back manufacturing jobs, negotiating and renegotiating trade deals, and lowering tax rates, which “hopefully get businesses going again so people can put more money in their pocket.” The problem is that businesses are already going again, people have more money in their pockets, and there aren’t many economists this side of Sean Hannity who believe in all that standard Reagan-era voodoo magic. Thus, the premise for suggesting that Trump will not mess with entitlements is based on art-of-the-deal and supply-side fantasies.

4. Now look at these two sentences: “He made a promise in the campaign that that was something that he didn’t want to do. But what he wants to do is grow the economy, help shore up Medicare and Social Security for future generations.” Priebus said that Trump’s messing with the two big entitlement programs “was something that he didn’t want to do,” like having to spank an unruly child. The way that sentence is constructed leaves a lot of room for meddling, especially when coupled with the second sentence. One can imagine a future appearance on Face the Nation in which Priebus will say Trump didn’t want to sign Social Security and Medicare “reform” bills, but it was necessary to “shore up” the programs because economic growth lagged behind projections due to Democratic Party interference. “Things were much worse than he imagined during the campaign, and Democrats have conspired to make them worse in order to hurt Trump,” this future Priebus can say about Trump’s broken promise. Or Priebus—feel free to substitute your surrogate of choice—can point to something Trump said to the AARP:

If we are able to sustain growth rates in GDP that we had as a result of the Kennedy and Reagan tax reforms, we will be able to secure Social Security for the future. As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations. Our goal is to keep the promises made to  Americans through our Social Security program.”

There is a giant “if” in that statement: “If we are able to sustain growth rates in GDP that we had as a result of the Kennedy and Reagan tax reform.”  I hate to till over-farmed ground, but people need to be reminded of the facts. First, Kennedy did reduce the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 70%. But today’s highest rate is just less than 40%. Any effect of lowering taxes for people in the highest bracket today will not have much, if any, salutary economic effect. Second, Kennedy targeted earners who would spend their tax breaks and thus stimulate the economy. There isn’t a GOP plan out there today anything like that. Most of the proposed tax cuts would go to top-bracket people who will simply bank the money, not go out and buy a new Chevy Cruze made—by union workers—in Lordstown, Ohio.

As for Reagan, the myth lives on. The truth is that although he reduced marginal income tax rates, he raised other taxes and closed large loopholes. The net effect wasn’t significant, except in terms of normalizing large budget deficits because of his increase in military spending (which deficits, weirdly, have been blamed on Democrats ever since). Thus, Trump’s “if” statement—which I am sure is the product of some nutty supply-side economist and not his own creation—will not bear the burden of protecting Social Security, or Medicare, or any entitlement, in the future.

Then there is, “As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations.” The political ambiguity in that phrase, again the product of someone other than Trump—who wouldn’t know anything about “demography” unless it was a dues-paying member of Mar-a-Lago—is wide enough to drive an Ayn Rand tractor-trailer through. A Ryan-friendly Trump, if it came to it, could easily cite demographic changes that his “prudent administration” could use to make “necessary” reformsall in the name of “future generations.” That’s right out of the Paul Ryan-Pete Peterson playbook.

In any case, there is one thing we know with absolute certainty: Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, is determined to implement his once-in-a-lifetime, one-party-rule offense according to his ideological playbook. He is hellbent on privatizing Medicare and reducing Social Security benefits. If you don’t believe me, try Forbes or, uh, Forbes. And there are only two things, right now, that stand between Ryan and his goal. One is the Senate Democratic Caucus, which features several wobbly-kneed Democrats from red states—and keep in mind that Senate Democrats only have power if the filibuster remains, not exactly a certainty in these strange times. The other obstacle for Ryan is Trump. And Ryan will soon have some important leverage over the Orange Grifter: the threat of impeachment.
impeachRyan’s dream of destroying—or failing that, weakening—New Deal ideology can obviously only come to pass if Trump signs onto the effort and openly defends it. Ryan dare not advance his Randian agenda without the backing of Trumpers, who have proven they will follow Trump no matter what he does. And it is my rather wild theory that Ryan may use the threat of impeachment—which has to originate in the House—to get Trump to sign on and defend his assent. This impeachment threat would not, at first, be advanced openly. As time passes, it would be—if it hasn’t been already—quietly passed on to Trump associates, like Reince Priebus, who will inform Trump that insurance against impeachment will come at the price of “meddling” with entitlements (something that Priebus, as a political and personal friend of Ryan, is inclined to do anyway). Such a quiet threat could have its intended effect without an open display of hostility toward Trump on the part of House Republicans.

I won’t pretend this is a likely scenario. The ultimate manifestation of the developing dynamics of the next administration’s relationship with a Republican Congress is anyone’s guess. But since impeachment will be part of the general conversation the minute Trump takes office (see: Emoluments Clause, for instance), and will continue to dog him throughout his presidency, it is not entirely nuts to think something like my scenario could happen. With Trump, just the hint that he could go down in history as an impeached president may itself be enough to find enough room in his AARP statement, “As our demography changes, a prudent administration would begin to examine what changes might be necessary for future generations,” to accommodate substantial changes in entitlement programs.

After all, Trump has never given a damn about working-class people except as a means to his narcissistic ends, and why should he stick his presidential neck out for them, especially when he has a legion of spinners who can sell his treachery to his followers?

All this is just something to keep in mind, as we slowly descend into the abyss of the Trump presidency. Stay tuned.

One Last Post On How To Fight Trumpism

I want to post part of some friendly reactions I received relative to my recent post on cynicism and what to do about Trump and what he represents. My responses below will be the last time I post on this topic for a while. Trump’s inauguration is coming and a strange new time will Image result for boycott trump logosoon be upon us. Thus, our focus has to be on actively and forcefully resisting Trumpism and defeating it at every turn, including defeating the Republican policy agenda that will use Trumpism to turn America into Sam Brownback’s Kansas.

Blogger Jim Wheeler pointed out how the “fine distinction between cynicism and skepticism” is often lost on people, to the point that even dictionaries “seem to view the two as synonyms.” Since I find cynicism dangerous to our democracy, I wanted to use Jim’s point to clarify what I’m saying, even though I risk beating a dead horse:

Perhaps I should have made the distinction clearer, as the two terms are often, as you suggest, used as synonyms. I have always seen the two this way: skepticism is an essential analytical tool; pessimism is akin to faith, albeit a negative faith. I like to quote C.S. Lewis, “to see through everything is the same as not seeing.” Pessimism is a way of not seeing anything. It is a crippling anti-faith. Blindness.

I went on to suggest to Jim that Democrats in Congress need to make it as difficult as possible for Republicans to pass Brownbackian policies and to use my old home state of Kansas as an example of what will happen if Republicans have their way. But it’s not just up to our representatives in Congress:

As for the rest of us not in positions of power, we need to keep building on what is turning out to be a robust grassroots rejection of Trump and, more important, Trumpism. This is not an ordinary candidate, and what he represents is not, and cannot be allowed to become, within the norms of American politics.

Michael Gaden cautioned us that when it comes to Trumpism, “how we resist is equally as important as whether we resist.” Rather than resorting “to the same tactics that Trump and his ilk use,” he said, “we must resist by modeling the behavior we want others to emulate.” Michael also made this point:

The majority of people, when confronted with suffering or danger or injustice occurring directly in their sensory range, will respond in a helpful manner….Unsympathetic people are not necessarily evil or cold, they just do not see what more observant people see. We should figure out ways to help them see, not an easy task, I admit, but I believe the most effective one.

I agree with Michael’s view on how people generally react to “suffering or danger or injustice.” The more distant and abstract such things are, the colder the response tends to be. For example, it’s easy for some churched folks to invoke the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior, but it is hard for decent people to look someone in the eye who is suffering from AIDS and tell them they deserve their fate because God hates homosexuality. We do, therefore, need to find ways to make the abstract more real to people who observe only from a detached distance.

Along these lines, Jodie Fund quoted the liberal chef Anthony Bourdain:

There are a hell of a lot of nice people out there, who are doing what everyone else in this world is trying to do: the best they can to get by, and take care of themselves and the people they love. When we deny them their basic humanity and legitimacy of their views, however different they may be than ours, when we mock them at every turn, and treat them with contempt, we do no one any good.

Again, I have sympathy with this view. There are “a lot of nice people out there” who don’t see things the way we see them. They don’t deserve our contempt. They deserve our Image result for the deplorablesbest efforts to show them why we think they are wrong and we are right, which necessarily involves listening to them. This is all good, so long as we recognize that there some people out there who are not nice people, who lack empathy under any circumstances, who are beyond the reach of reason and understanding. A lot of Trump supporters, and we can argue how many there are, fall into this latter category. Hillary labeled them “deplorables.” While politically unwise, I can’t argue with her characterization in a lot of cases. You can meet them on Twitter anytime you feel like venturing into the sewer. They have contempt for all those who don’t celebrate Trump, and they most certainly deserve our contempt right back. And from me they will get it.

A commenter calling himself “thgeneralist” hoped that my hope for our democracy is not misplaced and “that we may weather this disaster and the wreckage of democracy it will leave in its path.” He rightly pointed out that, “Much of the international community is already looking at us as traitors to our responsibility as a beacon of justice, fairness and hope.” He also wrote this:

The lazy, poorly informed, American voter has signed his own death warrant. The amazing success of voter suppression in Wisconsin and North Carolina will become the model for the new normal. I offer ZERO slack for the stupidity of people who can’t add 2+2 and realize how often their willingness to so obviously vote against their own self-interest is also a vote against their neighbor and against civility.

As I pointed out before, I understand this reaction. Voters, deplorable or otherwise, who supported Trump are responsible for what we have seen since he was elected and what we will see after he is in office. I just can’t allow my disgust with what happened on November 8 to devolve into a paralyzing pessimism or a crippling cynicism. Such a reaction, it appears to me, would seal our doom. Below is my response to thgeneralist, which pretty much sums up what I think is the best way to move forward in these strange and dangerous times:

In politics, in our national life, hope is essentially worthless in individual isolation, or if it is limited to a handful of folks. Hope has to infect a wider swath of people, you might say the critical masses. It has to be part of any large and effective movement against Trump and Trumpism. Collectively, we have to hope democracy isn’t, in the end, self-destructive, as so many in history have predicted, and then we have to mobilize on the basis of that hope.

We can agree on at least one thing when it comes to evaluating the American voter. Many are “lazy” and “poorly informed.” I’m not the biggest Noam Chomsky fan out there, but he got it right when he said Americans, ordinary people, don’t generally suffer from a lack of intelligence and analytical skills. They demonstrate such abilities in things like sports, where some people have a wealth of knowledge that boggles the mind and can analyze in considerable detail the many in-game complexities. Thus, for so many people, there is no excuse for their facile understanding of politics and political issues. They are poorly informed because they spend no time, in relation to the time they spend on sports analysis or celebrity worship or other things they are interested in, acquainting themselves with the issues and policy prescriptions that make for a healthy democracy.

All of that is a mile away from stupidity, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, there are plenty of people who lack the cognitive skills to vote as informed citizens, I’ll grant you that. Those folks always have been and always will be part of a broad electorate in a democracy. But mostly people are cognitively capable of making good and decent political judgments. They are, though, often focused on other things because, for reasons I can’t fathom, they don’t think politics is important enough to invest much time in. They get lazy and rely solely or significantly on their pastors, their parents, their spouses, their labor unions, their bosses, their friends, their political parties, trends and feeds on social media, and so on. Probably more important than all that, they rely, as Jim Wheeler and others have suggested, on their guts, their uncritical impressions about this or that candidate. We can, if we are smart about it, use the ill effects of Trumpism as a way of getting more people to focus on the importance of being good citizens by paying closer attention to politics and getting better informed. Social media will be a big part of this effort. 

Thus, if we are to save our democracy, I don’t believe it is productive to focus on “stupid” voters or to broadly label those in the electorate who voted for Trump as having a “dark ages mentality.” We need to, as part of a “resistance” movement that understands how voters make decisions, keep working at appealing to both their guts and their minds. Some we will never convince, for sure. But some we will win over by feelings, by trying to understand their rational anxieties without excusing the irrational ones. Some we will win over by presenting policies and analysis, without claiming we have all the answers. It has to be a multi-front effort to fix what’s wrong with American democracy, and I confess it won’t be easy. Hell, it may be impossible. But we have to infect as many people as we can with the virtue of hope, and then get them involved in the resistance to Trumpism, clearly explaining that what Trump represents is incompatible with a healthy, thriving democracy and that Republicans in Congress are cynically using him to enact an agenda that will hurt ordinary, working-class Americans and the poor. Otherwise we know how this will end.

Duane

 

 

Liberal Redneck? You Betcha.

I wish President Obama would invite this guy to the inauguration. Front row seat.

Resistance, Yes. Cynicism, No.

A thoughtful and passionate contributor to the comment section of this blog wrote a response to my last post (“Paul Ryan And Sarah Palin Officially Usher In The New Year—1984“) that included the following statement:

We live in a nation so intolerably stupid that people actually look up to Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions and yes, Sarah Palin.

Part of my response:

There are few people more distraught—and fearful—over what has happened to our country, with the election of the Orange Menace, than I am. As I have said many times, he is an existential threat. He is compromised. He is dangerous. And I will never recognize him as our legitimate president.

Thus, I want to scream at everyone I see driving a vehicle with a Trump-Pence bumper sticker on it and tell them how such a display is an advertisement for their stupidity. I want to knock on the door of homes still displaying Trump signs in the front yards and ask the people inside just exactly WTF is wrong with them. I am viscerally and visibly tempted to do such things to the point it scares my wife. But mostly I keep the worst comments to myself. I have never, in my writings during and since the election, referred to Trump voters, or the population who didn’t bother to vote at all, as “stupid,” intolerably or otherwise. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to. I still do. I want to lash out that way. But whenever I go down that road of thought I get the feeling that it is counterproductive and morally perilous.

Sure, there are bigots and racists and sexists and xenophobes (the deplorables) who voted for Trump. In fact, there are more of them than even Hillary estimated. We can, and should, loudly call them what they are and attack them mercilessly. And there are some really affluent folks who saw in Trump a way to further enrich themselves, either through tax cuts or through other means. We should severely criticize and excoriate these people, as they will likely never see past their greed. And there are some religious zealots who championed Trump because they believe he is an answer to their apocalyptic prayers, who think God sent Trump to either restore fundamentalist Christianity to its “rightful” place or to usher in a deadly Armageddon. These folks should simultaneously be ridiculed and pitied for being poisoned by jihadist nonsense.

That leaves some really ignorant, low-information or misinformed working-class or poor people who would, reluctantly or enthusiastically, run over you on their way to the polls to vote for a man who would cut their economic throats for an extra dollar, a man who will, eventually, sign on to his party’s policies and “reforms” that will hurt those unfortunate people. The worst in me wants to write them off, wants them to get what they deserve for being duped by an obvious grifter and charlatan with more than one personality disorder. But I can’t bring myself to write off those folks or wish ill upon them. Ultimately, if I want to maintain my emotional ballast, if I want to remain morally stable, if I want to retain the highest ethical ground, I don’t want such people to get screwed by the man they ignorantly trusted. I don’t want them to get hurt, if20161008_132657 (2).jpg only for the simple and sound reason that so many similarly situated folks who didn’t vote for Trump would get hurt along with them.

This latter group of Trump voters I speak of comprises folks I grew up with in southeast Kansas, some in my extended family. Others are now my neighbors here in southwest Missouri. Some, for God’s sake, are in my labor union. I want to shake them and tell them how stupid they are. Alternatively, I get angry at their ignorance. I get pissed that they are so militantly pro-Trump and, more often, so militantly anti-Obama. Thus, I know the emotion you felt when you wrote about living “in a nation so intolerably stupid that people actually look up to Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions and yes, Sara Palin.”

The difference between us is that I cannot unreservedly use the phrase “intolerably stupid” to describe that latter group of folks I mentioned. I want to, but if I did I would feel like I had given in to cynicism. And I believe cynicism is our biggest enemy as a nation. I believe cynicism will, if left unchecked, lead to the failure of our American democratic experiment. It may be too late already. I don’t know. But part of the fight against Trumpism is a fight against the temptation toward cynicism, toward disillusionment and distrust of democracy. An ancient Jewish proverb (found in early rabbinic commentaries on the Book of Genesis) goes like this: “Physician, Physician, Heal thine own limp!” It’s hard to command others to walk straight through this propaganda-filled, “fake news” world, if we ourselves are crippled by cynicism.

I want to quote something FDR said at the end of one of his Fireside Chats in April of 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression:

W2014-12-19 14.16.57 (2).jpge have in the darkest moments of our national trials retained our faith in our own ability to master our destiny. Fear is vanishing and confidence is growing on every side, faith is being renewed in the vast possibilities of human beings to improve their material and spiritual status through the instrumentality of the democratic form of government.

There is no other way we can survive, as free men and women, except to keep “our faith in our own ability to master our destiny” and to believe that we can improve ourselves “through the instrumentality of the democratic form of government.” It is quite possible this faith is misplaced and useless. It is quite possible the “instrumentality” of democratic governance is broken beyond repair. If it is, what we say to each other doesn’t matter. But if it is broken but reparable, what we say to—and about—each other matters a lot. And that’s why I can’t join you in your cynicism, no matter how tempting it is to do so.

I have to believe that what plagues us can be fixed. After all, many more people voted against Trump than voted for him. I therefore hold on to the hope that the sickness we see around us can be healed. I cling to a tenuous secular faith that says we can be well again. And from an admittedly wobbly soapbox I will wage rhetorical war against the sin of Trumpism—itself infected with cynicism—without, in some special cases only, waging war against the sinners. I will be part of the resistance while resisting a deflating despondency. I will express my gloom without embracing democratic doom.

It’s a fine line, I admit. But for me at least, it’s good enough to get me out of the foxhole to advance the fight—and the light. Otherwise, the foxhole will become a grave—and the darkness will surely win.

Paul Ryan And Sarah Palin Officially Usher In The New Year—1984

If you’ve never read George Orwell’s 1984, then you probably won’t much appreciate this post. But Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin both did something that represents, in a frightening way, how Trump has brought us into our own version of Orwell’s novel, whose main character, Winston Smith, had a job of rewriting history at the ironic Ministry of Truth.

Winston was a truth-seeker in a world that was ruled by the truth-changing “Party.” He hated the totalitarian Party and had rebellion in his heart. He maintained a diary to keep him grounded to reality. Big Brother, though, eventually caught up with him. The Thought Police arrested him and the tortuous brainwashing began. Winston needed to get his mind right.

The sad thing about Orwell’s 1984 is that Winston did get his mind right. He confessed to crimes he didn’t commit. He betrayed the only person he loved. Black became white. Big Brother won.

Now, this is where Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin come in. What they represent, in their own way, is the Thought Police under the Party of Trump. Each represents just how powerful a force Trumpism has become, and how mind-bending it is. Republicans, almost all of them, are getting their minds right. And they want the rest of us to follow. America is fast becoming a large, thankfully only metaphorical, Room 101. They want to weaken our resistance.

I heard Paul Ryan say this morning that, “the healthcare system has been ruined, dismantled, under Obamacare.” Now, that is most clearly a lie. Not a word of truth in it. Not one word. But during the short press conference that followed his utterly false claim, not one reporter asked him to defend it. Not one reporter asked him if it was irresponsible to lie to the American people in such an egregious way. Reporters were instead focused on Trump and something he tweeted. And one reporter even shouted a question about the Senate gym. Black becoming white.

Then we have Sarah Palin. Way back in what seems like ancient history now—it was 2008—WikiLeaks published some of Palin’s emails, which had been stolen by hacking into her account. She, naturally, didn’t take kindly to Julian Assange, who founded WikiLeaks two years earlier, publishing her private ramblings. She was right to be outraged. Privacy is supposed to be private.

But this is 1984 now. And here, in its entirety, is what Palin posted on Facebook on Tuesday night about Assange:

To Julian Assange: I apologize.

Please watch Sean Hannity‘s interview with Julian Assange (Wikileaks).

Exposing the truth re: the Left having been oh-so-guilty of atrocious actions and attitudes of which they’ve falsely accused others. The media collusion that hid what many on the Left have been supporting is shocking. This important information that finally opened people’s eyes to democrat candidates and operatives would not have been exposed were it not for Julian Assange.

I apologize for condemning Assange when he published my infamous (and proven noncontroversial, relatively boring) emails years ago.

As I said at the time of being targeted and my subsequent condemnation, though, the line must be drawn before our troops or innocent lives deserving protection would be put at risk as a result of published emails.

Julian, I apologize.

Palin’s mind is now right. Black is white. Julian Assange’s dark heart is now as pure as the wind-driven snow. But more than that, Palin is remapping the minds of her earnest followers, millions of them. This brainwashing technique is part of Trumpism. It is cultish. It is dangerous. And it is working. Assange, who almost certainly collaborated with the Russians to help get Trump elected, is fast becoming a hero on the right. And journalists and public officials who try to tell the truth about Assange and the Russians are now called liars. For millions of Americans, the only reliable source of facts is Trump’s Twitter account, the Ministry of Truth-in-waiting.

As noted, Orwell’s dystopian novel did not have a happy ending. The denouement of our present story is obviously unknown. What we do know is that on January 20, Trumpism and its tweeting Ministry of Truth will marry real power. Republicans will soon have it all. Resistance is critical. This version of 1984 must have a happy ending.

How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?

#NeverRespect

Here’s just one reason why I will be spending much of my future writing time unpresidenting Trump and his new right-wing friends:

Electoral College, Deus Ex Machina?

Want to know why it is so hard to believe the Electoral College will save us from Donald Trump? Read on.

Missouri has ten electors who will—one week from today—really vote for president of the United States (your vote on November 8 was ostensibly for these electors) as part of the ridiculous scheme dreamed up by democracy-distrusting white men in the 18th century, our Founders. One of those electors is a former auto mechanic-turned-beekeeper from St. Louis County named Tim Dreste. Here is what Politico had to say about him:

Tim Dreste was convicted of racketeering in 1999 for inciting violence against abortion providers, the result of his decades-long dalliance with an extremist fringe of the anti-abortion movement. He largely faded into obscurity since, though his name came up in 2012 when he was connected to then-Senate candidate Todd Akin.

Mr. Dreste, the article notes, has a tactical reason for not wanting to openly renounce his violent past: “I’d rather have my enemies afraid,” he said. There is only one place in Missouri where a woman can fully exercise her reproductive rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It’s in St. Louis, very close to where Mr. Dreste lives. He explained his thinking:

I’m a man of actions. You see my actions. Are there any dead abortionists in St. Louis? No there are not. I was a trained United States Marine. If I wanted that to happen, I don’t think I could be stopped. If they think that’s going to happen and they decide not to come into work one day because they see me out front, well OK.

Dreste, according to The Riverfront Times, was first radicalized as a domestic terrorist in 1985, when Missouri Right to Life screened a propaganda film called “Silent Scream” at Dreste’s small church. Here’s a short clip of the former captain of a local militia, 1st Missouri Volunteers, in action, courtesy of Right Wing Watch:

If anyone believes such a man, who unbelievably is a member of the Electoral College, is going to jeopardize Trump’s chances of becoming president by becoming a “faithless elector,” then hear this: besides clinging to past terroristic threats, his guiding principle today is, as Politico reported, “I’m out to defeat Hillary Clinton, and we only have one means of doing that.”

In any case, for those of you in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District who are clinging to the hope that the Electoral College will save us from Donald Trump on December 19, you can take some time and try to convince the elector from our district to vote against the president-elect. The elector’s name is Cherry Warren and he is from Cassville. He is the Presiding Commissioner of Barry County, which gave Donald Trump 78 percent of the vote. Yes, 78 percent.

The good news is that Mr. Warren told the local paper that he will “be representing all of southwest Missouri.” The bad news is this:

I have gotten several phone calls and emails, and I think the people I represent in southwest Missouri spoke loudly their wishes, and I won’t disappoint.

So, as you can see, Mr. Warren does not really represent all of the people of southwest Missouri. Just Trump voters.

SONY DSCMissouri is one of 20 states whose electors are not bound to vote for the winner of the popular vote in the state. Thus, you may be able to convince Mr. Warren that he should vote for the winner of the national popular vote—Clinton is up almost 3 million now and leads 48.2% to 46.2%. Or you may be able to convince him that the Russians intervening in the election on the side of Trump, along with Trump begging them to do more on his behalf, is disqualifying. Or you may be able to convince him that Donald Trump will totally corrupt the presidency and jeopardize our national security with his business conflicts. Or you may be able to convince Mr. Warren that Trump may get us all killed.

Whatever reason you employ to try to change his mind, the official contact information I found is the following Barry County listing:

CHERRY WARREN
700 MAIN ST STE 2
CASSVILLE MO 65625
417-847-4628
barrycountyclerk@centurytel.net
gyclerk@centurytel.net

I also found a local address and phone number for Cherry M. Warren:

4721 Farm Road 2165
Exeter, Mo. 
(417) 835-3235

Besides Dreste and Warren, here is a list of the other electors in Missouri:

  • Jan DeWeese (2nd)
  • Hector Maldonado (3rd)
  • Sherry Kuttenkuler (4th)
  • Casey Crawford (5th)
  • Tom Brown (6th)
  • Scott Clark (8th)
  • Al Rotskoff
  • Susie Johnson

I, for one, don’t think contacting these people will change anything. But I believe I owe it to my children and my granddaughter to at least try. So, for what it’s worth, here is an email I sent to Mr. Warren at the addresses listed above:

Dear Mr. Warren,

I write as a citizen of southwest Missouri. I did not vote for Donald Trump. But even if I had voted for him, I would be very disturbed by what we have learned about him since November 8th. Not only has he refused to accept intelligence reports that our adversaries the Russians interfered with our presidential election, he has openly defended the Russians and denigrated those intelligence agencies designed to help protect our nation from foreign threats. He has also refused to be briefed on a regular basis on those threats posed to our country. Added to all that troubling behavior is the fact that Mr. Trump will not disclose his business interests around the world, some in hostile lands. This exposes us, as Americans, to the real possibility that our president will act in ways inconsistent with out national interests, either for his own financial benefit or to avoid the exposure of some potentially damaging business connections and other information unknown to us. 

For these reasons and more, I implore you to use the vote the Founders entrusted to you and vote for someone other than Donald J. Trump on November 19. The Electoral College, if it is to have any redeeming value for our Republic, must act to prevent this obvious threat to our democracy and our national well-being. It will take several courageous electors to make this happen and I am hoping you will be one of them. Your country, as well as posterity, will thank you.

Sincerely,

Duane Graham
Joplin, Mo.

Now The Press Is Finally Getting Around To Highlighting The Most Frightening Story In 54 Years.

On October 28, 1962, Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced he was pulling from Cuba the nuclear missiles he had deployed there. Here’s how The Week summarized the entire event:

Modern day historians note that the standoff nearly turned into a global calamity. With bombers in the air and nearly 3000 American nuclear weapons alone in a state of readiness, the Cuban Missile Crisis could have led to the end of the world in mere minutes.

Now it seems quite plausible, as Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, insisted, that the perceptions of this crisis were different in America than they were in Russia. The history of Europe has been a history of “enemies at the gates,” and as such the government and people of Russia didn’t panic when, say, “Americans placed missile bases in Turkey or any other European country.” They just tended to deal with it as a part of their reality as Europeans, wars and more wars and more wars.

The American public, though, historically protected by two large oceans and with no contemporary enemies on their borders, saw the threat of nuclear missiles in Cuba as an extraordinary threat. “This created a panic,” Sergei Khrushchev said, which made Americans “anxious to remove missiles from Cuba,” which of course eventually happened. “But,” Khrushchev went on, “nothing really changed.” Why?  For the very simple reason that “the Soviets had their missiles on their mainland [with] only 20 minutes difference in their delivery. . .” Did it really matter if we were annihilated in 10 minutes as opposed to 30? Khrushchev said it did matter to us: “It was an American psychological crisis.” And that psychological crisis made the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba a “very, very dangerous” situation.

The lesson here is that we Americans, whether it makes logical sense or not, don’t like to have our well-being so directly threatened. Putting nuclear missiles so close to our border was unacceptable. Today we face another crisis engineered by Russian behavior. This one doesn’t involve the deployment of nuclear arms in Cuba. But it does involve a direct threat to our well-being, to our free, democratic society.

We’ve known since the summer that the Russians were trying to get Donald Trump elected. On July 22 WikiLeaks published 20,000 stolen emails from the DNC and immediately American intelligence agencies suggested very strongly—with “high confidence”—that the Russians were behind it.  On July 27 we had Trump chime in. Here’s the lede from a Times article:

DORAL, Fla. — Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.

This extraordinary position taken by a major party presidential candidate should have been the end of his campaign. It should have branded him as unpatriotic, a threat to the country. Republicans, especially, should have condemned him, should have demanded he drop out. The press should have never let this go. Journalists should have dogged him day after day, grilled his spokesman interview after interview. None of that happened, of course. Republicans were mostly silent. The press moved on to focus on the content of the stolen property, and more “questions” about the Clinton Foundation, and you know how that all ended.

Now, after it is too late—unless the Founders’ Electoral College saves us from the Founders’ distrust of democracy—we have a frightening confirmation of what we already knew:

A shocking secret CIA assessment has concluded that Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election expressly to help Donald Trump win, according to an exclusive report Friday by The Washington Post.

Until now, intelligence sources have indicated that Russian hacking throughout the campaign that repeatedly exposed information overwhelmingly embarrassing for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was an effort to undermine Americans’ faith in their government.

Now the intelligence community has concluded that Russia was clearly after a Trump victory and manipulated information to that end, according to sources who spoke to the newspaper.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” a senior U.S. official briefed on the CIA assessment told The Washington Post. “That’s the consensus view.”

The New York Times did add some new reporting to this months-old story, saying the Republican National Committee was also hacked during the campaign but, of course, no documents were released, which is partly why intelligence officials concluded that the hacking was deliberately done to hurt Clinton and help Trump.

Trump’s response to the latest revelation continued to confirm just how thoroughly corrupt he is and just how unpatriotic are his reflexes. Instead of expressing concern about Russian involvement, he blamed the messenger, the CIA, and insisted that “It’s time to move on.” Well, it appears from what I am finally seeing from the press, no one will just move on because Trump said so or because Trump will stir up another ridiculous controversy to deflect.

This is, and always has been, the biggest story since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Russians have essentially not only threatened us with anti-democratic and anti-Democrat Party missiles, they actually launched them at us in the form of stolen emails and other material. Those Wiki-warheads landed right in the middle of an existential election and they have left a lot of toxic fallout, including a loss of faith in our democracy and, the most toxic fallout of all, a president-elect named Donald Trump.

Trump has gone out of his way time and again to defend the ex-KGB thug who now runs Russia; he has aligned himself with Putin’s view of NATO and the annexation of Crimea and the fight with Ukraine; and he has surrounded himself with people connected to Russia, one of whom will soon become his National Security Advisor—fake news promoter
and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—and another who may become Trump’s Secretary of State—ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, described by The Washington Post as having “extensive business dealings and ties to Russia.” Tillerson, who has known Putin since 1999, is opposed to interImage result for tillerson and putinnational sanctions against Russia. To show its appreciation for Tillerson and a mutually beneficial business deal in 2011, the Russian Federation decorated him with the Order of Friendship in 2012. A former aide to John McCain said Tillerson would sell out NATO” for oil and for “his pal, Vlad.”

That’s all horrifically bad. But Trump and his family have their own financial ties to Russia, if we are to believe his son, Donald Jr., who said “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” and “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And if we are to believe Michael Crowley, Politico’s senior foreign affairs correspondent, who wrote, “Trump has repeatedly explored business ventures in Russia, partnered with Russians on projects elsewhere, and benefited from Russian largesse in his business ventures.”

We don’t know the extent of Trump’s involvement with Russia, or other adversaries of the United States. Does he owe a lot of money to banks in lands hostile to the U.S.? We don’t know because Trump won’t tell us, and that has caused smart people, people like Richard Painter—a former ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s White House—to argue that the Electoral College should reject Trump if he doesn’t completely strip himself of his business interests. ThinkProgress quoted Painter’s appearance on CNN:

I don’t think the electoral college can vote for someone to become president if he’s going to be in violation of the Constitution on day one and hasn’t assured us he’s not in violation.

The Electoral College, if it is worth anything at all besides devaluing the vote of people who live in big cities, should divest Trump of the presidency if he refuses to divest himself of his life-long need to make a buck. But, come on. That won’t happen.

What will happen is that, upon the orders of President Obama, intelligence agencies in our government will “conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process” and report back before January 20. I’m guessing the agencies conducting the review won’t include the FBI, whose director, James Comey, was accused today by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of “deliberately” keeping from the public information about Russia’s involvement in the election. Comparing Comey to the controversial J. Edgar Hoover, who abused his power while directing the same agency, Reid said Comey had “let the country down for partisan purposes.” It’s hard to know if partisanship was the reason for Comey’s strange behavior, but we have reason to be suspicious, since Comey injected himself in the election by publicly howling about Secretary Clinton’s email situation not once but twice, and by clamming up about Putin’s widely-acknowledged assault on the Clinton campaign. We still don’t know if the FBI is investigating the matter or not.

In any case, we now know for sure that members of Congress, of both parties, were briefed in September on what the CIA knew about Russian interference (according to Reuters, as early as last year “top congressional leaders” were told “that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party”; that’s apparently why, God bless her, Nancy Pelosi spoke up in August, to no avail). Vox summarized just why that September intervention by our intelligence agencies did no good. Hint: Republicans were involved:

The Washington Post also reports that doubts from Republican leaders in Congress dissuaded the Obama administration from responding more forcefully to the alleged Russian attacks. In mid-September, intelligence officials organized a classified briefing with senior congressional leaders and laid out the evidence of Russian hacking and the danger that Russia could try to interfere with voting systems on election day itself. They hoped the meeting would lead to a bipartisan statement condemning Russian interference with US elections.

But according to the Post, not all Republican leaders were convinced. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics,” the Post reports. “Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election.”

All this has led some people to, gently and not so gently, criticize President Obama for not speaking up anyway, for not informing the public of what our government knew with, again, “high confidence.” The great Charles Pierce is on the gentle side:

This president has been a good one, probably the most progressive politician we’ve seen in that office since LBJ was kicking ass in 1965. But he has made mistakes, and every single serious mistake he’s made has been because he assumed good faith on the part of his political opposition, misjudged the depth and virulence of his political opposition, or both. It’s 2016. Why would he still believe Mitch McConnell would act with dispassionate patriotism instead of partisan obstruction on anything? Why would he believe it of anyone in the congressional Republican leadership? Hell, he even admitted as much in an interview on NPR last July. I respect the president’s confidence in the better angels of our nature, but those angels have been deathly quiet since 2009.

While I tend to agree with this analysis, and it is part of the larger story, I don’t want to get distracted by throwing rocks, even tiny ones, at a man who has done everything he can, before the election and after, to preserve what’s left of public confidence in our democratic system. Sure, we can look back now and see that it wouldn’t have hurt a thing, since Trump won anyway, for Obama to rat out the Russians in a forceful way. But he didn’t. And we are where we are.

We shouldn’t take our eyes off the fact that we now have a man heading to the Oval Office who was the beneficiary of a hostile government’s interference in our election, but refuses to either acknowledge it or condemn it. We have a president-elect who pleaded for more Russian espionage against the United States, against the Democratic Party presidential nominee. He has praised Putin repeatedly. He has surrounded himself with advisers and potential cabinet members who side with Putin and Russia on important international matters, including sanctions for invading Crimea. His campaign successfully watered down a provision in the GOP platform related to military assistance to Ukraine, which is fighting a Russian-backed separatist movement. Trump has expressed doubt about NATO, the only force that can prevent the establishment of a new Russian Empire.

The decades-old Cuban missile crisis represented only a threat to our national well-being. There was no attack and the matter was settled peacefully. What Putin’s Russia did this election cycle was much more than a threat. It was a successful attack on our democracy. And the fact that our soon-to-be president has directed his hostility toward the CIA who revealed the attack and not the Russians who executed it, tells us all we need to know about his loyalties. And this issue should dominate the news from now until Trump leaves office, whether that be before or after his term expires.