Monday, February 20, 2017

Debunkery - The Mismatched Fruit Edition

I often get the urge to “unfollow” friends who keep posting “alternative facts” on Facebook, but then I remember that I’d be cutting myself off from an endless source of blog material.  So much better to copy the meme and then tear it apart here.

This one’s too easy.  Ahem… Who says we’ve spent all our infrastructure funds?  We haven’t… as if there is any such earmark for this sort of thing.  Congress can spend money on anything they please.  The only thing keeping the money from being spent on repairing roads, bridges, and dams is the Republican congress who would rather front 20 billion for a wall.  Or the Republicans who voted down infrastructure spending bills for the last six years while they controlled Congress.

Notice how Republicans only seek spending offsets (cuts to counter proposed spending) when the spending in question benefits the general public.  No one ever mentions offsets when passing bills that benefit big business or the defense industry. 

Funny how they always look for the offsets in those tiny little orange slices.

Instead of taking potshots at foreigners and the downtrodden, this meme should really say, “That awkward moment when you realize that the wall you’re building to keep the Mexicans out should have been built around Oroville, to keep out the floodwaters from the neglected dam.”


Right, because that’s the real tragedy… the handful of Americans killed by illegal immigrants.  Because we’re all fine with the tens of thousands killed by native-born Americans every year.  We obviously can’t do anything about those, or else the gun fetishists might not be able to get their hands on military-grade assault weapons whenever they get the itch for a new fix, without the crippling inconvenience of waiting a few days.  Or without being told, “No, because no civilian needs a gun that shoots 16 rounds per second.”

Someone wake me up when it’s time for the telethon to benefit those killed by pasty, squinty-eyed, racist, ex-military white men.  I’m pretty sure it won’t be carried by Fox “News” though.


Another complete "apples to oranges" comparison, which should have come with the hashtag, #IdiotLogic. People coming up with arguments like this are either too stupid to know any better or willfully ignorant of the details.  Or just a partisan hack bent on persuading poorly educated people.

The president (or his shills) telling you to buy his family’s line of clothing is a conflict of interest as described in the Constitution.  Said purchase benefits only the product owner and the person who buys the clothing. 

Same with creating the scenario in which foreign delegations throw business to a chain of hotels owned by the president and his family to curry favor with the administration.  It’s blatantly unconstitutional and if it was a rich Democrat hotelier in power, Republicans would be screaming bloody murder about the conflict of interest and threat to national security.

Being compelled to buy health insurance is one piece of a larger puzzle in which in return for paying premiums, customers receive health insurance and those in need of coverage avoid being declined.  The whole system saves money for the population in general.  Poor and uninsured people using the ER for general medical assistance and then not paying the bills cost the taxpayers money, in addition to clogging up the ERs.

If the GOP-controlled states would have genuinely participated, instead of refusing to get involved because of partisan politics, the costs would have come down over time.  More customers beget more insurers in the game, which begets competition, which begets lower prices. 

Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but where are the complaints about the same government FORCING US TO GET CAR INSURANCE?  It’s the same deal… you’re required to have car insurance so that the taxpayer don’t have to pay for your accident.  Just like with the ACA, you have to buy health insurance so that the taxpayer doesn’t have to pay for your treatment. 

Sure, you can refuse to own a car and get out of the insurance requirement.  But we all have a state of health and that will continue right up until the time we needn’t worry about insurance (or anything else) ever again.


This wasn’t a Facebook meme; it was a letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun this morning.  Here, the writer proposes another "apples to oranges" comparison, because it leaves out one very important point:  When Obama made the comment about having more flexibility after his election, he was talking about his second election.  He was already the president!  He was indicating there was room for agreement once he didn’t have to worry about how the opposition party was going to skew the news.

That is a situation light years from the one with the Trump administration-to-be.  Foreign powers deal with the executive branch, there can only be one chief executive at a time and Trump wasn’t it yet.  Then, of course, there was that whole “cover-up” thing and “lying to the VP” thing, but why quibble?

But yeah, sure, the two situations are exactly alike, and it’s only biased reporting that keeps the problem from coming to light.

Sometimes I think the newspaper only runs letters like these just to show the void of political thought from the right.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Debunkery - The Freedom Edition

I had no idea what I was going to write about today, but luckily Facebook came to the rescue.  I can always count on my conservative friends to provide some alternative facts in need of a good debunking.

Short answer: No, not unless we’re trying to become a theocratic dictatorship.

Why is it that for as much as they condemn Middle Eastern theocracies, conservatives usually want to do the same things that they do.  They want to pass laws banning enactment of Sharia law, (as if that’s even possible, under the Constitution, to enact), all the while pushing for more Christian influence over government activities.

The religious right is all for “religious freedom,’ as long as it’s THEIR religion.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a large swath of the Bible belt that would like the outfits in the top picture banned as well.  Or at minimum, pixilated.  (Even in real life.)


Another attempt to bolster the legitimacy of their asterisked President. 

Republicans have a vested interest in keeping the Electoral College for no other reason than it has given them two of the last three presidents.  It’s in their own self-interest.  And I guarantee that if it went the other way around, they would be itching to scrap it.

For some reason, conservatives seem to think that their loss in the popular vote can be mitigated by trying to separate California from the rest of the states.  But it really boils down to this: “Yeah, Trump would have won the popular vote if only you didn’t count all the people who voted for him…”

Democrats could say the same thing… “Without Texas and Oklahoma, Trump loses the electoral vote.”

When it comes to the presidency, the state by state breakdown shouldn’t really matter that much.  The president represents the whole country.  It’s Congress that was designed to level out the non-uniform population of the states.  That’s why we have a House of Representatives that is tied to population, a Senate that provides the same level of representation for every state, and every law must pass both houses before being brought to the president.

How people are arranged throughout the country should not be a determining factor in a presidential election.  Major cities have more population than the entire state of Wyoming.  States that contain these cities should have more of a say than a state where people are outnumbered by cows. 

A vote is a vote and Trump lost by almost three million of them.  There’s no way to massage the numbers to make it not so.  (Well, other than to claim they were 3 million fraudulent votes and they all went to Hillary, and then provide no proof whatsoever.)


This one came with a plea to just give the man a chance.

Right.

We’ll give the man the same chance Republicans gave the previous president.  Which is to say, “None.”

Let’s take this one line by line, shall we?

“He didn’t say you couldn’t have an abortion, he said you have to pay for it yourself.”

If that was true, then he didn’t have to say anything at all, because that’s been the way it is for years.  There are no public funds used for abortions.  Zero.  Yet he’s joined the Pence push to defund Planned Parenthood, which means they’re really preventing money from going to reproductive health care and birth control, the latter of which is the number one way to lower the need for abortion.  If Republicans were serious and genuine about reducing the number of abortions in America, they’d double or triple the funding for Planned Parenthood. 

He didn’t say refugees were not welcome… he said let’s make sure they are not here to harm us before we let them in.”

Refugees already had a 2-year vetting period, wherein the government made the determination that they (meaning the mostly women and children) were not a threat.  Stopping all visa and green card holders, many of which had already been living here peacefully for years, is a knee-jerk reaction to white people’s sense that they’re losing their influence.  If this were really about safety, why were the countries who supplied all the 9/11 terrorists exempted from the order?  (I mean, besides the fact that Trump and a bunch of oil execs/big GOP donors have substantial business holdings in those countries.)

He didn’t say Mexicans couldn’t come in… he said come in the right way, not through the back door.”

No one debates that we should try to prevent illegal immigration.  But he’s spending 20 billion dollars on a wall to try to keep them out, even though it’s the most ineffective deterrent available.  With the same kind of executive order, he could decree that there be stiff penalties and jail time for hiring undocumented immigrants and send the justice department out to find violations.  The jobs would dry up and thus the flow of illegal aliens.  Granted, a salad would cost us $25…  But the GOP is not going to do anything to stymie business owners.  Better to blow all that money on a wall. 

Meanwhile, conservatives moan about how we can “pay for refugees but not war veterans.”  

It's not an "either/or" proposition.  We can do both.  But I think the Republicans prefer to keep the veterans issue as a political bludgeon.  If they were interested in solving that problem, it would be done.

He’s not taking away anyone’s freedom, he’s keeping us safe and unfunding things that should never have been funded in the first place.”

This one’s hard to dissect because it’s so vague, I have no idea to what the author refers.  But I can see several freedoms Trump and his moralistic “advisors” are seeking to remove:

·        Freedom to choose if and when to reproduce, by seeking to defund (and therefore close) the most common places to obtain an abortion (or long-term birth control.)

·        Freedom to vote without jumping through expensive hoops, designed with “surgical precision” to prevent non-Republicans from voting.

·        Freedom to come and go from this country as we please. (The “we” being limited to anyone born (or whose parents were born) in select Muslim countries.)  Contrary to the prevailing conservative wisdom, the Constitution applies to everyone within our borders, not just citizens.  So sayeth the courts.

·        Freedom of the press to report on matters of interest to the people of the United States.

·        Freedom of LGBT folks to marry who they choose.

So far, the only freedom the right seems to be promoting is the freedom to discriminate based on one’s religion.

Then there are the things they’re trying to “unfund,” like:

·        Planned Parenthood, the most important source of health care for low-income women.

·        National Endowment for the Arts, the cost of which can only be seen with a microscope, when compared to the defense budget or oil company subsidies.

·        The Affordable Care Act, which SAVES money for the country over time, by providing preventative care and staves of using the ER as a primary care service, often at taxpayer expense.

·        Public schools and the EPA.  Both departments had cabinet members appointed who have stated intentions to blow up the institutions they now run.

That’s simply the way I see it… if I’m wrong, please correct me.”

You’re wrong.  See above.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How Does This Serve the American People? (Updated)

OK, enough with the happiness that has descended over my life and continues unabated.  Let’s get back to how this country is swirling right down the tubes.

We know Donald Trump campaigned aggressively about “draining the swamp” and reining in Wall Street influence over the financial policy.  And now we know how hollow those promises were, as he promptly installed a series of billionaire bankers and Goldman Sachs executives into cabinet and senior advisory positions. 

Now he just signed an executive order to look into unraveling the Dodd-Frank banking regulations law, which was passed in the wake of the Bush financial crisis and recession, to ensure that bankers can no longer place high-stakes bets with taxpayer money to bail them out.

Such a law seems like a no-brainer, right?  Protect The People from reckless banking schemes?  You have to ask, “Who does it serve to strip Dodd-Frank of its bite?

Well, it serves the bankers, who would love nothing more than to go back to the way things used to be, when they could do as they pleased, with no oversight or social conscience.

Trump stated, “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, who have nice businesses who can’t borrow money. They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank” 

Seemingly within minutes, former congressman Barney Frank called him out as a liar.  The congressman, who is the “Frank” in “Dodd-Frank” co-authored the bill and said that there is nothing contained in the bill that applies to preventing companies from obtaining loans.  He said, “There are no restrictions on lending in this bill. There are restrictions on the manipulation of derivatives of complex financial instruments like the ones AIG used that got people into serious trouble.”

This seems to be the theme of Trump’s first weeks in office.  Who, exactly, benefits from these executive orders?  Doesn’t seem to be us…

The House Republicans also wrote plans to eliminate the rules designed to keep guns from people with severe mental disabilities.  Jesus, isn’t that exactly who we don’t want running around with guns?  Same with known terrorists… no wait… they already killed plans to check the Terror Watch List before allowing a gun sale, during the last term.

Someone explain to me how the public is served by allowing terrorists and people with severe mental health problems to own the lethal firepower of their choosing because I’m at a loss. 

Whenever there’s yet another mass shooting, everyone says, “We have to do a better job at treating those with mental problems.”  Can’t we do that first, before we suit them up with a semi-automatic rifle?  (Of course, that’s only if the shooter is a white guy.  If it’s a brown person, the only answer is to close the borders.)

Congressional Republicans drew up and passed a bill to kill anti-bribery and environmental regulations.  How, exactly, does the American public benefit from making it easier to bribe energy company officials?

And speaking of the energy business, last week the House GOP voted to eliminate regulation that prevents mining companies from dumping coal mine waste into nearby streams.  Who exactly thinks that streams are a good place for mining waste?  Besides coal mine operators?  This is another example of Republicans being indifferent to even the most basic environmental concerns if there’s money to be made.

It’s not like we’re talking about killing construction projects because they threaten some fish that no one’s ever heard of.  It’s dumping toxic chemical and mineral waste into running streams.  You do know that water ends up somewhere, right?  How does the American public benefit from poisoning our waterways? 

They don’t, obviously.  Only coal companies do… companies who give big to Republican politicians, who they count on to remove any disincentive to mining in the least expensive way possible.  (“Screw the worker safety precautions!  We’ll just get more miners!”)

Was this really what Trump’s voters wanted?  I mean the “rank and file” voters, not the big business voters who supplied all the ad money.  Obviously, it’s exactly what THEY wanted.

He didn’t run on propping up big business, he ran on a populist agenda to help the average American.  Granted, “average Americans” who believed him are guilty of wearing the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. 

At no time was Trump ever interested in doing anything for people who aren’t filthy rich.  He just played to everyone’s prejudices and fears in order to get their vote and then turned on a dime once elected. 

This will be an ongoing point I’ll be making for the next four years: how are the president’s actions benefitting the American people?

I’m pretty sure you’ll see that any correlation between a new Republican-sponsored law or executive action, and a benefit to the average American, will be coincidental at best.  But each and every one will benefit the rich and powerful.

Other than the anti-gay/religious freedom stuff.  That’s earmarked as bones to be thrown to the Pence/Evangelical voters who got Trump the presidency.  Trump gives less than a fuck about gay rights or religious freedom, but Pence does.  Trump will go along with it because it doesn’t really cost the rich anything, plus it keeps the rest of us distracted from his real plans.

Stay tuned.

Late Update
I saw in Tuesday's newspaper that Trump signed another executive order which delayed the implemenation of an Obama rule that would change how brokers advise their clients.  From the Baltimore Sun:

"Under the rule, proposed by the Obama administration last February, brokers who sell mutual funds, stocks, bonds, annuities and other products must meet strict standards requiring them to put their clients' best interest above all else when giving investment advice."

I ask you, in what way are the American people served by eliminating a rule that makes brokers serve their clients' best interest??  I mean, it's amazing that such a rule is even necessary.  But Republicans want it gone and the only conclusion one can draw is that they are eager to let brokers continue to use their clients as suckers upon whom they can sell whatever goods will bring back the biggest bonus.

Republicans are not on our side; they care only for their rich benefactors and this executive action shows that clearly.

But everyone was worried about Hillary's ties to Wall Street, right?

Nice analysis there, America.  You deserve every screwing this administration heaps upon you.

Monday, January 30, 2017

And Then Suddenly, Out of Nowhere...

We take a break from this week’s furor du jour to actually discuss something good that happened to me.  Amazing, even.

I met someone.

Not just anyone; SOMEONE…   And I’m just over the moon about it.

It all started on Sunday, January 15th, the day the Steelers played the Chiefs in the NFL playoffs.  I was at my local sports bar late that afternoon, watching the Cowboys/Packers game which preceded the Steelers.  Unbeknownst to me, there was a woman at the other end of the bar who liked what she saw.  (There’s no accounting for taste, I know.)

I didn’t know this until later, but she actually texted a friend of hers, another “regular,” to see if he knew my name.  He did, but it was the wrong name.  He thought my name was “Brian.”

It didn’t matter because eventually, she came up to the waitress station to order a drink (right beside my usual seat) and commented on my Steelers jersey.  We struck up a conversation from there.  Judging from my mug, she saw that I was a regular and asked when I usually come in. 

I said “Fridays for happy hour and Sunday afternoons for football.” 

There was no question that she was interested.  I was getting the full-on googly eyes.

She said, “Well, I hope I get to see you here again,” and began to walk toward the door.

Knowing that there were only two “football Sundays” left in the year (including the Super Bowl), I decided not to leave it to chance, so I did something bold.

I took her hand and said, “Look, why don’t we just go out?”

She was like, “OK!” and asked for my phone number, which I wrote on a napkin.

She asked me a few direct questions… Was I married?  Where did I work?  Stuff like that.  I was impressed.  I like “direct.”  I do not like hinting around.  And it also gave me the chance to get the same information from her.

After talking for a few more minutes, she left, leaving me sitting on my barstool going, “WTF just happened here?”  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  I sat there grinning like a monkey.  I told the bartender, (who has been tending to my bar needs for as long as I’ve been going there), “I think I just got a date!”  She was very happy for me.

I couldn’t believe I didn’t let her get away.  Asking her out like that is just not something I would have done ten years ago.  I chalk it up to being over 50; I don’t have the time or patience to do the dance anymore.  The last thing I wanted to do was to keep showing up there, wondering if I’d ever run into her again.  Later on, she told me she really liked that I didn’t let her go.

So, you probably want to know what she’s like.  Now she’s very private and doesn’t quite understand why people like me put their lives out here on a blog, so I promised I wouldn’t give away too much.  But here are a few things…

She’s a couple years younger than me.  She has brown eyes, long black hair, and is tiny!  Without heels, she only comes up to mid-sternum on me.  She’s a teacher who has taught from kindergarten through 2nd grade.  She has her own house and a 4-year old yellow lab.  Never married, no kids.

For purposes of this blog, I will call her Sweetpea.  (Remember, peas are one of the few vegetables I like.)

She started texting me a little bit later, so I could capture her phone number and engage in a little more Q and A.  She asked my last name, which I provided, and told her I was Italian.  She gave me hers and said she was of German descent.  She said she was raised Catholic and asked if I was.

[Gulp.]  I said “Yes, but I’m much better now.  I usually call myself a ‘Recovering Catholic.’  Or a heathen.”

Then about three minutes of radio silence ensued.  I was sure I’d just blown it.  But I gotta tell it like it is, don’t I?

She finally texted back, saying, “Ha!  Perfect.”

Phew… Calamity avoided.

We decided to meet the next afternoon; we were both off for MLK Day.  We ended up coming back to the sports bar, where we had a nice three-hour lunch and began rolling through our stories.  (And as you may know, I have a LOT of story.)

The only downside was that I had intended to bring my nephew’s birthday present out to his house on Monday, but that got scrubbed.  I told him the news via text and then said, “I figured you have a birthday every year… but how often do I have a DATE?”  Lucky for me, the boy was understanding.  (Happy birthday, Daniel!)  I probably ought to stop calling him “boy.”  Young man just turned 18.

Daniel was the first person I told and only because it was necessary.  I think new dating prospects are like pregnancies.  You don’t want to tell anyone until you know it’s going to “take.”  No sense suffering a loss in front of any more people than need be if things end too soon.  So only a very few people knew what was going on.

Before we ended lunch, we made plans for dinner the following Saturday and had another multi-hour conversation.  Sadly, she had a bit of a cold that night, so no kiss goodnight.

The next Tuesday, she invited me to her place for dinner and the meeting of the dog.  (aka The Beast.)  She’d already told me that he didn’t much like men and barked at them whenever they addressed him.  As a solution, she taped a baggie of dog treats to give to him upon my arrival.

It worked out well; the beast likes me just fine.  I thought it might have been the treats, but then she later said that she’d told him all about me before I got there.  Never underestimate what a dog understands.

Anyway, I got my goodnight kiss… lasted about two and a half hours.

She had me over for dinner again the next Friday, where I met a neighbor of hers and her dog.

By this time, I knew it was time for a night on my turf, so I had her over for dinner at my place on Saturday night.  I was up early, though, and poised to leap into action to straighten up a little, do some shopping, and create a pot of my fabulous bowtie pasta and sauce.

First, though, I saw she accepted my Facebook friend request, so (with prior permission) changed my relationship status to “In a Relationship.”  I thought I’d be able to keep it just as a piece of personal data, but apparently, relationship statuses have to come out as a post.  I thought there was a privacy setting to prevent that (I know there used to be) but it’s not there now, so I was a bit alarmed when the post appeared in the news feed and began drawing “likes.”

But first I wanted to check my own timeline, to see what kind of stuff my new girlfriend was going to see from me.

Two hours later I managed to claw my way out of the rabbit hole when I thought, “Shit, I guess I better call the parents and let them know, so they don’t hear about this when Dad logs onto Facebook.”  (Luckily he hadn’t seen it yet, so I got to give them the good news personally.  But that was another hour gone.)

While we were talking, they asked if I’d done a house cleaning.  I said no because the place looked to be in pretty good shape.  But then I looked up at the bird ornaments hanging on my dining room chandelier and thought, “Hmm, I should probably dust those.”

As I gave them a quick once-over with my Swiffer duster, I remembered that there was some dust on my dark wood bookshelves too.  Next thing you know, I’m dusting every vertical and horizontal surface in the apartment, like a Swiffing tornado.  For a place I thought looked pretty good, the duster looked like I’d just cleaned the inside of a coal mine.

Right as I was finishing with that, she texted me, wanting to know how the sauce was coming.

Gah!  Now I really had to start that leaping.  I cut off my plans to go all the way out to the Wegman’s (20 minutes away) and went to my local grocery store (five minutes away) instead.  I zipped through the aisles, then zipped through the adjacent deli/liquor store for some wine.  Then I bee-lined back home, stowed the groceries and hopped in the shower.

Newly freshened, I made for the kitchen to start browning the ground beef for the sauce.  Before I can even flip on the burner, the phone rang… it’s my buddy the VP of Hell No, wanting to know about my new squeeze.  Understandable.  And I wanted to tell him all about it, but I had to limit it to the Reader’s Digest version. 

From there, the sauce went together perfectly and the bowties were al dente. 

There was still plenty of time for the sauce and pasta to simmer, while I gave Sweetpea the Grand Tour around the premises.  (As you may recall, I have a lot of things to see in there, from music business trophies to great works of art. (Snicker.)


She was sufficiently impressed, which is to say, she didn’t hate it.  The Hat Wall amused her.  The only negative of the night was when she softly told me, “I like everything in here, but I don’t think I can look at that Terrible Towel all the time.”

Sigh… yes, she is a Ravens fan, but she doesn’t seem too rabid about it.  But it was a good thing I didn’t have all my Championship Towels up on display.  I did have some Orioles stuff up, so I hope that bought me some good will.

When the tour hit the kitchen, I showed her my cyclamen.  Seems a small bud formed right about the time we met and just began blooming the day before.

A good sign.

I went back to her place Sunday afternoon and killed the rest of the day there.  That made six dates in two weeks.  I have a pretty good feeling that this one is going to “take.”  At least I’m going to do my best to make it so.

Wish me luck!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Protests

It’s ironic that the mid-Atlantic is being buffeted by high winds today; the winds of change are definitely emanating from the nation’s capital.

Our new leaders are barely even pretending they intend to serve the country.

Congress has made it plain that they don’t listen to us, they listen to the rich people who pay for their campaigns, and the rich people want the ACA gone so that they get a break on their taxes.  The fact that they ignore the popular support for the ACA and try to hide the ramifications is all the proof you need. 

If they cared what the American people thought, they would look at national polling and obey the will of the people.  That didn’t happen, did it? 

Of course, they will say, “The American people voted for Trump, who campaigned on eliminating Obamacare.”  And they’re right, to a point.  He did get elected. 

But look at the people coming out of the woodwork now, who voted for Trump but don’t want their health care taken away.  Some of these brain surgeons didn’t realize that the ACA WAS Obamacare.  They just believed it when Fox “News” told them Obamacare was bad, because, you know… Obama.  Republicans are nothing if not highly skilled at getting people to vote against their own best interests.

I was heartened to see the vastness of the Women’s protests on Sunday.  Unreal crowds all over the country and the presence in DC dwarfed the showing for the inauguration.

The protests are nice and all; inspiring even, but they won’t mean anything unless people mobilize to take back the House and Senate in 2018.  I think the protests are kind of a feel-good thing and the participants get to feel like they contributed.  At best, I think they demonstrated that they have numbers to be ignored at one’s own peril.

But in order to make any kind of tangible change, those numbers are going to have to manifest themselves through the voting booth.

That’s going to be a long shot both ways. 

The House is so effectively gerrymandered; it would take widespread philosophical conversions from Democrat to Republican to convert current GOP districts.

In the Senate, there are far more Democratic seats up for grabs than there are Republican ones so there would have to be a Democratic landslide to change the balance of power there.

I think the best case scenario is for a bunch of those marchers decide to run for congress.  We need competent candidates to represent a liberal or humanist agenda.  Then go out there and convince people, across the district or state, that their ideas are right and their opponents ideas and actions are wrong.  Hang them with their own words and deeds.  In two years, a lot of these congressmen might be ripe for the picking, depending on how far down the toilet the middle class has swirled.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration, just to avoid getting off on the right foot straight out of the gate, is already lying to us.  Obvious, blatant lies, like the inflated figures regarding attendance at the inauguration.  And they’re blaming the media, (as always) for factually reporting these falsehoods.

“Seriously!  The shot on the right actually has more people!  Come on, I mean it!” (Source)

Press Secretary Spicer’s point in a nutshell: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

Have you ever heard President Obama talk about the attendance figures for his inauguration(s), or ANY appearance, for that matter?  Ever hear him talk about ratings?  Any other president?

Of course not.  A president should be above these petty concerns.  But not this one.

This kind of stuff is not normally important, but Trump’s incessant crowing about his popularity and focus on ratings makes it newsworthy.  Obviously, size really does matter to him.

And now his favorite spokesweasel, Kellyanne Conway, defiled the English language, as well as common sense, by claiming the President is entitled to “alternate facts.”

Really.  Like that’s a thing.

“Alternate facts” are not facts at all; they’re just lies Republicans desperately wish were true.

So look at it.  Look how easy it is for them to lie to us.  They just toss this stuff out there; things that are easily proven false with no more than a cursory review, and expect us to believe them.  And then they blame the media as if it’s their fault for providing actual “non-alternate” facts to prove them wrong.

Did you ever notice that the first thing a despot does upon seizing power is control or neuter the press?  It’s no accident that it’s already started here.  And just like with the rest of the GOP bullshit, they know if they keep repeating it, their sheep will come to believe it. 

As I’ve repeated here often, it is the press’s job, their very reason for existence, to ask hard questions to those in power and seek the truth.  (The real truth, not some alternate truth.)  They’re going to have their work cut out for them because with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the executive branch, they’re already putting up walls to keep us from seeing what they’re up to.

In just the last week:

·        They voted to eliminate the Department of Congressional Ethics, so no one will ever be held accountable for their misdeeds.  (Yes, it was reversed, but only after considerable protest.  But why do you think they thought it was a good idea in the first place?)
·        They also threatened the Chair of the Ethics Committee, telling him how he’d better pipe down if he knew what was good for him.  “Ix-nay on the Ethics-ay.”
·        They arranged high profile nomination questioning simultaneously, so to divide the opposition, and enforce strict time limits on questioning, to provide an atmosphere where the nominees could say as little as possible and get out the door without having to actually take a stand or say what they plan to do.
·        They are already tearing out the basic protections afforded by the ACA, without so much as a plan, for how to replace it.  At least, nothing they’ll publicize.

So yes, protests are good… they’re fine… but they don’t change anything without political action.  The only way to achieve what the people are protesting for is to replace the people with whom they disagree on policy.  Because these guys in office now?  They don’t give a rat’s ass what you want.  They answer only to those who put them in office; the wealthy upper-crusters who bankrolled their campaigns, and in effect, bought them lock, stock, and barrel.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump Nuggets

I’ve seen a bunch of little items in the news last week, but none meaty enough to fluff up into its own post.  So let’s just jam them together and see what we can make of them.

Not Putting Divest Foot Forward
It’s not surprising that Trump is trying to sidestep the divestiture issue.  He can trot out as many file folders as he wishes, but as long as his family is running the business, he has not divested at all.  Do you think outside influences won’t try to curry favor by throwing business at the sons?  They know it’s Trump’s, Trump knows it’s Trump’s; he’s not fooling anybody.

If there’s a conflict of interest, he’s never going to do something to hurt “his sons’” business.

Further, there’s no reason he can’t buy right back into the business when he leaves office.  Any money the business earns will still be there… unless of course, it’s blown on more commissioned paintings of Trump.

The only way to solve this problem is to sell off his properties.  Yes, that’s a big bite to take, but he should have thought of that before running for president, rather than threatening the head of the Ethics Committee for pointing out the breach.

Taxing Our Patience
Trump still hasn’t released his taxes and now says he’s not going to, because “No one but reporters are interested.”

Falser words have never been said.

Yes, reporters keep bring up the issue of his tax returns because that’s their job: to ferret out information from those in power to provide to the rest of us. 

I’m pretty sure his entire goal was to string out the process until it was too late for his refusal to hurt him.  He never had any intention of releasing his returns, because they show what he’s been up to, in stark terms.  You can’t spin data like that.  Either he gave to charity or he didn’t.  Either he has business interests in Russia or he doesn’t. 

He doesn’t dare lie on his tax returns, but he has no problem lying to the rest of us.  Hence the continuing dodge.

Pressing His Luck
Speaking of lying through one’s teeth, I saw that our President-Elect has his first press conference.  Remember when Presidents had press conferences and all you read about was what they said? 

With this guy, his words can’t stand alone; there has to also be a separate article with that fact-checks.  The Washington Post did one that supplied 14 instances where Trump lied, exaggerated or provided misleading information out of context. 

He also spent time attacking the press, which is logical for him, because they’re the ones providing the proof that he’s lying.  Obviously, it would be much easier for him if he were able to lie without being challenged with things like “proof” or “evidence” or “video of him saying the complete opposite of what he just said,” or “tape of him saying what he just said he never said.”  You know how those no-good press hacks work…

CNN took the most heat, for nothing but doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.  They reported a story that was serious enough that the national security services were investigating it, and specifically noted that much of the story was uncorroborated.  (The story is about the Russians having damaging evidence of Trump cavorting with Russian hookers.)

See, that’s journalism.  It’s their job to inform the public of what those in power are doing, even if it embarrasses the powers that be.  Now, to me, it doesn’t matter if it’s hookers or financial sweetheart deals.  What matters is that it’s something Putin can use as leverage to get what he wants out of the president he just had installed.  And we’re not supposed to hear about that?

It was funny how in his own defense, Trump said that we should discount the story because Putin said it wasn’t true.

Right.

That’s like coming home and finding your kitchen covered with chocolate syrup, with chocolate syrup footprints leading to your kid’s room, who you find covered in chocolate syrup, and believing him when he says, “I didn’t do it.”

Sometimes, you have to draw your own conclusions.

Weapons of Mass Distraction
While it often seems otherwise, I think Trump knows exactly what he’s doing.  Have you noticed what everyone’s talking about lately?  Trump’s tweets about civil rights legend John Lewis.

And what were we talking about last week?  Trump’s feud with Meryl Streep.

I think that’s exactly what he wants, because while we’re talking about this fringe stuff that really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, no one’s talking seriously about the efforts to pack the government with millionaires who want to disassemble the government for their own benefit.  While we’re puffing at each other with righteous indignation, he’s hustling these 1-percenters through the nomination process.
I think Trump sends these inflammatory tweets to keep us right where he wants us, which is obsessing over trivia while he manipulates the land of Oz from behind the curtain.  The last thing he wants is for anyone to notice what he’s doing.

Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Get All Pissed Off
The Republicans really hate it when the Democrats use their tactics.  All this bellyaching about how those terrible Democrats are trying to delegitimize Trump as president?

I seem to remember a five-year campaign to do exactly that to President Obama, by suggesting he is not a legitimate American citizen.  That was conducted without a single shred of evidence, against every official public record that said otherwise and spearheaded by the guy that's screaming the loudest about being delegitimized right now.

But now, with boatloads of evidence that Russia interfered with the election, and used the very same tactics the Republicans did, we’re not supposed to ask any questions? 

Republican pleading for national unity can go fuck themselves right in the ear.  You cannot devote eight years to delegitimizing, obstructing, slandering and raging against an opposing political figure and then expect the opponents to provide a ticker-tape parade for your guy.

Back when Republicans thought they were going to lose, they had plans in place to tie Hillary up in investigations, block Supreme Court nominations until a Republican was in office, four years later at the soonest, and obstruct like a three-layer cheese sandwich.  But now they want the Democrats to play nice?  For the good of the country? 

If they were truly interested in the good of the country, they would have found a way to at least pass an infrastructure bill sometime during the last eight years, which would have provided jobs and fixed our broken roads, bridges, and dams.  But they didn’t pass jack-shit.  The last thing they wanted was Obama getting credit for something, so they held “the good of the country” hostage to their own ambitions.

Reap what you sow, assholes, and you’ve sown a real shit-storm.  Some of us have looooong memories.

Or in my case, a blog where I wrote all this shit down. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

The New Regime

I know I haven’t written much of anything about our new… gulp... President, which is weird because there is so much going on.

But it’s one of those things that’s so bizarre; you don’t even know where to start.  Plus, EVERYONE has been writing and broadcasting about it.  It’s hard to find something new.  I doubt I’ll succeed here myself.

The main thing I learned during this presidential campaign is that people are immune to facts they don’t want to believe.  They vote with their emotions and there is no way to use facts to bludgeon your way through an emotionally made up mind.  (Or corrections, analogies or any other logical instrument.)

That’s a tough pill to swallow because that’s the only weapon I care to wield.  I need things to make sense, I seek to disparage hypocrisy, I call a spade a spade and a lie a lie.

But right now, up is down, down is up, the sky is green and the Commies are our friends.  All it took was someone in power to use that old saw, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?

I think I was the rightest I’ve been in a long time, back in November when I said we shouldn’t worry about Trump being a racist Nazi, we should worry about him being a typical pro-business Republican.

And what was the first thing he did?  He packed his cabinet nominations with other filthy-rich billionaires and military generals.  He picked people to run departments that they’d spent the latter parts of their lives trying to undermine or eliminate. I mean, look at some of these guys:

·        Jeff Sessions, nominee for attorney general, enemy of civil rights and women's rights. He was considered too racist to confirm as a federal judge by fellow Republicans in 1986. He’d be responsible for enforcing the country’s civil rights laws.

·        Steve Mnuchin, the nominee for treasury secretary, former Goldman Sachs executive who got rich at the expense of working Americans. He ran a bank called a "foreclosure machine" that kicked people out of their houses, using techniques so coldblooded a federal judge called them “harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive.”  Not to mention, his name looks like a typo.

·        Scott Pruitt, nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, climate science denier. As Oklahoma Attorney General, he has repeatedly sued the EPA to attack the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule, even took credit for a letter criticizing the EPA, which was actually written and delivered to him by a big oil company’s top lobbyist.  The EPA would become functionally irrelevant under his watch, which is exactly how he wants it.  Clean air and water would become collateral damage in pursuit of the fossil fuel industry’s profits.

And now that the new Congress is convened, what was their first order of business?  To neuter the independent Ethics Committee.  And just because they backed off shouldn’t keep us from questioning why they thought it was a good idea in the first place.  In what possible way would killing the Ethics Committee serve the American People?  There is none.  People eliminate oversight when they don’t want anyone to know what they’re up to. 

Same reason they passed a bill to ban legislators from filming themselves on the Senate floor.  They want to make sure the only things coming out of the chamber is those which serve the Republican Party.

They are not interested in governing; they are interested in the maintenance of their own power and that of their benefactors.

Last I heard, Congress was going to repeal Obamacare but not have it go into effect until after the next election, to insulate themselves from the fallout.  So I have to ask; if the backlash is going to be that powerful that they fear for their re-election, isn’t that a strong message to heed the will of the people and leave the ACA alone?  Whose interests are they serving here?  Who benefits when this insurance disappears from the grasp of people who need it?

And they still have no idea how to replace it.  Sure, they like all the fun parts, like no pre-existing conditions and keeping the kids on a family plan until they’re 26.  But that only works if healthy people also have the insurance, hence the dreaded purchase mandate.  The Republicans are like a pushover daddy who tells the kids they don’t have to eat a well-balanced meal, they can just have candy for dinner.

Then there’s the whole Russian election influencing issue.  First, they claim the Russians did nothing because Putin said so and the entire intelligence apparatus of the United States is wrong about it.  Now they’ve moved onto “Well, maybe they did, but it didn’t have any effect.”

Seriously?  The Russians did exactly what the GOP has been doing for the last eight years.  They created a scandal through a constant drip-drip-drip of email leaks and manufactured fake news stories that made Hillary look like a crooked scandal monkey. 

If Republicans didn’t think it would have an effect, why the 11 Benghazi investigations?  Why the cottage industry of fake news stories to push on social media?  They know that keeping “Hillary” and “scandal” in the same sentence for years would take a toll on the public’s psyche.  People who only half pay attention to the news, (and they are legion); that’s all they know.  That’s why Hillary got stuck with the “crooked” label, while Trump, who is actually documented as having done these various atrocities, got away clean.

Did you see where they officially wrapped up the last Benghazi investigation? Why do you think it’s ending now?  Because maybe Hillary Clinton is no longer a political threat, so now they can put the charade to bed?  Bet the house on it.  Funny how there are still no charges.

There is no mountain of hypocrisy too high for these jaggoffs to climb.  Did you see Mitch McConnell’s statement about how the American People don’t want to see any nominations stalled?  Seriously?

After the 10-month shit show of stalling Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, he’s going to decry the Democrats doing the same thing?  Of course he is. 

And what’s this talk about a mandate?  For chrissakes, when Obama won two elections by more than five million votes, they said it wasn’t a mandate.  But their guy losing the popular vote by almost three million votes IS?  Please…

I’m not a big backer of “tit-for-tat,” but I’m tired of the Democrats being played for saps, just because they try to do the responsible thing.  And I’m tired of rewarding the Republicans for engaging in filthy, dirty pool, like indefinite nomination stalling, aggressive gerrymandering, voter suppression and zillions in anonymous dark money.

So I say congressional Democrats should do every single thing the Republicans did.  Granted, with minorities in both houses, their power will be limited.  But they should do whatever they can to let the GOP face their own tactics.  Trust me, if Democrats play the “greater good” scenario, Republicans will just consolidate their power and laugh all the way to re-election.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Dessert Week

That’s what I call my annual vacation during the week after Christmas: Dessert Week. 

All year long I go to work like a good boy and take very little time off, compared to the amount I’m given.  By the end of the year, I start burning off vacations days by taking off Fridays or Mondays.  Then that last week off is like having a nice sweet dessert after a long slog through the year.  (Especially 2016, which was pretty much of a shit sandwich.*)

* Other than the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup!

So I’ve been off since 12/23 and it’s been great.  In theory, laying around for a week sounds fun, but I still feel like I have to accomplish something, which then allows me to slack off for the rest of the day.  So here’s what I did all week:

Friday, 12/23
Went to go see the movie “Passengers.”  (OK, sometimes all I accomplish is getting out of the house to see a movie… and make a liquor store run.)  Despite the bad reviews, I liked the movie. Nothing wrong with going to see two of the best looking young actors in Hollywood (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) put on a sci-fi/action love story.  I think the bad reviews are based on the reviewers wanting the movie to be something else.

I also started reading the new Bruce Springsteen autobiography, which I got for my birthday.  (Thanks, Mom!)  Good stuff!

Saturday, 12/24
Went to Jilly’s, my local sports bar, to watch the pre-Christmas slate of NFL games.  What do you want from me; it’s the weekend.

Sunday, 12/25 Christmas Day
Went to my brother’s house for Christmas dinner, gift exchange, and the Steelers/Ratbirds game.  (Not necessarily in that order.)

Monday, 12/26
I recently gave my bedroom TV to a friend who needed one, (and I wanted to upgrade), so my big project for the day was to replace it.  I found a deal on a Samsung 40” smart TV at BJ’s Wholesale and figured I’d best take advantage while my membership still stands.  (I didn’t use it much this year so I’ll probably let it lapse.) 

New TV in place.  And I can still see it from the can, via my specially mounted mirror.

I also got some lunch and went grocery shopping at the nearby Wegman’s, the existence of which is the primary reason I’ll let my BJ’s membership elapse.  After bring home my haul, I went out to happy hour at Jilly’s, mostly to be seen with my new Steelers shirt and huge victory grin.  (I prefer to gloat without really gloating.  I know the Steelers beat the Ratbirds, and they know it, so I don’t really need to say anything.  Usually, they just see me looking happy and go, “God dammit…”)

Tuesday, 12/27
This was my only total “veg” day.  Didn’t get dressed, didn’t even shower.  But I did bang out the previous blog post.  Watched the Penguins that night and continued to read my Bruce book during commercials and intermissions. That’s my version of multi-tasking.

Wednesday, 12/28
To me, this was the big day of the week, because my nephew Daniel was coming to visit me.  Now that he has his driver’s license, AND is off from school and work, AND doesn’t have some sporting event to participate in, I figured this was the week to do something.  I asked him back in October if he could set a day aside during break, to come visit.  He was agreeable.  And then over Christmas, I said, “Pick a day and time.”

He chose Wednesday at 2 and I told him I’d hold him to it. 

The reason I wanted him to come up is so we could talk music.  I referred to it as taking him to music school.  We talk music all the time when I visit, but this was a chance for me to play him some stuff and get instant feedback.

But music wasn’t the only subject I wanted to get into… I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here but I’m writing what I call, “The Bachelor’s Guide to Living.”  It’s an idea the two of us have kicked around for years.  I’d been giving him all my best Uncle Advice about anything from living alone to how to fold a game jersey, and realized it would be a good idea to write it all down.

A year or so ago, I started putting ideas down on the notepad app in my iPhone.  Then we’d be talking and I’d say something and we’d be like, “That’s gotta go in the book.”

Earlier this year, I transcribed all my notes into something coherent, so now I have about 36 pages on Word.  OK, maybe not so much a book, as a pamphlet.

Anyway, the point is that I could show him some of the idea and systems I’ve created (and written about) first hand.  I believe it’s much better to show than tell.  Doing both together is optimal.

So just within the realm of showing him how to make pork chops, I could demonstrate how to arrange a kitchen so that everything is where you actually use it, how to try to only touch something once (rather than setting it aside and have to come back to it later), how to keep a short reference list of common seasoning combinations and cooking times, what he could buy for low-effort side dishes, as well as actually prepare and cook the pork chops.  (They were to die for, by the way.  I apologize for eating them before I thought to take pictures.

The day went amazingly.  He came at 2:00 and left at 7:00, well fed and all coached up.  It was the highlight of my week.  Next time I see him, I’ll hand over a thumb drive containing all the songs we sampled.  And my hope is that by the time he graduates high school this spring, I’ll have a printed copy of the book for him.

Thursday, 12/29
I’d previously bought a Jiffy Lube oil change from Groupon, and it wasn’t until after purchase I found that it was only good at select locations.  One of them was about 15 minutes away, but I’d originally intended to use it at the shop down the street.  So I went out bright and early, at the crack of 10 AM, to get my oil changed.  I knew there was a Mickey D’s down the block so I built an Egg McMuffin breakfast into my schedule.  All went well with the breakfast and the oil change, but when they did my tire rotation, they found I needed brake pads.  I suspected they would; when I got my new tires last year, the shop told me the pads were pretty low.  No biggie now; I’m glad the car is all fixed up for winter.

When I got home, I hit a couple more chores I had on my list of to-dos.  I did my semi-annual shredding of the paid bills and then bagged up some clothes to give away.  It was only four grocery bags full; not four garbage bags like a couple years back.  I just needed to free up some shelf space and a few hangars in my closet.

That evening I made a super swordfish and watched the last two Hunger Games movies (again).

Friday, 12/30
I fixed a nagging Outlook problem (the email processing app, not my attitude), did some more work on Daniel’s book, and assembled my annual ticket collage.

My largest assortment yet, although it probably has the least variety.  I should work on that.

What you see there are:
·        26 Orioles tickets (new personal record for one season)
·        18 movie tickets
·        1 ticket each to a Steelers, Penguins, Mudhens, and Buckeyes game
·        The parking pass to my Ratbird Company Suite game two weeks ago (because I lost the ticket stub)
·        1 fishing pass from my summer trip to Ohio
·        Not pictured: my pass to the Nation Aquarium, which I forgot to include and now everything’s put away.

Not a bad year’s worth of activities.

Saturday, 12/31 New Year’s Eve
Finally put on the new flannel penguin sheets I got a month ago.

Happiness is a fresh bed… with penguin sheets.

Also did some more work on the book and whipped up some red beans and rice, which should cover at least two more dinners.

Later I went down to Jilly’s to watch Ohio State play Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

This was pretty much the highlight of the game because Clemson couldn’t score on the coin flip.

I ended up leaving at halftime.  Not only were my Buckeyes getting crushed, I could see that I was basically alone in the bar.  All my friends and regulars were gone and there was no one in there but couples.  Senior citizen couples.  I believe it’s better to be home alone on New Year’s Eve than being alone in public on New Year’s Eve.  And I got to watch the end of the Penguins/Canadiens hockey game, in which the Pens tied the game with under a minute to go and then won in overtime.

Sunday, 1/1 New Year’s Day
Back to Jilly’s for a full slate of NFL football, featuring the Steelers JV team making a comeback win over the Cleveland Brahnies.  (The Steelers sat a number of their best players.)  Also, the Ratbirds looked terrible in their ho-hum loss to the Bengals.

I finished up the Springsteen book Sunday night.  It was a good read if you like The Boss.

Monday, 1/2
Last day before I have to go back to work.  Already I put up my new calendar, which due to its unexpectedly large size, meant I had to switch some other wall hangings around.  I had to use tools, too!  (Sadly, no power-screwdriver.  It wasn’t charged up.) 

I’d also been having trouble with my new TV because the picture would dim as soon as I turned out the bedroom lights.  Since those are the only conditions under which I use the bedroom TV, I had to look up how to turn off the auto-dimming.  Yesterday I tried just going through all the menu options but nothing appeared applicable.  The Google helped me today, though, so I’m good to go. 

All that’s left to do today is post this bad boy and then go make the steak I have thawing out.

Then tomorrow… Gah!  Back to the salt mines.  At least we open with a 4-day week.

Good luck to you on enjoying a healthy and prosperous 2017.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m fully aware that my list of “chores” is basically nothing compared to those who have a house, spouse, kids or even a pet.  So sue me for reaping the benefits of living alone.