Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Leaker-in-chief condemns leakers

May 21, 2018

The uncanny pattern continues: every insult, accusation or smear Trump flings at others applies more to him than to them.

Now he’s fuming against leaks and leakers, calling them “traitors.” Remember how he himself leaked sensitive classified intelligence information to the Russians? Right in the oval office?! I guess he doesn’t. He also has a documented history of telephoning journalists, pretending to be someone else, bragging about him(self) and disseminating lies, to puff up his (self) image. Not only does he leak, but he leaks lies.

And lies about leaking. Calling other people leakers is a favorite Trump sleaze ploy. (He’s used it on Comey and McCabe.) Recently he called it disgraceful that a list of potential interview questions from the Mueller investigation was leaked. Turns out there’s strong evidence the leaker was Donald J. Trump.

The latest Trump leaker fit concerns White House aide Kelly Sadler’s remark about John McCain, apparently leaked by an insider who heard it. (The story’s truth is (perhaps strangely) not denied. But White House policy is no apologies, about anything, ever.)

Now let’s be clear. Of course Trump’s own leak to the Russians was treasonish. But the leak about Sadler? No. It may have betrayed Trump and his odious administration, but it did not betray America or the public. To the contrary, leaks like that serve the public good. Remember, the government, and everyone in it, works for the public. The public has a right to know what they do and say. Governments — especially this one — are often secretive, not wanting the public to know about their dirty laundry. But particularly where there is dirty laundry, it’s important for citizens to know, so government can be held to account.

When someone like Sadler, working at the highest level of government, is so stupid and depraved as to say what she said, the public has a right to know it. Whoever leaked it, allowing the public to know, deserves praise.

But the issue concerns more important matters than mere offensive remarks. Major misfeasance, and even policy blunders, which government has sought to cover up, have been the subject of leaks. Such whistle-blowers, who act at great personal risk, are heroes.*

Meantime, Trump and his Republican creep squad ratchet up their campaign to discredit with lies the Mueller investigation and our whole justice apparatus. The latest lie is that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign; he’s demanding an investigation of this “scandal.” The truth seems to be that someone in the campaign with a shred of integrity (improbable though that seems) saw something wrong there and blew the whistle with the FBI. Trump wants that “traitor” outed so he or she can be tormented.

Trump has never retracted his related lie that Obama wiretapped him.

Republicans have even mounted an effort to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s #2, overseeing the Mueller investigation, who refuses to abet their anti-Mueller lie-athon.

Trump and these Republicans call Mueller’s probe a witch hunt. Consistent again with all their accusations, they themselves are the real witch hunters, wanting Mueller burned at the stake.

Do you realize how horrible this whole story is for our democracy? Are you sickened yet?

I guess not. Trump’s approval rating has risen to 50%.

Make America great again!

* Snowden and Manning? Some of what they leaked does fall in that category. But more of it was in fact treasonous, harming America’s legitimate national security and interests; in fact, putting at risk the lives of others who helped America.

Advertisements

Malaysia’s election shocker: good defeats evil

May 10, 2018

In today’s world, with democracy eroding in so many countries, it’s great to see one go the other way. To see some voters, at least, stand up for democratic values, defying extreme efforts to manipulate them otherwise.

Malaysia’s election was expected to follow the trend toward rising authoritarianism, with the ruling party having cynically used every trick to make its ouster a virtual impossibility. Yet it’s been ousted.

I know that happy developments like this can turn sour (like Egypt’s 2011 revolution). Indeed, the Malaysia winner is no knight in shining armor. But still, voters behaved wisely, and this is a good day for believers in “the better angels of our nature.”

Mahathir Mohamad

Here’s the backstory (another of those long-running soap operas playing out on the world stage). Malaysia was ruled since independence (in 1963) by the UMNO party (“United Malays”), its success owing much to racialist coddling of the ethnic Malay majority (as against other ethnicities like Chinese). From 1981 till his 2003 retirement, the Prime Minister was Mahathir Mohamad, who grew increasingly authoritarian.

Anwar Ibrahim

Groomed as Mahathir’s successor was Anwar Ibrahim, until in 1998 Anwar became disenchanted and left the government to found an opposition party. The regime tried to neutralize Anwar by jailing him on what were apparently false charges of “sodomy.” Twice. He’s still in prison.

Nevertheless, Anwar’s opposition coalition remained strong at the polls. In fact, in the previous election, it got more votes than UMNO. But UMNO retained its parliamentary majority by grace of extreme gerrymandering. Malaysia doesn’t have “one man one vote,” and parliamentary districts can vary in population. The regime packed opposition voters into a few huge districts while its own Malay stalwarts are advantageously spread among many small ones.

Najib Razak

UMNO’s latest prime minister was Najib Razak. His regime was noteworthy for billions of dollars going missing from a government development fund, 1MDB. A big chunk of the money showed up in Rajak’s personal bank account. He explained it, straight-faced, as a gift from an unnamed Saudi royal.

So great was the stench that ex-leader Mohamad, now 92, came out of retirement to join, and lead, the opposition in this May’s election. But the government pulled out all the stops to thwart them. Such as a “fake news” law enabling it to jail anyone for saying anything it doesn’t agree with (including, especially, anything about 1MDB; Mohamad was among the first to be prosecuted). And the gerrymandering was made even more outrageously rigged in UMNO’s favor.

Still, for that to work would require some voters to vote UMNO. You can normally count on some voters, at least, taking the party line and doing what they’re told. But in Malaysia, this time, too few did. Despite everything, almost unbelievably, the opposition won a parliamentary majority. Malaysians are celebrating this as a national renewal.

So Mahathir Mohamad has been sworn in as prime minister, again (oldest in the world). He promises that, having little time left, he will use it to clean things up; and that within two years he’ll hand the reins to Anwar Ibrahim. (Well, we’ll see.)

But maybe there’s hope for America too.

Good and evil — Khizr Khan’s book

May 6, 2018

Good and evil. Such black-and-white Manichaeanism is so unfashionable. Isn’t everything shades of grey — the color of sophisticated thinking?

Not always.

This is prompted by reading Khizr Khan’s book, An American Family. Previously I’d written of a radio interview I’d found deeply moving. Then one of my book groups chose Khan’s book.

Khan was the Muslim-American who spoke at the 2016 Democratic convention. His soldier son Humayun had been killed in Iraq. He spoke of the American values his son had died for — values being trashed by Trump’s campaign. Khan doubted Trump had ever even read the U.S. Constitution — and offered to lend him his own well-thumbed pocket copy, holding it up.

In response, true to form, Trump slimed Khan and his family.

Khan’s book tells his life story. Born in Pakistan (not the best of countries), he was inspired by reading in school America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution. “I was like a lonesome islander,” he writes, “who’d found a bottle washed up on the beach, a secret script tucked inside that told of a wonderland, a fantastical place that existed, improbably and perhaps impossibly, far across the ocean.” Yet he actually never dreamed of coming here. A succession of serendipitous jobs (Khan trained as a lawyer) landed him in America. He long imagined he’d return to Pakistan, where he’d be a big man; but finally decided he’d rather be a free man here. By then, he felt he and his family belonged here — a place “more compassionate, more welcoming, more tolerant than the places we had left. Than anywhere else we’d ever been.”

Remember?

Khan does love the Constitution, that he held up in his speech. Especially the Fourteenth Amendment (my favorite part too, as I’ve written) with its guarantee of equal protection of the law. Khan recognizes we still have far to go to fully realize this ideal. But to him the ideal means everything — coming as he did from a society where such ideals really meant nothing. And having come to America with nothing (except his talents), he really does feel the country lived up to its ideals in his own case, opening its arms in welcome, raising him up in human dignity, at every stage of his life here.

Khan quotes President Reagan’s farewell address, to which he’d listened raptly. Reagan once more invoked the “shining city upon a hill” metaphor, from Pilgrim leader John Winthrop. “I’ve spoken,” Reagan said, “of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw . . . in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than the oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”

Khan remarks: “Such a beautiful vision.” And what a contrast against the blighted vision of Reagan’s current unworthy successor. “Trump’s city,” Khan writes, is “a frightened isolated fortress, walled off from Mexicans and Muslims, from all the others . . . . crumbling and weak, a dreary landscape implicit in his slogan: to make America great again, one had to assume that it was not in fact great now.”

One expects a father to write glowingly of his lost son. But the Humanyun who comes through in these pages was surely a great credit to his adopted homeland. One day in Iraq a cab drove into Humayun’s compound. Likely a suicide bomber; best to assume so and open fire. But Humayun insisted on making sure it wasn’t just innocent people who’d gotten lost. He took ten steps toward the cab. It blew up and killed him.

Those ten steps, Khizr Khan writes, were where all the American values, which had been instilled in Humayun, came together. “Not religious values — human values.”

Have we forgotten them? How could we have elected a vile creep who, Khan writes, is “loosing a wildness upon the land, stirring the worst of human nature.” Eviscerating America’s fundamental values, that Khan so eloquently writes about.

It’s good versus evil. No grey.

A Nobel for Trump?

May 3, 2018

Some credit Trump’s bluster with getting Kim Jong Un to negotiate (hence the Nobel Prize chatter). Or did Kim, instead, see Trump’s behavior as creating an opportunity, to be exploited?

He is not crazy. He sees how hungry Trump is to claim some supposed triumph. Kim is canny enough to do what will achieve his own aims without actually paying a price.

So far, he isn’t paying any. Smiles and hugs are nice but don’t cost anything and don’t really mean anything. He’s decommissioned (he says) a testing facility that was no longer functional, or needed. He’s already got working nuclear weapons and missiles.

And won’t give them up. Qadafy gave up his, and Kim saw Qadafy’s fate — killed by a mob.

Trump says he won’t be played. But he’s already been played. A photogenic meeting with America’s president is a huge propaganda coup, boosting Kim’s status and legitimacy. Price paid: zero.

The two will emerge from their meeting all smiles and hugs. North Korea will be our new BFF — just the kind of country and leader (a cold-blooded murderer) the dotard dotes on.

Kim will agree to disarm. But agreeing, and disarming, are different things. North Korea had previously agreed to disarm, in exchange for goodies and concessions, which they pocketed, and then reneged on their promises. (Our negotiating stance should be to insist on the disarmament they already owe us.) What else will Trump give Kim in exchange for more worthless promises?

A deal worth having cannot come from one meeting. It would require a complex web of safeguards to ensure that disarmament commitments are honored. Will Trump have the preparation, patience, depth of knowledge and understanding, and deference to expert assistance, to negotiate such nitty-gritty? Don’t make me laugh.

In fact, that very kind of nuke deal was what we had with Iran — painstakingly negotiated over years — which Trump is now set to blow up.

He calls it a bad deal. Throwing around such words is his shtick. He’s said the same about NAFTA, the TPP, and Paris Accords. Those too were painstakingly negotiated by people knowing what they were doing — not with irresponsible rhetoric like Trump’s. NAFTA did hurt some Americans — as the TPP would have — but the benefits vastly dwarf the harm. But in Trumpland such facts and realities don’t matter. Just repeat “bad deal, bad deal, bad deal,” everybody but Trump was stupid. And his fans lap up these lies. (While his North Korea deal will be a bad one. Because he is stupid.)

Of course, the Iran deal mainly suffers from having Obama’s fingerprints. A guiding animus of Trump’s presidency is shitting on Obama’s.

Killing the Iran deal will be one of the stupidest things ever. “Bad deal,” Trump says, but can he replace it with a better one? No chance (just like “repeal and replace” re Obamacare). The problem with the Iran deal is that it still enables Iran to get nuclear weapons — eventually. But absent the deal, Iran can get them sooner.* Hastening the very thing Trump says he won’t allow.

If the Iranians were really smart they’d play Trump like Kim Jong Un is doing — renegotiate something Trump can claim is better, even if it’s actually not. But Iran’s leadership (unlike North Korea’s) is too disorganized for that.

And if we cannot get a better deal, what is the alternative? Bombing? It would literally blow up the region, in massive conflict, without damaging Iran’s nuclear program much (but maybe the real aim would be to distract from the Mueller investigation).

Meantime, shredding the Iran deal will also shred America’s credibility as a negotiating partner whose commitments can be relied upon, and our relationships with our chief allies, who are heavily invested in the deal. Further reducing America’s international standing and ability to shape the global landscape, making a more dangerous world.

Sorry, Donald, no Nobel Peace Prize for you. Maybe they can create a Nobel Booby Prize.

*Israel’s intelligence “coup” proving Iran lied in denying nuclear ambitions changes nothing. We knew Iran was going for a bomb. Why else the agreement?

China: the dragon breathes fire

April 26, 2018

Diocletian reformed the coinage too

The Roman Empire had a chaotic patch in the Third Century; most reigns were brief and ended violently. Then came Diocletian, introducing an orderly system with responsibility divided among four rulers, two senior and two junior; the latter would duly move up and appoint new juniors. This “tetrarchy” worked for a short while, until some guys were too power-hungry to accept its constraints.

Deng Xiaoping

China had a chaotic patch between 1966 and 1976, when Mao Zedong’s power unleashed great violence. After his death, Deng Xiaoping, who had twice been purged, emerged as leader. Seeking to prevent a repeat of the Mao disaster, Deng, like Diocletian, established an orderly system of divided authority, including term limits. And like Diocletian’s, this system worked for a while, until one guy was too power-hungry to respect its constraints.

Xi Jinping

That would be Xi Jinping. He has consolidated far more power in his own hands than anyone since Mao; today no one in China but Xi really has much power. And it had become increasingly clear that he wasn’t going to bow out gracefully after 10 years as the Deng system would have required. Now, with little fanfare — and all internet discussion ruthlessly scrubbed — the 10-year limit has been formally abolished. Xi is now ruler for life.

It’s so much easier to amend China’s constitution than ours. Theirs being a charade of a constitution. Another advantage of China’s system. None of the messy public debate or legislative bickering that plague democracies.

The other big thing Deng Xiaoping did was to get China off Maoist-Communist economic madness, opening up to free enterprise. The result has been phenomenal economic advancement, raising hundreds of millions out of poverty. We Westerners had long believed that, as the Chinese gained economic security and affluence, they’d surely demand more say in governance.

That actually seemed to be happening in 1989 — until the regime responded with a bloodbath, showing its adherence to Mao’s dictum that “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Yet still we continued to reason that such a political model was simply incompatible with a modern, educated, wealthy population.

Xi Jinping is determined to prove otherwise. China’s previous baby steps toward democratization, loosening up, and rule of law are being relentlessly rolled back. All green shoots of civil society not under the regime’s thumb are being crushed. Sperm donors are now screened for political loyalty. Lawyers are no longer even allowed to defend regime targets. Xi is building a Big Brother 1984 surveillance state. As The Economist recently noted, technologists used to scoff that controlling the internet would require hiring hundreds of thousands of secret policemen. “Then China did more or less precisely that.”

China is also deploying a pervasive system of social control, a monster Santa Claus naughty-and-nice list, utilizing “Big Data” to assign citizens points for good behavior and black marks for things the regime doesn’t like. High scorers get favored with privileges; low scorers had better watch out. And the government will indeed be watching for them. It is outfitting policemen with facial recognition software to scan crowds seeking targeted individuals.

And not only within China. Thousands in other countries have been grabbed and whisked back for punishment.

There seems to be remarkably little resistance inside China; nothing resembling the dissident movement that harried the USSR’s regime. Of course, with such strong internet and other social controls, there’s very little opportunity for dissidence to surface. China’s Communist Party is actually more fiercely repressive than its Russian counterpart was (at least post-Stalin), and it’s working. But even so, the populace seems weirdly acquiescent to its massive civic emasculation. Were we wrong after all to consider Enlightenment values human universals? Are the Chinese really that different from us?

Another of our hopes was that a more prosperous China would grow to be a more mature and responsible world citizen, playing nice with others in the global sandbox. That’s not happening either; here too China is going the other way, with Xi flexing his muscles not just at home but abroad. A regular bully China has become, brooking no restraints upon its aggressive aims. Even a previously unthinkable seizure of Taiwan by force begins to seem frighteningly thinkable. Wouldn’t that be just the thing to feed Xi’s strutting vainglory. If Putin could get away with it in Crimea, why not Taiwan?

Xi seems intent on proving us Enlightenment suckers wrong not only for China but for the whole world. How much more comfortable the rulers will be in their Beijing palace if the rest of the world looks more like China than its American antithesis. Xi’s touted “Belt and Road Initiative” is an infrastructure development plan aiming to almost literally bind a big part of the world to China. “Confucius Institutes” proliferate around the globe to promote, in reality, not China’s ancient wisdom but its modern outlook. All over, China is buying up media outlets and pliant political stooges, bullying publications, and making its overseas students into an army of nationalistic propagandists.

If Xi wants to Chinify the rest of the world, Trump seems to wish it too. Thus he mused that maybe America should follow China’s lead and abolish presidential term limits.

Fake News and government propagandists

April 8, 2018

Researching my 1973 book on Albany politics, I pored over early 20th century local newspapers. I was astonished how partisan they were, openly touting candidates, with no division between news and opinion pages. This was typical; many American papers called themselves “The Democrat” or “The Republican.” Some still retain those vestigial names. But the standard journalism model has changed, and for a long time now it’s been universally understood in the news media that opinions go on the editorial page, while news reporting is just that: reporting.

It’s true that most journalists, due to their cultural backgrounds, personally lean liberal. Yet it’s really a lie that their work is skewed by bias (let alone calling it “fake news”). Modern professional journalists are steeped in the ethos of accuracy and neutral objectivity, and generally strive hard to uphold it. Making stuff up is an absolute no-no; correcting errors a must. And if anything, they bend over too far in giving both sides of a story, even when one side is rubbish (for example, lending credence to climate or vaccination science denialism).

I’ve regularly watched PBS’s Washington Week, where reporters discuss the news. It’s striking how their personal opinions are never detectable. Indeed, it’s almost maddening to hear them talk, in bland neutral tones, about Trumpian outrages. And even Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, making no secret of a liberal stance, was an equal-opportunity satirist, often freely skewering Obama and other Democrats.

But then there’s Fox “News.”

I put it in quotes because Fox is in fact the regime’s fawning cheerleader and propaganda mouthpiece — making a cruel joke of its former slogan, “Fair and Balanced.” Fox is anything but. It’s the real fake news channel, shattering the longstanding paradigm of news media striving for accuracy and objectivity.

And now too Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair owns about 200 local TV stations covering 40% of the country, and aggressively seeks to gobble up more. Like Fox, Sinclair is uncritically all-in for Trump. While it can’t, like Fox, control every word going out over its airwaves, Sinclair can and does put words in broadcasters’ mouths. Recently we saw every Sinclair station (including Albany’s WRGB Channel 6) required to air a script about “fake news.” While the lockstep parroting in these hostage videos was itself ludicrous enough, so was the content: straight out of Trump’s potty mouth, telling viewers not to believe what they hear from supposedly biased mainstream news media, which Sinclair called a threat to democracy. At least Sinclair stopped short of calling them “the enemy of the American people.”

See what’s going on. Trump lauds slimy Fox and Sinclair while demonizing all legitimate news sources. It’s a concerted effort to cripple news media not in the government’s thrall, and replace them with ones that are — with regime propagandists. This is something very new to America, and very chilling. THIS is the threat to democracy.

We saw its apotheosis in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Communist world; we see it today in Russia, China, Turkey, Venezuela, and too many more places. Malaysia just passed a law with stiff jail terms for “fake news” — defined as anything the government doesn’t approve (presumably including any reference to Prime Minister Rajak’s billion dollar theft from a state development fund).

Am I being alarmist? Yes, I am very alarmed. I do not want America with a government of lies unaccountable to a free press. Like Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, Malaysia, and other such shit-hole countries.

America’s war on refugees

April 5, 2018

Way back in 2015 (a different epoch), when I wrote here comparing America unfavorably with Germany regarding refugees, my daughter (working in the Middle East for a refugee aid organization) chided me that we’ve actually taken in more refugees than any other Western nation.

That was then.

My lawn sign

Our annual refugee quota had averaged 95,000. Now it’s been slashed to 45,000, and actual admissions will likely be far lower. Our infrastructure of charities helping refugees is crumbling because the pipeline is running dry. Partly it’s because Trump has put additional restrictions on intake from 11 countries on a secret list, said to include South Sudan, Syria, and Iraq. In other words, many of the people most desperately in need of refuge.

This panders to Trump’s most rabid nativist fans, and reflects his own personal vileness.

He’s also trying to build a wall, impose a Muslim travel ban, kick out dreamers and millions of other undocumented residents, and even to cut traditional legal immigration almost in half. He’s already ordered out tens of thousands of Haitian, Salvadoran, Liberian, and other refugees, many of whom have lived here legally for decades under a special program.

A lot of them are now heading north to Canada: refugees FROM America!

All these policies are not only cruel, but harm our own country. We should welcome immigrants and refugees not just because it’s the right thing to do, the humane thing, but because they’re good for America, making it stronger and better. (As it does for Canada.)

Trump’s saying other countries “send” us their worst people is a moronic lie. Migrants are not sent, they’re self-selected, and those with the courage and grit to leave behind everything familiar and start fresh in a new country are the best people. Certainly better than those creeps who revile them.

It’s a lie that migrants cost us money. To the contrary, their productive efforts and talents add to our national prosperity. In fact, with an aging population (collecting ever more benefits) and declining workforce participation rates, we desperately need the new blood of immigrants to refresh our employment pool. It’s a major reason why America’s economy is fizzier than in other countries even less receptive to immigration.

And it’s a lie that immigrants and refugees cause crime or threaten terrorism. In fact their crime rate is lower than for the native-born. None of the three million refugees we accepted since 1980 has ever been involved in a fatal terrorist attack.

All these lying arguments against immigrants and refugees are fig leaves to cover up the naked truth. This is racism. The people being kept out and kicked out mainly have brown skins. That, plain and simple, is the animus behind Trump’s actions.

He also lies in blaming Democrats for lack of a DACA solution. He himself was responsible for creating the problem in the first place; he lied when he said he wanted a legislative fix; he did his utmost to torpedo every effort. And he blames Democrats. What a sicko.

From The Economist

The Economist’s Lexington columnist (who covers America) wrote recently about a South Sudanese teenager he’d met in an African refugee camp in 2000. Read his great article. That refugee now lives in Michigan in a four bedroom house with two cars; he’s so far contributed over $100,000 in taxes. Lexington tells this success story not because it’s exceptional but because it’s typical. And the goodness doesn’t shine just in America. Most migrants doing well here send money back to home-country relatives, uplifting those people and places too.*

Finally, immigrants and refugees understand and uphold, far better than most natives, what America is all about, the ideals and values it stands for (or used to). Everything Trump turns his back on. He’s un-American.

America was great because it was good. Now it’s breaking my heart.

* I wrote here a poem in 2016 inspired by a Somali refugee. I sent him a check; he told me he sent the money to his mother in Africa.

The Children’s Crusade

March 30, 2018

The recent student marches about guns spotlight how America’s civic culture has gone off the rails. It’s not the marches — it’s the reaction to them.

There’s long been a tendency to demonize and delegitimize those we disagree with. It was pioneered by the left. But today’s Republican right outdoes them.

Typical was a radio commentary by Herb London, the once-weekly “conservative” pundit on our local NPR station (a slot I once filled myself). London has intellectual chops and used to be a responsible, articulate conservative voice. But like so many on the right, he’s drunk the Trump Kool-Aid, been blinded by it, and has lost all objectivity and decency. His diatribe against the students was nasty, brutish, and ridiculous. He called them symptoms of an “ideological crack-up;” decried educators and politicians “who should know better” encouraging and supposedly manipulating them. They’re too ignorant and naive to know what’s what. “Guns can kill,” he said, but “so can knives. A gun in the hands of St. Francis is not a weapon.” And he spoke of “hardening ideological positions” undermining “civil discourse.”

Look in the mirror, Herb!

Others have accused the students of being paid shills, or even actors. Anything to deny the reality of what they represent and the plain reasonableness of their pleas. They want to outlaw mass killing weapons. Nikolas Cruz could not have killed 17 people with a knife. The Las Vegas shooter could not have killed 58 and injured 851 with a knife. Nor even with ordinary guns.

This Republican denialism about assault weapons is of a piece with all the other right-wing Trumpian assaults on reality — from evolution to climate science to imaginary voter fraud to every idiotic conspiracy theory, condemning the Mueller investigation as a partisan witch-hunt, and believing the most stupendous liar in political history while calling the truth “fake news.”

And like so much else in today’s Republican discourse, their gun-rights absolutism is marked by disingenuousness. Saying anything to cloud the waters. After every mass shooting they splutter about mental health (which they never act upon either). Other recent diversionary nostrums include redesigning schools to eliminate winding corridors; installing metal detectors (with armies of operators, making schools like airports — great idea); even equipping classrooms with buckets of rocks for kids to hurl at shooters.

And of course arming teachers. This crackbrained idea is so obviously problem-fraught that nobody (except perhaps the fool in the White House) takes it seriously. It’s a sham, cooked up to distract us from the real issue: the insanity of allowing anyone to obtain military-style assault weapons whose only raison d’etre is killing a lot of people fast.

Yet this insanity has actually become part of the GOP’s own raison d’etre. Partly it’s because of the NRA, once a responsible gun hobbyist group, now transmogrified into a fire breathing fetishizer of The Gun as holy object. But why so many Americans buy into this extremist craziness is hard to understand. There is the notion of guns defending against government tyranny. (Good luck, the government controls vastly more firepower.) And fear of government “taking guns away.” Oddly enough, it was Trump — not Obama or Hillary — who actually said, “I like taking guns away early. Take the guns first, go through the process second.” Why didn’t this make his gun-loving supporters’ brains explode? (Because they have none?)

The students were not proposing to take away anyone’s guns; yet still they were declared the enemy. Here we have high-schoolers, for a change, stepping up to the plate and making their voices heard on a momentous public issue, of great personal concern to them. To quote what has become a ubiquitous chant, “This is what democracy looks like.” Such civic engagement by young people is a wonderful thing. And most Americans agree with them; after all, they’re marching against a policy that is literally insane.

Nevertheless the Trumpian NRA Republican right insults, demonizes, and delegitimizes them. What a disgrace that is. By smearing the students’ honest nobility, Republicans cover themselves with shame. Yet again.

My criticism of Republicans may sound partisan. I would remind readers that I was a committed Republican, a conservative Republican, for 53 years until 2017 — when I could no longer bear to be associated with what the party has become. It breaks my heart.

America Trumped (my “Trolley” article)

March 21, 2018

The wonderful New York State Writers Institute (founded by William Kennedy; headed by Paul Grondahl) has published a very interesting online magazine, The Trolley. (Click here.) I was asked to contribute an article, a follow-up to my blog review of their October symposium on post-truth politics.* The magazine’s inaugural issue focuses mainly on the same general topic.

Since the last election, I’ve been grappling with the really dramatic lurch our civic life has taken into uncharted territory. It has a lot of aspects, and I’ve written a lot trying to unravel them. For this Trolley article, I aimed to draw all these strands together into one big picture, titled America Trumped.

I consider myself a student of history. And we are at an historical hinge point, with huge implications for the future of this country and, indeed, the world. I am not one of those fatalists who believes human beings are at the mercy of forces beyond our control; it’s why I continue to call myself a rational optimist. It is by using our rationality that we can master our situation. That’s how we’ve progressed so enormously since the Stone Age. And in order to master our situation, we must first understand what it is. Such understanding is a key quest in my own life; after half a century at it, I feel I’ve made progress. That’s what I’m trying to share on this blog, and in my Trolley article.

* Find it here; scroll down past a few later posts.

Andrew Cuomo and corruption

March 17, 2018

Cuomo

When first running for governor, Andrew Cuomo actually made tackling Albany corruption a campaign theme — pointedly declaring his candidacy in front of the Tweed courthouse — a literal monument to political corruption. He pledged his administration would be the “most transparent” in state history.

As Times-Union columnist Chris Churchill put it, “Cuomo didn’t just break the promise that helped him get elected. He smashed it like a plate at a Greek wedding and danced on its pieces.”

Percoco

Joseph Percoco was Cuomo’s longtime right-hand man, and ran his election campaign; Cuomo even likened him to a third brother. Percoco has now been convicted in Federal Court of soliciting and receiving $300,000 in bribes from businessmen, to buy his influence to get them cushy deals with the state.

Throughout, Cuomo’s refrain has been that he had nothing to do with this. So — whose influence was really being bought? Percoco had no direct power over state business. But he could get things done through Cuomo. And Cuomo (famous for micro-managing) says he didn’t know? He’s either lying or stupid. Take your pick.

Also revealed at the trial was Percoco’s breaking the law by continuing to use his government office, even after he’d formally left state employment, to run Cuomo’s political campaign. Right under the Governor’s nose. Cuomo tries to avoid legal complicity by saying he believed Percoco was just doing “transition” work. Which apparently included some 68 days in the office and over 800 phone calls. Cuomo also believes in the Easter Bunny.

Howe

The prosecution of Percoco was almost derailed by their star witness, Todd Howe, another Cuomo goon and Percoco’s partner in crime, who’d pled guilty and agreed to testify against him. Copying The Sopranos, Howe and Percoco referred in e-mails to their bribe money as “ziti.” But anything Howe said lacked credibility because of his huge record of lies and frauds.

Ziti

Highlighting that, while testifying, Howe was actually arrested and jailed for trying to defraud a hotel on its bill by denying he’d ever stayed there. In fact, he’d stayed there while negotiating his plea deal with prosecutors — a deal in which Howe pledged to commit no further crimes.

These two slimeball creeps, Howe and Percoco, were both top henchmen for Andrew Cuomo for many years. What does that tell us about Cuomo?

Kaloyeros

Coming soon is another Cuomo corruption trial, relating to his “Buffalo Billion,” an economic development program that was a honey pot for his donors. And the trial of former Nanotech Czar Alain Kaloyeros, who’d been the second most powerful figure in New York, working hand-in-glove with Cuomo, also charged with abusing his position to extort bribes from businessmen seeking state contracts. And the re-trials of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, former heads of the State Assembly and Senate, likewise charged with what amounts to extortion and bribery.*

Meantime, the bribes Percoco extorted for himself are only the tip of the iceberg. The real scandal is the legal bribery: Cuomo now has over $30 million in his campaign war-chest, mostly contributed by business people not for civic altruism but because they are buying favorable treatment, tax breaks, subsidies, state contracts, etc. It’s called pay-to-play. They’re able to buy politicians like Cuomo with large sums, getting around contribution limits, through the infamous LLC ( limited liability corporation) loophole — which furthermore allows the bribes — er, “donations” — to be hidden from public scrutiny.

Cuomo will likely coast to re-election, using his ill-gotten $30 million kitty to crush any opponent with a barrage of sleazy, smearing TV ads.

Asked to comment after Percoco’s conviction, Cuomo continued insisting, “There was absolutely no suggestion ever made that I had anything to do with anything. Right?”

Wrong. He also said Percoco’s crimes were “a violation of everything my administration stands for.”

Wrong again. They reflect exactly what his administration stands for.

*Their first convictions were reversed based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s egregious ruling in the case of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, defining bribery so narrowly that it’s almost impossible to prove. Yet New York’s finest were so flagrant their corruption may well pass even the McDonnell test.