Sunday, December 18, 2016

Electoral College: Now or Never

On November 8th after a year and a half of stressing out about the possibility of Trump becoming president, I had finally come to the realization that acceptance was the only option. I decided that one way or another, the country needs to move forward and I hoped that Trump would be a more decent and responsible president than he was as a candidate and a private citizen. I appealed to my friends to remain calm, and promised that I would respect the outcome of the election. Even as waves of nausea washed over me and a night of sleep was lost, I promised myself that I would not be one of those "sore losers" still hanging on every last thread of hope of stopping Trump.

Even I was surprised at the number of people protesting in the streets during the following week. It was important to me that Americans make this statement to the rest of the world to show them that Trump does not represent all of America. Unfortunately, not all of the protesters were peaceful and they fed into the pro-Trump "law and order candidate" narrative. I still support the vast majority of protesters that violated no laws, but I viewed it all as nothing more than a last symbolic outcry before the transition would begin.

Over the following weeks we learned that once again, the popular vote went to the losing candidate, for the second time in my life time. I lived through the 2000 election and I remember well the controversies over the recounts in Florida. That election was won by just 1 electoral vote, so it made perfect sense to be abundantly sure that the votes were tallied properly. I supported Gore's recount efforts and I did have my doubts about the system as a whole, but I accepted that unless the recount changed the outcome in Florida, Bush must become president.

Back then, there was only a little talk of the possibility of "faithless" or "Hamilton" electors. When I first heard about the online petition to convince electors to vote against Trump, I said that it was not a good idea. I knew that Americans would never accept some faceless bureaucrats breaking the rules to stop Trump and they would assume it was another act of favoratism for Hillary. If the electors overruled the will of the people in their states, the people would be justifiably outraged. I still believe that is true, and there is grave risk in this move.

But here we are more than a month after the election, and I have little hope that Trump will be a decent president. He has chosen a cast of billionaires with no political experience for his cabinet, most of which have open disdain for the administrations they will run.  He has invented a new position of "chief strategist" so he could hire his chief propagandist. He has asserted that he has no obligation to divest or fully isolate himself from his companies and even asserted that as president, there is no such thing as a conflict of interest. He promised to outline his plans for dealing with his business interests by December 15th but then abruptly cancelled his planned speech with no announcement to reschedule. He has ignored security briefings, but watches SNL every week so he can denigrate the cast on Twitter. He demanded an apology from the cast of Hamilton simply because they pleaded with his VP to treat them fairly. He has called for revoking citizenship of people who burn the American flag. He still claims that the election was rigged against him, yet at the same time claims he won by a landslide, even though the margin of victory in the swing states he won is extremely slim. He claims credit for saving jobs in a U.S. company, but exaggerates the numbers, and gave away millions in tax breaks to do it.

And then there are the Russian hacks. When confronted with evidence that Russia hacked his opponent and leaked their secrets to influence the election, he dismisses it and claims that it is all a political attack on him. That alone is terrifying. If Trump really believes that there is a conspiracy within our intelligence organizations to stop him from becoming president, then he is talking about an act of treason. That he would cast doubt without a shred of proof on our own government for his personal defense shows me where his true allegiance lies.

I could go on and on for pages with all the reasons why I believe Trump is unfit to be president, that's not the point I wish to make. The simple question is this: if all of this isn't enough to justify an electoral revolt against Trump, then what exactly would it take? Does he have to declare Putin supreme overlord of the universe and bow down to him? Does he have to end the era of citizen-led democracy by enacting a wealth standard to hold public office? Does he have to declare the bill of rights null and void (except the second amendment of course)? Does he have to call for a purge of all Muslims and other religions that are not Judeo-Christian? Does he have to declare his intentions to start World War 3 by escalating tensions with all of our enemies to the breaking point, while renouncing our comittements to our allies?

If a candidate did any of those things openly, then I am confident that the American people would not have elected them, either by the electoral system or in a pure popular vote. So then what do we need these electors for? The job of the elector is to be the last line of defense to prevent the people from making a bad choice, to prevent them from succumbing to the manipulative ploys of a demagogue that does not have the necessary character and integrity to lead our nation. If that does not describe Donald Trump, then I shudder to think of what kind of person Hamilton was imagining.

So I call for electors to do what Ted Cruz said to do in the Republican convention: vote their conscience. If they truly believe that Donald Trump is fit to be president and there is no risk whatsoever to our democracy, then go right ahead. But
if they are voting for Trump because they really want the Republican party to completely and totally control America, then I beg them to reconsider. First of all, it should go without saying that ignoring the many risks of making him president for the sake of the party is reprehensible. Trump and his team have on many occasions overtly threatened other Republicans to support Trump "or else" which is why Ted Cruz himself ultimately caved in. The GOP has been torn apart by his candidacy, forcing people that once had integrity to tie themselves in knots desperately rationalizing supporting this man. Now that he has won them the ultimate prize, they are either ecstatic that they picked the winning team to be on, or petrified of being ostracized by a man who will not hesitate to destroy them for showing disloyalty.

Notice, I have not suggested that any of them should switch parties and vote for Hillary Clinton. I do not expect anyone who was so firmly committed to defeating her to ever switch over. To be perfectly honest, I don't even want her to be the president! Although I firmly believe she would was more capable and qualified than Trump, I always had serious concerns about her and was never fully committed to her. The Democratic Party picked the wrong candidate, and she lost. She was rejected in key states that typically support Democrats, where another candidate (ahem Bernie) could have won easily. A lot the reason was the unprecedented and unfair attacks agianst her, but a lot of it was simply her fault. But that's a subject for a whole other blog...

So if the electors don't vote for Trump or Clinton, then who should they vote for? Maybe Gary Johnson since he was on the ballot in every state, or if they insist on voting Republican, then Mike Pence or even Ted Cruz if those are acceptable to them. I don't really care who frankly, because none of them could possibly get enough votes. The point is to deny Trump the 270 votes he needs to win it outright and force the decision to the House of Representatives.

Congress is required to pick someone from among the top 3 candidates, and since all states were won by either Trump or Clinton, they cannot directly pick someone better for president. However, if they simply do nothing, the vice-presidential nominee automatically becomes president. This is a possibility that might be appealing to house Republicans, and it is one that Democrats can live with. It is certainly not an ideal solution - having a man for president who is even more ideologically rigid is definitely not my first choice, but he's still better than Trump.

But I have no illusions about the outcome. I am fairly certain that the Republicans in Congress will simply ratify Trump. But this is what I'm really after. I've said from the beginning that it was up to Republicans to stop Trump, and this will give them one last chance to turn back. This will force Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress to actually make a decision - take a stand or get on the Trump train once and for all. They will no longer be able to say that they endorse him but don't support him or whatever nonsense they have been serving up to avoid being tarnished by association. They can no longer hide behind the fiction that a majority of their party chose him and they have to serve the will of the people, because the majority didn't vote for him. They alone will hold the fate of Trump in their hands. They will then own complete responsibility for whatever happens during the Trump administration and the fate of the GOP will be completely tied to his. This is the choice that will define the party for a generation. Say goodbye to the party of Lincoln, it will then officially be the party of Trump.

After all the dust setttles, whether or not Trump is inaugurated, the American people hopefully will finally start to question whether this 200 year old electoral college system actually still makes sense. Maybe we can have a debate about why we have a system that deliberately skews power to less populated states and encourages candidates to spend all their energy on a few battleground states rather than appealing to all Americans. Maybe we can find a better way of choosing a president that doesn't so heavily favor the 2 major parties, and maybe we can somehow force the 2 parties not to nominate such unpopular candidates next time. To the many people who voted for Trump just to shake things up, well you got your wish. Let's shake up the electoral college system and see what happens. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Megyn Kelly is the Victim Here Folks

I can't think of any other way to start this post than to just state outright how absolutely appalled and flabbergasted I am at the public response to the exchange between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump in Fox News debates that were staged last Thursday.  I am mortified that people are attacking the victim and blaming a journalist for asking "inappropriate" questions to a rich and powerful man who wants to be president of the United States of America. Whether it was appropriate or not, is not the issue. The more important issue is how Trump has responded to the question.  To fully appreciate how deplorable Trump's behavior is, we need to walk through the exchange step-by-step.

KELLY: Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter.

This is a most charitable characterization of Trump's speaking style. I would not put it this way at all, but many people do appreciate his bluntness and candor. Clearly Megyn wants to remind Trump that he is among friends.

KELLY: However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women.
You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”

OK, first, why are people laughing?  What does that say about this audience?  If this is such a serious important event for discussing serious issues, then why are people so amused by this?

KELLY: Your Twitter account…
TRUMP: Only Rosie O’Donnell.

First question in his first ever presidential debate, and Trump interrupts the questioner with a joke.  He knows the audience has no love for Rosie O'Donnell, so they're not bothered that he has repeatedly insulted her in the past and makes no apology for it.  But it's OK to poke fun at a slightly overweight, highly outspoken middle-aged lesbian liberal, right?  And even though this is a super-serious forum where only important topics should be discussed, it's totally fine for Trump to crack a joke.

KELLY: No, it wasn’t.

No it certainly wasn't.

KELLY: Your Twitter account…
TRUMP: Thank you.
KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.
TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure it was.

Here Trump freely admits to making these comments and others.  Later he claims to not even remember saying these things.  Which is it Trump? Are you standing your ground that whatever you said in the past is irrelevant, or are you going to try to weasel out of each and every comment by claiming you were just somehow misunderstood?

KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.

Praying, of course.  Trump claims that he was not alluding to the performance of a sex act. This is a man who has divorced 2 wives for much younger women, owns the Miss USA Pageant and routinely boasts about his prowess with women. He once said “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”  There's plenty in his history to suggest that he has quite a healthy interest in sex. So even if he didn't intend this comment to imply a sex act, it certainly should have occurred to him that it would be interpreted that way.  He just didn't care. 

KELLY: Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

This is whole point of the question - Donald Trump will be attacked as a misogynist, whether he is one or not.  Megyn announced earlier that the first round of questions were meant to determine whether the candidates had a reasonable chance of winning the general election.  All the questions pointed out each candidate's alleged weaknesses, and challenged them to offer a defense in front a friendly audience before they would have to face their real opposition.  For most other politicians, this was a lobbed soft-ball that would have been hit out of the park.

TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.

No actually, this is not about political correctness. This is about your attitude toward women. It was rude, disrespectful and a sign of stupidity to inject insults about a person's anatomy long before the term "political correctness" was ever invented.

TRUMP: I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness.

Mr. Trump is so important, and has so little free time, that he can't be bothered to answer a question like this, and he certainly doesn't have time to think carefully about his words and refrain from saying wildly inappropriate things.  But he does have time to search Twitter later for insulting comments about Megyn Kelly and re-tweet them.  And of course he has time to go on every other network the next day to talk about how he was so unfairly attacked.

TRUMP: And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.

This is the only point in this exchange where Trump attempts to say something that is even close to a reasonable debate response.  He is using the standard debate technique called "changing the subject".  He would much rather talk about how much of a winner he is, and how every other candidate, and elected official (particularly the President) is a loser.  And he wants to make sure you believe that America is "losing" in the world, even though we still have the largest military and largest economy by far.  This is Trump's main message, and he could have just stopped here, showing that he would parry the attacks from his opponents by bringing us back to his core message.  If he had stopped here, he may well have been declared the winner of this debate, even though he offered no substantial response.

TRUMP: And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time.

Yes, I'm sure Rosie O'Donnell really enjoys being called those names.

TRUMP: What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry.

That is not an apology.  This really means "I don't give a damn what you think, Megyn."

TRUMP: I’ve been very nice to you,

Let's pause mid-sentence here and ponder why it is that Trump has always been very nice to blonde, thin, 40-something Megyn Kelly, as opposed to Rosie O'Donnell.  Hmmmm, that is a tough one!

TRUMP: although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me.

This is a threat, plain and simple. Trump is reminding her that he has the power to destroy her for asking questions he doesn't like. Forget about the charge of sexism, let's talk about the fact that this man has just openly threatened a reporter in front of millions of people and nobody calls him on it - they applaud! When did it become acceptable to trash reporters for asking tough questions? How is it possible that the rest of the candidates don't see it, or are too cowardly to actually defend her? I honestly have always thought that the so-called "war on women" was an embarrassing hyperbolic excess of the Democratic party, but this makes me wonder whether they were right after all. All these people are witnessing the textbook defense of the guilty against charges of sexism, and they can't even see it. I have to wonder whether it's willful ignorance.

TRUMP: But I wouldn’t do that.

Yes, he would.  And the next day he proved it.

TRUMP: But you know what, we — we need strength, we need energy, we need quickness and we need brain in this country to turn it around. That, I can tell you right now.

Trump may be right about this.  But if he wants to prove that he's the person with that quickness and brain we need, he certainly failed here. If this was a truly impromptu response, then he utterly failed to think on his feet about the implications of what he was saying.  But this was certainly not an unscripted response. Trump had to have known he would be asked a question like this, and he most certainly went through some pre-debate preparations. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if he was even provided the questions in advance.  So there is no excuse for Trump to not have a reasonable answer to this question.

One could argue that I'm choosing the worst possible interpretation of everything Trump said. Yes, I am. But the next day, Trump went on to prove that Megyn's worst fears about him were completely justified.  He chose to re-tweet a comment that called her a bimbo which is a cowardly pathetic maneuver to say something and disavow the comment simultaneously.  He says he finds it amusing that social media has erupted with scorn for this woman who had the audacity to challenge the future king of America. Could it be that he is the one manufacturing this public outrage? Why is Trump so indifferent about making enemies of the news media?  Could it be that he has another weapon he intends to use to manipulate the public, so he doesn't need them?

The final straw is that he proved the exact allegation against him by actually saying that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”  What?  Oh, he meant her NOSE!  Ohhhh, I guess I my 12 year old daughter must be a total deviant then, because when I told her about this comment, she knew exactly what body part Mr. Trump was thinking of when he said this. He insults our intelligence by claiming he wasn't implying that she was menstruating, thus reminding everyone why exactly women can't be trusted in positions of power.

But even if you give him the benefit of the doubt that this was an unintended unfortunate gaffe, he still can't be defended for claiming she was a raging Trump hater with blood coming out of her eyes.  I watched her very carefully and politely ask the question with a friendly smile.  She stated up-front that this was a dress rehearsal for questions he was inevitably going to be asked.  He had every opportunity in the world to rebut the accusations honorably and put the issue to rest.  Instead Trump chose to whine and complain and attack someone who would have been among his most likely allies.

Whether you think the question was inappropriate or not is entirely irrelevant.  How Trump responded speaks volumes about his character and fitness for the office of the presidency.  Megyn Kelly showed the world who the real Donald Trump is. In thanks for that, she is being vilified mercilessly on social media.  Her Facebook post about the debate contains tens of thousands of negative comments suggesting she should be fired, or worse. I sincerely hope that the thousands of Tweets and Facebook comments being hurled at her are actually being generated by bots run by Trump, because if these are the sentiments of real human beings, I shudder to think what could happen in our next presidential election.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Symbol of Hate?

A few days ago a white man walked into a historic black church and killed 9 black people in a state that once supported the subjugation of black people, and officially sanctioned the notion of white superiority.  This white man left behind a trail of pictures on the internet of himself holding the Confederate Battle Flag and burning the American flag.  This man's writings admit that he believed blacks to be inferior, and asserted that apartheid was rational and justified.  This man claimed he was acting courageously to defend his own dominant race against another race, that clearly holds less power in our society.

Despite all of this, certain clueless white people still claim we will never know why this man committed these horrific crimes.  They insist that his actions were due to mental illness, which is absolutely true in a sense, but downplay the racist motives behind the attacks.  These same people would never dream of mentioning mental illness in the same sentence or paragraph about the motives of a foreign or domestic terrorist that was linked to Islamic extremism.  To do so would be seen as excusing or even condoning their beliefs. Anti-Islamists insist that the religion itself and all of its symbols are the root cause of the violence committed by it's followers, and that we must actively suppress and de-legitimize Islam in order to protect ourselves from these extremists.  These people will rail and scream at anyone who tries to defend Islam, which has billions of peaceful adherents and will blame those peaceful adherents for "complicity" in these crimes.  But many of these same people refuse to acknowledge their own symbol of evil that they continually fight to protect: the Confederate Flag.

Mitt Romney, a clueless white guy if there ever was one, actually had the courage to say that the Confederate Flag is a "symbol of hate to many" and called for it to be taken down.  It isn't clear whether he meant permanently or just for the short term to honor the fallen, but either way, for a rich white Republican to actually say this took some courage, because he knows it will cost him some support amongst his base of followers.  The flag obviously means many different things to different people, but to call the Confederate flag a "symbol of hate" is a gross over-simplification.

The flag first and foremost is a symbol of insurrection against the United States of America and treason against the Constitution - the war was instigated by a declaration of secession from the union, followed by willful resistance to the authority of the army of the United States.  It is a symbol of rejection of democracy - a refusal to accept the outcome of a national popular presidential election, even before that president could ever act.  It is a symbol of fascism and selfishness - of putting the interests of rich land-owners over the interests of the much larger population that lives within that land.  It is a symbol of absolute intransigence, an unwillingness to accept even gradual incremental progress - the mere limitation of the expansion of slavery into new states and territories. It is a symbol of elevating "states rights" over human rights - an insistence that regional concerns justifies war against your fellow citizens.

Defenders of the flag would like to claim that it represents a spirit of a resistance against tyranny, but it is actually a symbol of tyranny - tyranny of the white race over the black race.  They would like to believe it symbolizes the unity of a community against the aggression of another community, but it is actually the rejection of the authority of a just democratic government.  Confederate flag wavers would like to believe that they are free-thinkers dedicated to the ideal of individual rights, but it actually represents yet another time in history when "individuals" were manipulated by the rich and powerful to take up arms against other "individuals" to serve the interests of the powerful.  They would like to believe that the flag symbolizes what is good and pure about southern culture, but it actually represents the dark and evil under-belly of that culture.

Southern culture is unique, special, beautiful and even noble.  But like all other cultures on the planet, it is also imperfect, full of contradictions and flaws.  The traditions of a culture must never be held in higher esteem than progress toward human justice and equality for all.  The founders of this great nation understood that, and recognized that British culture was still a cherished part of their heritage even while they took up arms to sever ties to the British monarchy.  When they threw tea into the harbor, it wasn't a rejection of all things British, it was a rejection of the authority of a foreign government that was no longer acting in the bests interests of the colonies.  They needed a new flag to represent the new nation they formed, but they still respected the culture and the history that got them to that point. But when the rebel states created their own flag, they were rejecting their own government, created by and for their own people.  They were trying to claim that their own separate cultural identity was a valid reason for severing ties with their fellow Americans.  The rebels cannot claim they were acting in the same manner as the founding fathers, in truth they were rejecting those founding fathers.

When we see the Confederate Flag flying high at the South Carolina State House all Americans should see it for what it really is.  It is a statement by the government of South Carolina that rebellion was justified, and that their true allegiance lies not to the United States of America, but to a failed government from 150 years ago that was established solely to protect the interests of white slave-owning oligarchs. It flies there as if to say that South Carolina answers to a law higher than the Constitution of the United States of America.  It is there as a thumb in the eye to the North, a childish act of impudence meant to declare that no other government holds true authority over theirs.

If you believe that Southern culture is threatened by carpetbaggers from the North, or by illegal immigrants from Mexico, or by the growing Islamic population o whatever, then the best way to protect that culture is to improve it by weeding out the dangerous negative aspects of that culture. Southerners should take pride in those aspects of their culture that are worthy of celebration, and stop trying to tie those positive aspects to the symbols of their failures and their flaws.  Find a new symbol, I don't care what it is - peaches, magnolias, grits, tire swings, whatever - just pick something other than the flag of the confederacy.  Then we can all be proud that we've finally put the most awful event in American history behind us.

South Carolinians should not see removal of the flag as a total surrender to the inevitable demise of their unique cultural identity.  Nor should it be taken by anyone to mean that the southern states were the only ones guilty of racism.  Intelligent people who have studied our history know that racism was alive and well in the northern states, and the prevailing opinion was that the "Negro race" was inferior.  Even the great emancipator himself took many years before he finally was convinced that ending slavery entirely was the only way for the country to move forward. All of our ancestors were culpable in these crimes, the difference is, northern states don't proudly fly banners that commemorate the great lengths they went to perpetuate these crimes.

For over 50 years we've tolerated that flag, because our constitution and our culture honors free expression, and recognizes that symbols mean different things to different people. As an American, you are free to argue over my interpretation of what that flag means to me, and I won't debate you, because you are entitle to your opinion.  Nobody has ever forced the government of South Carolina to remove the flag, even though many have tried.  Surveys clearly show the majority of blacks see it a symbol of their oppression, but they tolerate it because they have much more important issues affecting their daily lives that need to be solved, before they worry about a petty symbol.  The Northern states that sacrificed many lives to protect this great nation, respect the sacrifices of their Southern counter-parts.  We have bent over backwards to allow Southern states to maintain some semblance of pride, even though their own former leaders like Robert E. Lee rejected the symbols of insurrection, and advised them "not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered."  Unfortunately, too many people are unwilling to leave the past behind.

The first amendment precludes us from eliminating this odious symbol by legislative mandate, and that is absolutely fair and correct.  We hold ourselves to a higher standard than nations like Germany, where the use of the Nazi swastika is strictly forbidden by law.  If it were up to me,  the Confederate flag like the Nazi swastika, would only be displayed in museums and history books so that we never forget what it was and what it came to stand for. But it is not my opinion that matters - it is up to the people of South Carolina to ultimately make this choice.  The people should choose symbols that represent them well, and for their own sake they should reject the Confederate flag.  The legislature of the state should immediately vote to remove this symbol from all public offices, to recognize that it works against the principals we hold dear.  They should remove the flag so that nobody in South Carolina will ever falsely believe that their state government condones the evil it represents.

When John McCain reversed his position on the flag in 2000 to pander to South Carolina's voters, he showed himself to be just another politician and diminished his worthiness to be president of the United States.  But so many politicians today are doing the exact same thing. If the legislature acts now to remove the flag, it will cost them future votes from many of their constituents that refuse to see what the flag really represents.  But it would be a refreshing sign to see politicians actually behave as statesman, and do what they know is right, rather than what will get them the most votes. In some small way, this might even help establish some faith in republican (small "r") government and maybe even help reverse the trend toward apathy and disenfranchisement amongst our youth.  But I hold no rational hope for such a thing to happen, until the majority of voters in the gerrymandered districts of South Carolina actually act to force their leaders into action.

Removing the flag from the state house won't end acts of terror such as those committed by the monster whose name I won't even use here.  It won't end racism, hate crimes, discrimination, Jim Crow systems of class suppression, or even completely enlighten whites to the true causes of the civil war.  But if it were removed today it would send an unambiguous signal that the people of South Carolina condemn the actions of this monster, reject the hatred that caused it and will no longer idolize and revere rebels and slave-owners above those that fought for freedom and a better life for everyone.  It would signify a forward thinking state that embraces progress over tradition, and one that is proud to be part of this great nation.  I call on all of the people of South Carolina, not just the ones with dark skin, to demand that their legislature take down that flag.  I think you'll feel much better when you do.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Catch This, Mitt

Dear Mitt,

I listened with great interest to the leaked audio of your comments to a small group of your ardent supporters because I was excited at the possibility of getting a chance to hear from you in a way that isn't possible through the media. These elections are so scripted and rehearsed that it's really hard to know what the candidates really believe. The system requires you to speak very carefully in public and makes it almost impossible for you to be perfectly frank. Everything you say is parsed, analyzed, scrutinized and sanitized to leave it devoid of any true content. The only things that get through are the short clever sound bites and these never really get to the heart of the issues. All we can do as voters is pick the candidate that seems the most capable of running through the obstacle course of the modern election process as a measure of your fitness and competence. In the end, it doesn't seem to matter what the candidates actually say, it only matters that they managed to avoid saying anything truly awful.

When I heard of this leak and the snippet that is getting the most attention I was also very skeptical. I first had to consider that the comments were taken out of context and distorted by your opposition. It doesn't seem like anyone in American politics is above taking a quote and leaving out the key words that make it clear what the speaker really meant. You've done this yourself repeatedly with the president's phrase "you didn't build that".  So it really wouldn't surprise me if Mother Jones had chopped off some key phrase or spliced together disjoint statements to make it sound like something you weren't really saying.   But I listened to the whole audio up to the point where you said that 47 percent of Americans are leeches, and unless you followed up those comments by saying "Just kidding! I was role playing the caricature of myself that the opposition portrays" I can't see how any additional context would change the true meaning of what you were saying.

First of all the number "47 percent" is the only thing in this statement that has any connection to reality.  It is true that nearly 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax.  Their income is still reduced by other federal payroll taxes, including Social Security, and they still pay state and local taxes.  Plenty of articles have been written already breaking down the statistics of why such a seemingly large percentage of Americans don't pay federal income tax, so I don't feel the need to go into all the details here.  But I think it should be pretty obvious to anyone that this group contains all sorts of different people and its very unlikely that all of those people are all unanimously voting as a block for Obama.  This is obvious hyperbole, and I can perhaps sweep that part under the rug.   I was willing to look past this as nothing but the usual political generalization.

Let's also put aside the fact that even some millionaires don't pay income tax if they live off their  investments only and don't listen to their financial advisors.  Let's ignore the fact that "78,000 tax filers with incomes between $211,000 and $533,000 paid no income taxes; 24,000 households with incomes of $533,000 to $2.2 million paid no income taxes, and 3,000 tax filers with incomes above $2.2 million paid no income taxes."  We don't need to argue about whether the income tax should be a truly progressive tax and why it's perfectly reasonable that a large percentage of Americans don't pay that particular tax.  But I am curious, did your father claim any income when he moved back from Mexico and collected welfare?  Anyway, I didn't start writing this blog simply because a politician again "refused to let the fact-checkers run their campaign."

Mr. Romney, if you really believe that 47 percent of this country supports Obama because he promises them a handout then you must really hate America.  Do you really believe that we're a nation of people that is so dependent on government that we just vote for whoever promises more free stuff?  I thought you said America was still the greatest nation on Earth?  If what you say is true, then we're already beyond hope.  If we as a society really thought that way, then the communists really won, the cold war was lost and your hero Ronald Reagan was a total failure.  I thought surely you can't possibly have such a low opinion of the American voter, but then I listened to the rest of your comments.  First there's the part where you say that all the detailed policy information you've provided won't have any significant impact on your electability.  Then there's the part where you said that nobody will be paying attention to politics all summer.  And then there's the part when you said that "being right early is not good in politics" and that "a highly intellectual subject or a discussion of a whole series of important topics typically doesn’t win elections".  Then there's the part where you say that you're going after the 5 to 10 percent of voters that are independent and "thoughtful", but even those people often vote based on "emotion", "whether they like the guy or not", or "what he looks like".  Taken in total, it sure seems like you have a very low opinion of the intelligence of the American voter.  This doesn't really come as any surprise to me, based on the way you've conducted your campaign, but it was still jarring to hear you speak so openly about how you intend to manipulate your way into the Oval Office.

Believe it or not Mr. Romney, there are people making less than a million bucks a year who do understand how capitalism really works.  We do understand that part of the role of government is to ensure that once wealth is obtained by legitimate means, it should not be taken away by force or coercion.  The rule of law protects the rich as well as the poor.  We do understand that the dream of becoming independently wealthy is the motivational engine that drives innovation and most of human progress.  We do understand the perils of socialism, and we want no part of it.  We do understand that eating the rich would eventually leave us hungry.  We are not moochers or looters.  We are free people trying have a happy peaceful existence by working hard and enjoying the rewards.  We don't want to kill the golden goose that we have given birth to in America.  Trust me, we get it. 

But many in your 53 percent think they get it, but they don't.  They think that they too can be part of the 1% if they just worked as hard as they do.  They think the problem with America is that government is taking too much from them in their taxes to give to the poor, or that the government takes too much from the rich and that money would otherwise somehow flow down to them.  They think there would be more good jobs if it weren't for all these pesky rules and regulations holding back all these "job creators."  Your message to them is that a vote for you will get the government out of the way resulting in a world where hard work and talent is always rewarded.

That message is appealing and I'd consider voting for a candidate that truly believed in meritocracy too.  But I don't believe you are that candidate.  Your party wouldn't be stupid enough to dismantle the social safety net either because it would ruin your chances of holding onto power..  Some Republicans will talk tough about privatizing Social Security or dismantling Medicare, but we know damn well they'll never do it because it would leave the majority of the American people at the mercy of the corporatocracy and we know how well we'll all fare when that happens.

So here's what really bothers me.  A short while ago you attacked the president saying that his message was to "promote envy as opposed to ambition and to poison the American spirit with class warfare."  I thought you were trying to show that Republicans are not really just about protecting the rich and the powerful.  I thought you stood for the idea of shared prosperity through capitalism.  I thought you were trying to say that there should be no "class warfare" between the "haves" and the "have-nots".  But then you stood up in front of the "haves" and declared that class warfare does exist, but don't worry, Mitt's on your side!  While you accuse the president of playing to the fear and anger of the poor, you blatantly exploit the fear and anger of the rich. These people that founded the Tea Party movement idealize the American Revolution when the rich and the poor allied against the government but they live in terror of the French Revolution when the poor attacked the government and the noble aristocracy alike. You know full well that the rich need the poor to sustain their lifestyle and your message to them is that as long as they raise money for you, you will sustain the status quo for them.  You people who forget that Ayn Rand was a novelist like to think you're saving the world for everyone, but all you're really doing is keeping the weak at war with themselves instead of focusing on the real issues.

At first, I was a little confused about which "job" you were talking about when you said "my job is not to worry about those people."  You couldn't be talking about the job of president, because your job as president would definitely include worrying about "those people."  I assumed you were not talking about your job as CEO of Bain Capital, because it goes without saying that in that role the only thing you would care about is increasing the wealth of your shareholders.  I thought maybe you were referring to your job as the savior of the Olympics, but that was too long ago and has no relevance to your candidacy.  It finally dawned on me that you were talking about your current job as the official professional spokesperson of the one percent.  You certainly don't have to convince anyone to take personal responsibility for themselves in that role.  All you need to do is convince enough people that all of the nation's problems are caused by "those people."

So I'm sorry to say Mr. Romney, that this voter who would once have considered voting Republican now cannot stomach the idea of casting a vote for you.  I once believed that you were really a moderate, pragmatic candidate who was tilting to the right only as a means to an end.  I thought once you got past the chump candidates that popped up every month to challenge your nomination, you would really shake that etch-a-sketch and reboot yourself as a rational candidate with conservative fiscal views and a moderate stance on social issues.  Instead you chose to keep going after the hard-core right wing votes that are so easy to come by if you just send the right hateful subliminal messages.  And even though I have to believe that you would govern no differently than any president since Reagan, I can't in good conscience cast a vote that would give validity to the tactics your party has been using to gain power.  It's time for people to stop being afraid to admit that government does have a role in society and that thinking so doesn't make you a leech.  I no longer just want you to lose Mr. Romney, I want you to lose in every single state of this United States.  I hope that your outsourced campaign consultants that you recruited from Algeria, Africa and Israel all see what a pathetic candidate you are and quit like Tim Pawlenty.  I'll explain to America that even if the stock market goes up for a day after you're elected, it sure isn't going to stay that way.  And if a situation like the Iranian hostage crisis does pop up for you to exploit before the election, I'll be sure to remind America how you longed for such an opportunity.

I will no longer sit idly by without at least doing this one small thing to help make sure that we never elect another fraud like you.


(a guy with the courage to use his real first name)

P.S. I'd be willing to bet that Leno hates your guts too.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

God Bless Stall Brook. To hell with Rush Limbaugh.

Breaking news: Today absolutely nothing happened!  Students at Stall Brook Elementary sang "God Bless the U.S.A." on key and with no lyrical mishaps.  You heard it here first because none of the crusading media could be bothered to follow up and report anything about it.

I now return you to the original blog...

A while back I setup this blog with the intent of discussing a topic that interests and concerns me both as a software engineer and as a citizen.  My theme is the way that humans are able to process information properly only when it is presented within the proper context.  This was around the time that Andrew Breitbart got Shirley Sherrod fired from her job by convincing people that she had said the exact opposite of what she actually meant.  I never got around to keying those thoughts into cyberspace, but it would have been a great blog.  You'll just have to take my word for it.

Today I feel compelled to write again because I find myself in the middle of a story that has proven everything I always suspected but had no direct proof of.  It's the kind of story that can make a person want to give up on the human race.  That is until you look around, talk to people and find that almost everyone you talk to feels the same way.  If America is so full of raving lunatics, where are they?  They're ranting to the media and getting far more attention than they deserve, but they're not the majority, no matter how loud they are.

Let's backup to the beginning.  A few days ago my wife got into a conversation with fellow parents of students in my daughter's elementary school because of a decision that was made which didn't seem right to her.  In 2012 when you start a conversation, where do you go?  The internet of course!  The conversation point was a touchy subject: the "G" word.  More precisely, the topic was the removal of the "G" word from a well known (but not so popular) country music song from the 80s.  She had heard from another parent that the students were going to sing this song at an assembly, but with the chorus modified to "We Love the U.S.A."  This was confirmed by our daughter who really didn't understand why it was changed, but wasn't fazed by it at all. 

This discussion prompted a few comments from parents who were convinced that this was a case of political correctness run amok.  However, a couple of parents had the courage to proclaim their atheism and explained how uncomfortable it was for them in school when they were told to recite or sing things with references to God or religion.  The other parents were respectful of that, but still didn't feel that changing the lyrics to the song was the right answer.  A number of people felt strongly that out of respect for the original author's work, the words to a song should not be altered.  The general consensus was that if the school had an issue with the lyrics, then they should have simply picked a different song.  Everyone, both heathen and non-heathen were in agreement that this was the simplest solution and really shouldn't be a major issue.

After hearing from the parents the next day, the school decided to drop the song from the assembly.  That wasn't what the parents wanted, but at least everyone's voice was heard and the problem was addressed.  My wife and I didn't feel that was the best possible solution, but it was good enough.  A couple of parents had commented that the whole discussion was exceptionally civil, polite and constructive.  Personally, I had a warm fuzzy feeling that for once, people were able to work out their differences the way they are supposed to - through open communication.

But not everyone was satisfied.  A woman who I shall not name was determined that the children must sing the song with the original lyrics intact.  Against the wishes of the other parents, this woman contacted the local Fox news affiliate and tattled on the administration of Stall Brook Elementary School.  The headline proclaimed that parents were outraged and implied that they were lining up to tell their story.  Against our wishes they showed video of a private email exchange between the parents which included words written by my wife and referencing my daughter.  It was only a tiny fraction of what was said in that discussion, but it was a good sample to represent the "outrage" that was supposedly prevalent.

From here on out, I will have a hard time telling this story without pausing periodically to remind you that this is not a work of fiction.  A few months ago a rabid fox was loose in my neighborhood.  It was tracked down in my own yard by the police and animal control.  The fox was shot and the story was reported on local news.  We thought, if that makes the news, it must really be a slow news day.  Little did I know that my town would later be invaded by Rabid Fox News when they had a slow news day.

Once the story was aired on the local TV news and published on their web-site, the feeding frenzy began.  Todd Starnes of "Bitter America" fame caught wind of it and decided to make it his pet story.  Over the next couple of days articles spread all over the country.  Lee Greenwood himself fanned the flames by saying he did not and would not give permission for anyone to perform his song without the word "God" in it.  We now have the perfect recipe for a great story - a hero, a villain, a pseudo-celebrity and a vaguely credible plot line.

The administration clearly wasn't prepared to handle the pressure from the local news media, never mind the national media.  After a first attempt to end the debate, they backed down completely and gave the students the option to sing or not sing the song with the original chorus.  Yay!  What a great victory for the defenders of God, liberty and apple pie!  Aren't we glad we have freedom of speech and a media that fights for the little guy?

As you can probably guess, the story caught the attention of Rush Limbaugh.  And when Rush speaks, he manages to capture in a few sentences all the insanity that has taken hold of this country:
"the story is there's just some do-gooder in there that wanted to avoid offend (sic) people. I don't think that's the case. I think these people are all activists, and they have an objective in mind, and that's to take God out of as much as they can in this country. It's full secularism on parade, no doubt in my mind."
But here's the problem with Rush's certainty.  Nobody ever got the facts from the teachers who made this decision in the first place.  Nobody asked them why they changed the lyrics to the song.  Were they on a mission to eliminate the word God from public places?  Were they bullied by a radical minority of atheists who threatened to sue them over this song?  We don't know the answer, because we never heard from the teachers.  Perhaps the media called their homes and tried, but I don't blame the teachers for not wanting speak to them.   Not having any statements from either the teachers or the parents never stopped them from reporting the story.  Once the story is out, the commentators get to fill in the blanks with their assumptions about what happened and then it spreads from news site to news site morphing just a little bit at every step, until the entire country hears a myth that Stall Brook teachers are radical atheists and Stall Brook parents want their heads on a stick.  But none of it is true.

The truth is the system was working until the vultures swooped in to make a few bucks off the gullible by blowing the story completely out of proportion.  Todd Starnes claims that things like this show up in the news daily.  Oh really?  Then why has this one dragged on for days already?  Shouldn't there be another story already for you to yammer on about?  Why don't you go be an actual journalist and do some research.  Look around at your own news web site for a start, and tell me just how often these things really do happen in a nation with 99,000 public schools!  Then go deeper into those stories and find out just how many are actually what they appear to be.  A good reporter might have asked some questions that would have shed light on my questions.  Perhaps they might have asked someone "Do the students recite the pledge of allegiance every day?"  Yes, they do, and they even say 'under God' if they so choose.  A better reporter might have even tried to investigate whether there were ever any other incidents where religious speech was ever stifled or suppressed at this school before painting it as a bastion of militant secularism.

Fox News and their ilk have convinced the people of this country that their friends and neighbors, the ones who take little pay to teach their children, are their enemies.  They've done this by relentlessly beating a drum about how the "minority" has gotten the upper hand over the majority.  They're right about that, but the minority that has taken hold of this country is them!  They insist that the battle ground of this war against the majority is our public schools.  By doing this, they've made it more and more difficult for teachers to do their jobs and make rational decisions about what they say and do.  They must constantly worry that some extremist on the left or the right might drag them into court, or bring news cameras into their school.  Worse, they have to worry that people might start making threats, and that the local police might have to lock down the school and keep the children indoors for recess.  Does that sound paranoid to you?  Well, that's exactly what happened.

The administration already had addressed the needs of their community before the media ever got involved.  The school was forced to react to uninformed people outside of their community that have no business dictating the content of our school assemblies.  Nobody in Bellingham was ever bullied by anyone to sing or not to sing, until Fox News showed up and tried to defend us.  The same people that claim that a federalist liberal elite are taking over your communities are routinely barging into those same communities and forcing them to cater to their demands.  The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

This country was founded to defend its people from tyranny in all its many forms.  The newest tyrant is the media and the people who buy into their nonsense.  I reject this tyrant.  I stand with the folks that are presenting my children with facts, not advertisements.  I stand with the people who are willing to hear what I have to say and not broadcast it distorted without its original context.  I stand with the people who educate, not manipulate.  I stand with the good teachers of my little Stall Brook Elementary School.  God Bless Stall Brook.  To hell with Rush Limbaugh.