Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Oh, the Company We Keep

Get Angry, Hillary.

 This morning, on CNN, I watched Hillary Clinton's Town Hall meeting from South Church, Portsmouth.

What struck me was the difference in the crowd at Portmouth from those shouters at the Trump rallies. Are these two sets of citizens even inhabiting the same nation?

Even the setting was so un Trump: South Church is just so pretty, so warm, so welcoming. There were poinsettias in the background. (Not to mention the sign: "Don't believe in God? That's okay. We welcome everyone.")

Hillary kept getting questions from women and children. Someone asked about helping students burdened by student loans. She did not answer that we bail out Wall Street banks, but we are not willing to forgive or restructure student loans for struggling middle class students.  One woman asked what Ms. Clinton would do for her mentally ill son.   Another asked what Hillary  would do to stop hand gun violence. Another woman stood up and said she taught art in prisons to women inmates and what would Hillary do for women prisoners of color?

Everyone wants something. 

Most of the questioners had a sob story and they wanted Hillary to save them, as if they were beseeching Jesus incarnate. Their voices dripped with pathos; at Trump rallies we hear voices filled with rage.

Hillary was trying hard to project warmth and empathy, which she has doubtless  been told, is something she lacks and needs to work on. I don't think she needs to work on that much longer. She needs to work more on "angry."

I could only imagine what any Trump supporter watching all this would be screaming at the TV:  Get a job! A real job, not a government job teaching criminals how to finger paint in the lock up! And why should I care about your student loans from Pheonix University or Hesser College where you studied dance?

The people Hillary had to project warmth toward are not the people Trump supporters care about. Well, Trumpies do care about them. Trumpies  want them locked up.

Trumpies have problems of their own.

I did reflect, listening to this crowd, how much I'd like to hear Hillary say, what I think Bernie would have said: 
 "Look, government cannot solve every problem. 
But we can solve basic problems and if you solve these basic problems,  a lot of these other  problems solve themselves.
 If we had income equality, if we'd stop this senseless 'war on drugs', if we started treating drug addiction as a public health problem,  not a crime against society, well then we wouldn't have all these women locked up in the first place.

 If we had jobs  that paid a living wage, then we wouldn't have 25% of all Black males with a criminal arrest record. Mr. Trump says we pay our workers too much. Well, from the perspective of a rich 1 percenter, I'm sure we do. From the point of view of the hard working men and women, working 2 or 3 jobs, I'd have to say Mr. Trump ought to spend more time on this planet, and less flying at 30 thousand feet above the planet  in his private jet.

 If we cared as much about the average Joe as we care about the upper 1/10 of the upper 1% then we'd have jobs and dignity for the middle class."

Someone asked about the climate change thing recently signed in Paris and Hillary gave a very entertaining answer about when she and President Obama tried to get something done in Copenhagen at that previous, failed climate change conference, where she and Mr. Obama chased the Chinese delegation all over the convention center. 

She struck a glancing blow at the Republicans who say they don't know about climate change, that they aren't sure climate change is real, and they always   say, "I'm not a scientist."  Hillary said, "Well, then, go talk to a scientist."


Of course, she missed a golden opportunity to say,

 "You know when Donald Trump says he's not a scientist, so he can't say for sure human activity is causing climate change, that's a cop out. That's just so disingenuous. 
Do you really expect anyone to believe that, Donald?  
Roosevelt didn't say 'I'm not a scientist' when they came to him and said, 'We need a nuclear bomb because the Germans are working on one.'
 Eisenhower didn't say, 'I'm not an traffic engineer,' when he proposed an interstate highway system. 
That's your job as President, to make decisions about stuff you don't know enough about, but you know who to ask, and you educate yourself enough to make a decision and to choose sides!  
Of course, Mr. Trump is enough of a scientist to tell you vaccines cause autism. For that, he's a scientist. The fact is, it's not that he's not a scientist. The fact is: he's just not very bright."

That's what I'd like to hear from Hillary. 
Fact is, we get closer to this with Bernie.
Hillary, win me over.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Orwellian Trump

"And the creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
--Animal Farm, George Orwell

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Quagmire of Culture: Radical Islam

A friend, returning from Afghanistan, told of arriving at a village where, a few hours earlier,  the Taliban had beheaded a school teacher in front of his class for the offense of teaching girls. The blood on the ground outside the school house was still coagulating.

I had asked him why he had chosen to work on a project in Afghanistan, when it clearly posed a threat to his life. He used that story as an answer: He was saying we must resist such evil.

He was into "nation building" which is to say, he was into the idea of changing a people's culture.

Republican candidates now speak of denying "safe havens" for terrorists in Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq when, across the border in the sovereign nation of Pakistan, lived Osma Bin Laden in the best safe haven of all, and consider that  the 9/11 conspirators lived in Berlin.

Bernie Sanders has called Syria and the whole Middle East, "a quagmire within a quagmire."

We lost in Viet Nam not because, as the gun toting Republicans will tell you, "Because the liberals wouldn't let us win," but because we were an alien culture there and we could never gain the support of the very people we said we were there to liberate.  We tried to "lay a little American freedom and commerce on them," George Carlin said. They weren't ready for it, not for another 30 years.

Today, in the New York Times is a story about a woman beaten to death by a mob.  I assumed she was just another woman who sought refuge in a shelter in Afghanistan because she had the audacity to run away with the man she loved, away  from her family and the husband they had  selected for her, another story about a father murdering his own daughter or a mob doing it for him. But  no, this particular woman had the temerity to object to men defiling a shrine.  There was likely some justification for the murder found in some sacred text. (Even the New Testament speaks of stoning a woman to death for sexual transgression--Jesus neatly side stepped the issue by saying he who has no sin should cast the first stone.)

Afghan police keep young boys boys chained to iron beds at their police compound so they can use them "for pleasure" at night. Unable to bear the screams of the children, an American captain tried to beat the hell out of the police chief, only to find himself drummed out of the Army, for the crime of having stuck his nose in where it didn't belong.

Of course, the issue is, where do any of our American noses belong in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Lybia or any of these cultures we do not understand?

Christopher Hitchens has argued that religion is the great poison which defiles life on earth. I cannot know, but I suspect it is culture, and religion is only the excuse or the organizing principle. 

It is true that people need some rationalization to commit acts of extraordinary cruelty. Among any population are people who are sadists and psychopaths who live for the opportunity to stone someone to death.  They are unemployed and have nothing better to do than run out and join a mob to stone a girl to death. The best entertainment in town--plus you get your virgins in heaven for participating,

So where does this leave us, here in America?  

I would never claim we should forswear all foreign interventions.  Going to war against Hitler was a good idea. It is true, you could have argued then, as I am arguing now,  we should  never have expected to reverse the culture of the Third Reich, which would send women to concentration camps for marrying a Jew.  But Germany had a capital and flag and a defined set of borders and an army in uniform. That war was a huge undertaking, but doable. 

What about the argument it's better to fight them in the streets of Baghdad than in the streets of New York?  A catchy phrase, but empty and essentially stupid--fighting them in the streets of Baghdad does not mean you will not have to fight them in the streets of New York. If only. Wishful thinking. Oh, we'll bomb the whatever out of them. We'll make the sands of the desert glow.  

How the dirtbags of ISIS must smile to hear that sort of talk.  The bleating of the impotent. They know there is nothing for the Americans to bomb. Their power is in stealth, not munitions factories, in bank accounts, not massed columns of tanks. 

From British officers in colonial America to Wehrmacht officers in Czechoslovakia, to the French in Algeria and Viet Nam, invading armies have complained about stealth attacks from native partisans who fade back into the local population. There is no successful strategy to defeat a determined local guerrilla force.

Listen to the Lyndon Johnson tapes as LBJ asks his most trusted adviser, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, what Johnson should do about Viet Nam. "Well," the senator tells him, "You really don't want to stay in Viet Nam, do you?"
"Hell, no," Johnson says. 
"Well, them boys on the other side, they know that, too."

John McCain has thought this out. He says we should send an army to the Middle East,  like the army of the Roman Empire, prepared to rule for 150 years, if necessary.  That's what "winning" will look like.

I wish we could free women in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia from their bondage.  But freeing the slaves in a well defined area of the continental United States took four years and cost more lives than the United States has lost in all other wars put together. And that war ended in something that looked like victory, only to continue for another 100 years in the hearts and minds and public schools and toilets and restaurants of the South.

A policeman in "The Wire" once observed the war on drugs is no proper war at all because wars end. Policing, however, continues forever. If we had spent the trillion dollars we spent on Iraq on American intelligence and police, would we have detected the 19 "martyrs" of 9/11 before they got on the airplane? Possibly. The problem is, all the money in the world will not solve a problem if organization and intelligence is lacking. Here you have men who take flying lessons in Florida who are not interested in learning how to land the aircraft. That didn't catch the attention of the flying instructors?  And if it had, would our FBI, or CIA or FAA been smart enough to act? 

Could we have detected the shooters at San Bernadino?  Can we predict a shooter at a Denver Planned Parenthood or at Sandy Hook? 

If a group of men meet mysteriously in a motel or an apartment to plan the next attack with a dirty nuclear bomb or Saran gas, will the neighbors notice and if they do will they know to whom and how to report it? And if they call the Hampton police department, will the Hampton police know what to do with that information?

Well, Ted Cruz will tell us he has the answers. Clearly Donald F. Trump KNOWS he has the answers, as do all the rest of the Republican candidates. It's only Mr. Sanders and Ms. Clinton and Mr. O'Malley who are in the dark about what to do about "Radical Islam"  or the next Planned Parenthood shooter, or the next Sandy Hook shooter, all of whom I place in the same category. 

My friend, who had just got back from Afghanistan, so appalled by the beheading of the school teacher, went off to fight again against another evil empire--this one not Islamic. He wound up in a foreign prison for five years, although, ultimately, his life was spared. 

The lesson I drew from that: Passion, outrage, even righteousness is not enough. 

As Bernie Sanders said in the last debate, using his finger to point to his grizzled head: "First and foremost, we have to be smart."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mr. Trump Demands the Evidence!

Mr. Trump is outraged, just OUTRAGED! that Ms. Clinton asserts ISIS is using videos of Donald Trump as recruitment tools. ISIS proclaims Islam is at war with America and Donald Trump's expostulations--"Keep Muslims out!"--and, according to Ms. Clinton Trump's statements and insinuations are all they need to demonstrate this.

"Where are these videos?" asks Mr. Trump. "Where is the evidence?"

Donald J. Trump demands an apology from Mrs. Clinton. He wants to see the evidence. How can you make such an accusation without presenting the evidence? Mr Trump wants to know.

Well, we have found them.  Those videos are in the possession of the thousands of Muslims on roof tops Mr. Trump says he saw  in New Jersey, celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

It is wonderful that Mr. Trump, who has claimed that vaccines cause autism, that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya, that a majority of American Muslims want to be governed by Sharia law, that Hispanic immigrants are not the best Hispanics, are rapists and murderers, that Hispanics love him because he gives them jobs, that every trade agreement between China and the United States is injurious to the United States, that Ms. Clinton was the worst Secretary of State in the history of the country, that Ms. Clinton lied about Whitewater and lied about Benghazi, that she has lied about everything her whole life,  that Muslims by the thousands cheered from the rooftops in New Jersey watching the Twin Towers collapse has new found a new respect for evidence.

As Christopher Hitchens noted, "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

Mr. Trump has a strong aversion to the practice of marshaling evidence to bolster his arguments. He simply says it is so, and his audience goes wild.  Carl Sagan once noted extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but that was science he was talking about, not Mr. Trump. 

As Bertrand Russell once noted, "The fact that an opinion is widely held is no evidence whatsoever that it is not utterly absurd."

And that is where Mr. Trump finds himself on each of the opinions he has voiced above.  He has exploded in righteous indignation to find that his tactic has been expropriated by a rival.  

The pot has called the kettle black. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Muslims Save Christians on a Bus: Trump Wants to Revoke Their Visas!

One of my sons told me about this great thing: You can go on line and pull up Der Spiegel or Le Monde or any foreign newspaper and if you are on Google Chrome, you can hit the translate tab and peer in to what Germans are reading and writing. It's wonderful, a sort of legal, shameless peeping Tom into the life of another nation, an ocean away. 

So, the first news item I saw was about this bus in Kenya, stopped by al-Shabaab Muslim cut throats.  They stormed on the bus with their attack rifles, and demanded of the Muslim passengers that they identify the Christian passengers. The Muslim passengers refused to do this, and the Christians escaped. The Kenyan Muslim passengers said, "Kill us all together or let us go."

What I love about this story is none of these Muslims who protected the Christians at risk to their own lives would be admitted by Donald Trump to the United States, even on a tourist visa. 

The other thing is these decent human beings who protected people who were likely strangers, fellow bus riders, were Kenyans. You remember the Kenyans. That's what Donald Trump says Barack Obama is.

President Obama has denied he is a Muslim from Kenya. 
Donald Trump says Obama owes him an apology.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Kerfuffle: Hillary Small; Bernie Big

So a staffer from Bernie's kids stumbles into a website with proprietary Hillary information and now: 1. The DNC is closing down Bernie's campaign by closing down his access to the small donors (2 million of them) who have contributed to his campaign  2. Hillary has not said, "Oh, this sounds like a lower level misstep; let's move on."

This is how Hillary repays a magnanimous opponent, who has kept his debate with her on an admirable level of substantive argument and respectful disagreement.

The Democratic National Committee has acted as if it will brook no challenge to the chosen front runner, as if spirited debate will somehow hurt the Democratic campaign for Presidency in 2016. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has done the bidding of unknown, unseen power brokers who limited debates to a paltry 5 and placed them in spots which ensure a small viewership. 

This is exactly the bitter, small minded pettiness which her critics have found unattractive about Hillary Clinton, and if she benefits from these injustices to her rivals rather than speaks out against them, well, I know a few Hampton Democrats who will not simply vote against her in the primary but who will find better things to do with their Saturdays in the Fall of 2016 than to go canvassing for Mrs. Clinton.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Dumb Down Dilemma: Phony Toughness

Dumb and 

One of the eternal problems of mass communications is the perceived need of appealing to the lowest common denominator. The vote of the most ignorant, mentally limited citizen counts exactly the same as that of the most educated and intelligent citizen.

It is up to the politician to appeal to both.

This is not a huge problem when you are discussing simple concepts, but when the problems and their solutions are complex, then you get the candidates sounding like morons in an effort to find something simple even the most simple minded will agree with.

In England, the style has been for politicians to speak up to the electorate; in America it's always speaking down the electorate, following H.L. Menken's admonition nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

So you have Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz all trying to boil down our very vexing problem with terrorists who carefully plan an assault with attack rifles and pipe bombs, and who knows?  Maybe Saran gas or a dirty bomb is being planned.  

These Presidential wannabes want to formulate a zinger or two even the most cognitively challenged citizen can remember, so it becomes:  It's all President Obama's fault. He isn't scary enough to the terrorists. All we need is a winner (Trump) a guy who is so tough he scares them (Cruz) not "feckless" (Christie) not a disaster (Rubio) and all the terrorists will run shrieking from the field of battle and stop building bombs in their garages or apartments. 

In the case of the San Bernadino shootings: Obama shoulda caught those two. None of the blame can be laid on the Congress, for limiting data gathering after Snowden, and none can be laid on the difficulty of identifying malignant people who are intent on being invisible to whatever radar we might construct.  

It's not like the terrorists are robbing banks. Banks you can fortify, and you can arrange for quick response teams alerted by buttons at every teller's station. These terrorists choose places more or less randomly--who woulda thunk a building housing case workers for local health and social workers in San Bernadino?

The fact is, what makes terrorists so difficult to stop is you cannot simply bomb the "shit" out of them because you don't know where they are, and you cannot "carpet bomb them" for the same reason and you cannot simply make the sands glow, attractive as that image may be. 

Flexing your muscles and growling in a manly way will not intimidate them or send them fleeing for the doors.  
 It's interesting: Neither  Trump, nor Cruz nor Rubio nor Christie nor any of the tough talkers has ever actually done anything in their lives which requires actual toughness, to my knowledge, like put on a uniform and having a bullet fired at them in anger, or served in a trauma unit handling cases of wounded, or, for that matter, hiked the Appalachian trial, kayaked down the Potomac, run a marathon or completed an Iron Man competition.  These flaccid wimps are calling President Obama a weakling.

Certainly Ted Cruz never stood in that White House Situation Room and given the order for Navy Seals in helicopters to attack a compound in Pakistan, knowing full well what happened when Jimmy Carter tried to send in the helicopters across an Arabian desert. 

Far as I can see, not a one of them could last ten minutes on a basketball court with Barack Obama.  So where do they get all this tough talk?

I remember guys like this from high school and college, who were blow hards, but if you got right in their faces, stood about two inches from their noses and said, "You want a piece of me? I'm right here," well, then they got all jovial and backed off with aplomb born of lots of practice at retreating.

When did we get to the point where nobody calls the bully's bluff in politics?

If we had more prime time Democratic debates, we could have Hillary and Bernie and Martin lacing into the simplicity and saying all the things we want to hear about, but for now, by default, the only voices on the airwaves, the only images are of the thundering herd from behind the podiums.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

President Obama at the Archives: "Oh, How Quickly We Forget"

"How quickly we forget. One generation passes, two [generations pass] and suddenly we don't remember where we came from.  And we somehow suggest that there is 'us' and there is 'them,' not remembering we used to be 'them.' On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again."
President Barack Obama, December 15 2015

Today, President Obama welcomed newly naturalized citizens in a speech at the National Archives, the building in Washington, D.C. where they keep the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence under pressurized, humidity controlled glass cases. 

The building is one of my favorites in Washington, with the words: "What is Past is Prologue" etched in the stone facade above the entrance.

But the assault on the Constitution we must fear and guard against is not of the physical variety, of humidity or mold--it will always come in the form of action and ideas. 

When Donald Trump calls for the exclusion of immigrants and even tourists because they are Muslim, that is what tears at the fabric and soul of the American Constitution. But what really sets fire to that document is the response by Americans who think themselves patriots and winners, as they respond to the purveyors of fear and tacit loathing with cheering and mindless joy.

We are so lucky to have as President a man who can write and speak among the best politicians we have ever had. Lincoln was one of the best writers in the 19th century. Since Lincoln, we have only rarely been blessed with a President who has risen to the level of Obama. Roosevelt could inspire, finding just the right words in a very dark time. 

Reagan could deliver the lines prepared for him by his script writers, but the ideas contained in those lines, the disparagement of government, the facile sloganeering, the idea that government is the problem not the solution were poisonous to the body and soul of government and the nation.

Oh, how I will miss President Obama. I already miss him, even before he has left office, just thinking with a mild revulsion at those characters on the Right who might well replace him. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Huckleberry Finn and Political Correctness

Oh, my. It's happening again. Huck Finn has come under attack.
The book which Ernest Hemingway claimed is the well spring from which all meaningful American fiction emanates has been stricken from the curriculum, this time not from a public school, but from a private Quaker school in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, which just goes to show, public schools are not alone in their sad impotence to really educate young minds.

The problem is, the principal explained, the use of "the N word" and the depiction of Black slaves made some students uncomfortable.

Isn't that the point of education? 

First, allow me to say the "N word" is "Nigger." We should be brave and bold enough to use that word in polite company to face the ugly truth. Very religious Jews would not speak the word for "God" because they felt even giving the name a human voice would violate the reverence man should have for the supreme being. Now we have the same sort of thinking, in reverse.  "Nigger" is simply too vile a word to be used by sensitive souls. 

If the use of the word "Nigger" were the worst offense, one might say you are missing the most disturbing things. The fact is, slaves were thought of as children, with intelligence roughly the level of a very smart poodle, and Jim, the slave, is fairly infantile in his superstitions and in some of his fearful behavior. 

Of course, the climax of the book arrives when Huck, who has treated Jim with the casual contempt white boys of that time and place were wont to do faces the great choice of the book:  Jim, it turns out, has a family, a wife and child and if he can get to freedom, to a free state, he can work and then purchase their freedom, or maybe arrange for them to be stolen out of slavery. Huck and Jim arrive at a divide in the river, and if Huck helps Jim take the branch to freedom, Huck will violate the most serious rule of white Southern life--you keep the slaves down. 

Huck struggles with this choice. He knows what "right" is here: Return Jim to his rightful owners. But he has also gotten to know Jim as a human being, that is, he has seen the undeniable humanity in Jim and that is the real sin in Southern culture.  Finally, Huck says, well, then, I will go to Hell. I always knew I was headed there, so this will do it for sure.

It turns out, of course, Jim's owner had died and in her will set Jim free, but neither Huck nor Jim knew this. Tom Sawyer knew this, but did not tell either, until he had milked all the fun out of Jim's ignorance, proving the true venality of Mr. Sawyer. 

This is one of the most subversive books in American literature. Written as if it comes from the heart of the South, embracing the most hideous of Southern core values, but exposing the most basic problem with those values--the denial of one people's humanity by another people's arrogance and willful selfishness.

Central Friends School
None of this will be discussed at the Friend's school in Pennsylvania. The students there are too delicate to face the cruelty and the lessons buried deep within. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Sense of Grievance: The Gift Trump Gives Us

Lincoln and Stowe
The thing about a Republic is it can be manipulated by a small, excited minority. 

Clearly, the Republican Party is currently being driven by a minority segment which feels aggrieved, aggrieved about "Radical Islam" shooting up Americans and Parisians and Western white people, aggrieved about having a Black man as President, aggrieved about the very thought someone from the government might want to take away their guns. These people will show up, which as Woody Allen once noted, is 80% of life, not to mention politics. They will go to rallies and cheer and vote.

But, I am told,  they are actually only about 40% of the 300,000 million Americans who the President represents.

The problem is, they are the ones animated, while the rest of America is busy going shopping, going to their kids' soccer games, going out to restaurants and bars, watching the Patriots, thrilling to Steph Curry, buying new cars, mowing lawns, raking leaves, redoing kitchens and bathrooms, and doing all the things which have nothing to do with listening to Donald Trump blame Muslims and President Obama (not necessarily in that order) for everything wrong with the world today.

This morning, I heard the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania blame President Obama for Donald Trump! Wow, that was a neat trick. If President Obama had only been more emotional during his speech from the White House after the San Bernadino attack, then Trump would not have been able to step into that vacuum. 

Oh, I get it. Mr. Obama's cerebral, cool style is just no match for the white hot Trump and so all the oxygen in the room is sucked up by Mr. Trump. Got it.

When the war between the states broke out, the cerebral Mr. Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe at the White House.  In what may be an apocryphal story, the over 6 foot President bent down to shake the hand of the diminutive author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and said, "So, this is the little lady, who wrote the book, that started the great big war."

I love that story, and don't really care whether or not it is true--it is true in its point. Without the white hot passions of the anti slavery movement, there would have been no Civil War.  Until enough people could be pried away from the concerns of their daily doggy lives in New Hampshire and Minnesota and New York to care about the great wrong that was slavery, no regiments could be mustered.

Think about that. Men from farms in New Hampshire left those shires to enlist in a huge bureaucratic, undemocratic organization to go fight in South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, all over.  That took some motivation.  Likely, there were many who joined for the adventure, for dreams of glory, because they were unhappy with life at home, but they were animated by something.  

And one thing you can say for Mr. Trump: He animates people. So did Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, the Emperor of Japan, and Genghis Khan. Drove those crowds into a frenzy, did these guys. 

Lincoln gave wonderful, thoroughly thought out speeches about slavery and the Union. His debates with Stephen Douglas were thoughtful, powerful, but intentionally dispassionate in passionate times. In the midst of the Civil War, speaking before a multitude from the Capitol building, he delivered his Second Inaugural address which could have been a rousing call to arms, but was, instead, a thoughtful, reflective statement of the events leading up to the war and the reasons to continue fighting it. 

Of course, his best known address, at Gettysburg, would have left Ted Cruz and Donald Trump snoring. It had ringing phrases and deep understanding but it was understated and given the circumstances, dispassionate. That the war would be pursued to prevent a government of the people, by the people, for the people from vanishing from the face of the earth spoke to people who had attention spans beyond that of the average flea.  Not sure it would have rung so loud today among the people who rally for Mr. Trump. What the children want who Mr. Trump thrills are apocalyptic visions of the coming onslaught, a sort of invasion of the zombies, to which Mr. Trump, being a tough guy, will play the super hero. Oh, we'll all be so proud with all the winning. 

 Lincoln knew he could not motivate passions the way Stowe had. In fact, he was trying to cool down passions, but emotion ruled the day. His smile and wink to Ms. Stowe, if it happened, would have carried a measure of rebuke--here I was trying to calm everyone down, talk them back from the precipice and you got them all inflamed and we got war. 

Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz and Ms. Fiorina all invoke images of Radical Islamic nasties beheading people, slaughtering innocents and they raise the alarm with their Jeremiads.  In the midst of real threat to the existence of the Republic, Lincoln did not stoke fears. 

But maybe Harriet Beecher Stowe was right. We need some emotion to provoke action now and then.  Perhaps what we need now, to provoke the somnolent masses to go out and vote against the hucksters of hysteria  is a new Uncle Tom's Cabin about the logical consequences of Mr. Trumps ascension to the Presidency, a world in which Muslims are relegated to ghettos, with ID cards and a data base to track them. A world where high school students pack guns in school (and shoot each other while waiting for the Radical Islamic terrorists to show up), where eleven million immigrants are rounded up and deported, where a 1,000 mile wall of reinforced concrete is built along the Mexican border, where health care collapses. 

If we had that, maybe we'd have the war we need, to get the complacent masses who might actually not hate, fear and loathe Muslims to get off their couches and go vote.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Donald J. Trump: Internment Camps for American Muslims?

Japanese American on the way to Internment Camp 1942
The Donald was on CNN this morning saying that a poll showed 25% of Muslims living in America think violence against Americans by Muslims would be justified and 51% think we should live under Sharia law.

Everyone else this morning was talking about Mr. Trump saying we should not allow any more Muslims into the country. What got my attention was what he is saying about those already here.

In his interview with the hapless Chris Coumo, Mr. Trump alluded to a man Coumo had on earlier in the program, who defended Roosevelt's incarceration of Japanese Americans at the outset of World War II. Trump spoke approvingly of all that.

I couldn't help but fantasizing about a debate between me and the Donald, held by Trump rules: 

Mad Dog: Mr. Trump is doing well in the polls. Of course, 49% of his supporters, who say they will likely vote for him  in the primaries are active members or have been members of the Ku Klu Klan, or say they support the Klan's principles. So we know who he's appealing to.

Mr. Trump: I'm a big guy, a winner. I don't turn away voters because the scum media says they are stupid. You know who's stupid?  The media. They are just scum,  you know? They call these horrible people masterminds. Did you hear that after Paris? That guy, and he wasn't very smart, but they were calling him a "mastermind." Oh, they are looking everywhere for the "mastermind!" And kids go on line. They are impressionable. They want to be a mastermind, too. 

Mad Dog:  Yes, kids are impressionable, I have to agree with you on that. But I don't agree with 59% of your supporters who say we ought to invade Ethopia, because it worked so well for Mussolini.  

Mr. Trump: They say that? Well, I do think we should bomb the shit of ISIS and if they go there, well, okay.  Where'd you get that?

Mad Dog: It was a poll.

Mr. Trump: Oh, well, then.

Mad Dog: And I heard from a woman in the parking lot that vaccines cause autism, and some vaccines cause otherwise peaceful Muslims to just go postal. Maybe we ought to change that expression: Maybe we should say, "Go Muslim!"  Or maybe no, we should say, go all "Radical Islam."

Mr. Trump: You can't get Obama to say that. He won't say the words, "Radical Islam!"
What's up with that? Of course, you know, he was born in Kenya and sent here to take over and establish a caliphate. 

Mad Dog: Did the woman in the parking lot tell you that? Cause I heard that too, but it was the same woman who told me about the autism, so I don't know. I do know there's a poll that says 40% of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim.

Mr. Trump: He's such a disaster. I mean, what was that from the Oval Office the other night? The man cannot say, "Radical Islam?"  He is just a disaster. And clueless. How stupid does he think we are? I mean, our teachers told us we are stupid. Our bosses tell us we are stupid. The media tells us we are stupid. But it's not us who's stupid. It's them. They are stupid! All of them. Not us. But I went to the Ivy League.

Mad Dog: I couldn't agree with you more. You know, I thought this was supposed to be a debate. But 55.5% of the people who are likely voters in the New Hampshire primary think you are smarter than their own governor, and she has said she doesn't want to let more refugees in until we have a chance to take a breath. And you know what religion most of those refugees are.  And now she's probably very happy she said that.  And 25% of the Muslims in New Hampshire say they want jihad and 54%, I got this from a poll, 54% say sharia law ought to replace the Constitution, and you know what that means. Good-bye Second Amendment. 

Mr. Trump:  And that's something you can forget about. Won't happen. Not if I'm President.  We'll arm school children.  And we'll be winning, so much. We'll get bored with winning, we'll be winning so much. We'll all be proud. Just so proud.  Did I tell you about how I won the bid for the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. ? Won the bid from the Obama administration. Know why? Cause I'm a winner. We're all going to be winners when I'm President. Going to build a hotel there, so when I win the election, I'll have a place to stay until the Inauguration. And when I get into the White House, I'll redo it, like I did with the ice skating rink in Central Park. Ed Koch was so embarrassed about that rink. Couldn't get it done. But I got it done, under budget in 6 weeks. Ed was a good friend of mine. Nice guy, really. They named a bridge after him. A bridge to Queens.  But still. I mean, I'm from Queens, myself, sort of.  If those people in Paris had had guns--good-bye Jihadist scum bags!  

Mad Dog: Actually, you know, I think I've finally found something I disagree with you about:  You can have your AK-47. Give me a baseball bat and the element of surprise and I'll take those odds any day. It comes down to "DO you feel lucky, today?"

Mr. Trump: Hey, Clint Eastwood. Dirty Harry! My man. But I don't get it. You say that when you have the gun on the guy. "Do you feel lucky today?  A big magnum. 

Mad Dog: I know, but I just love saying that.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Strong and Wrong

"Better to be strong and wrong than right and weak," 
--attributed to Bill Clinton

Donald Trump has apparently taken this advice to heart.

Last night I saw the culminating episode in the seventh season of the "West Wing" toward which all the previous seasons and episodes have been moving: "The Debate."

In this episode the Republican candidate, a decent, liberal Republican, Arnold Vinnick (Alan Alda) turns to his Democratic rival, Matt Santos (Jimmy Smitts) after hearing the moderator lay out the rules--one minute answer, thirty second reply, yellow light goes on and you wrap up--and he says, "Let's skip these rules. Let's have a real debate."

This is, of course, what Aaron Sorkin and I and so many others would like to see--a Lincoln/Douglass debate where the candidates challenge each other and allow each other to reply at length. 

What ensues is a riveting, detailed examination of the souls of each ideology, Democrat and Republican.  Even as a lifelong left wing Democrat, I found myself agreeing with the Republican on education.  I do not believe the federal government ought to be pushing people toward college. I agree we need welders and mechanics and skilled laborers as much or more than we need philosophy and English majors.  But I agreed with the Democrat we cannot give up on public schools--it's just that we cannot expect public schools to heal all the ills of deprived youth. 
When Vinnick says "Headstart doesn't work" the audience gasps, but he points out test scores by the 6th grade are no better among kids who went to Headstart programs to which Santos replies, but those test scores were far better in 3rd grade; it's just that we gave up on those kids and allowed them to flounder after that. Headstart does what it is designed to do--it gets kids set up to learn in grades 1-3. 

When Santos attacks American pharmaceutical companies for pricing AIDS drugs out of the reach of Africans who need them, Vinnick replies that's not what's killing Africans; the lack of clean water is killing them. And why do they not have clean water?  High taxes. And  the audience laughs. But Vinnick says, (who knows how true this is) African countries tax their citizens who make $3,000 a year almost 30% in an effort to pay back national debt and at that level no economy can survive. So Vinnick, the Republican is making the argument Paul Krugman has been making about austerity in Europe and in Greece--you can't expect a nation to emerge from debt if you crush the economy with taxes. 

So the Republican scores some punches, but Santos gets in his licks. When Vinnick derides him as a liberal Santos points out it was liberals who ended slavery, got the Voting Rights Act passed to allow Blacks to vote, created Social Security and Medicare, ended the war in Vietnam, got women the vote. Throw that label at my feet and I'll pick it up and wear it as a badge of honor Santos says with a look of I'll spit in your eye. 

Santos scores well when he says the history of every Republican administration since Reagan is to cut taxes for the rich, promising to cut federal spending, but never cutting spending so deficits explode. And Vinnick is unwilling to specify where exactly he is willing to make cuts, because every cut loses votes among some group. This was the nub of the problem for Republicans in 2005 when the show aired and that has not changed. 

And on health care--and this show aired way before Ombamacare--Santos, the Democrat has to admit he doesn't much like his own program which will insure 15 million currently uninsured Americans, but it's all he can expect to get past Congress. He'd really like to make Medicare an option for everyone. "Just strike out that 65 and over" clause.  To which Vinnick erupts, "You'd force a government program on everyone?" To which Santos says, "Not force. Give them the option. And you know it is the best health insurance out there and a whole lot of people would chose it." Vinnick scoffs--embracing the Republican denial of Medicare. But Santos points out how much more efficient Medicare is than any private insurer--only a 2% administrative cost as opposed the 20% commercial insurance companies run.

What Santos does not say is Medicare is also the only health insurance where the company actually has the incentive to keep it's customers healthy as opposed to the mission to increase profit. What this means is Medicare pays for a good pair of shoes for diabetics every two years because avoiding foot abscesses is way cheaper than a single hospitalization.

What was so wonderful about the debate is it got past all the stupidity and got to the intelligent basis for disagreement. And when one candidate said something as if it was undeniable, the other was able to marshal facts and figures to blow it out of the water.  

Donald Trump would have vanished beneath the waves in a debate like this in less than a minute. Santos would have killed him not simply by challenging his baseless, blase assertions which are detached from reality but he would have vanquished Trump and any Republican on the grand ideology: You attack universal health care, and public schools, and any public program at all, but it's easy to just say no, no, no. Eventually, you have to say "yes."

Vinnick has appeared with border patrol officers on the Texas border saying he'd triple the number of patrolmen--how sad this was an issue then and we've not moved beyond it. Of course, Santos points out the number of patrolmen have already been tripled and made no difference. It's only 2005 and nobody's talking about building a wall. You know if Vinnick had proposed that Santos would point to the Maignot Line the French built to keep out the Germans after WWI.  Of course, the German's simply drove around it and flew over it--just as the Mexicans will do.

Just before the debate Santos meets with a pro choice women's group leader who is threatening to endorse the Republican because Santos is actually more conservative and believes in more restrictions than his Republican rival.  "Would you approve of abortion to chose the sex of a child?" Santos asks her. "Of course not." Santos smiles, "Well, then you are for limiting the reasons for abortion, just like me. The whole difference is where you draw the lines." The woman is left tongue tied, and it's a wonderful scene, one you would never see in real life. This is a world  where people dissect the lines along which choices about abortion may split party and religious lines, where possibilities for some accommodation on abortion might occur. But not in today's real world, where the Republicans have simply cut off all debate and are only interested in using abortion for votes.

"West Wing" creates  a world we'd like to see, where the Republican is actually mostly pro choice and really wants to engage in the actual issues which separate the two parties rather than these pseudo "values" arguments.  When Vinnick  assails Santos for wanting to control guns, Santos shrugs it off: "There are over 200 million guns in this country--I own 3 of them--there's no way to control guns. I'd control the bullets."

There is no good answer to gun deaths and violence in America, but there are possibilities for fresh approaches and watching this imaginary debate you see the power of good fiction--the power to imagine a better world, toward which we might move, if only the venality and weakness of real people did not stand in the way.