Monday, July 31, 2017

Outrage Overload

You know, maybe Donald Trump IS an evil genius, who’s got politics in America stone cold figured out.

Aside from spouting salacious and obnoxious tweets like a jukebox with Tourette’s, he’s happened upon a foolproof strategy to pretty much do whatever he pleases.  The secret?

Provide so much material for outrage that it overwhelms any who would object, straight to the point of total ineffectiveness.  Just look at the sheer volume of issues, any one of which an opponent could use to rally the troops to fend off.  There’s so much, there is no logical defense.

Here’s a short list, just off the top of my head:

·        The Russia Thing: colluding with a foreign superpower to rat-fuck a political opponent and steal the election for the nation’s highest office.  The multiple investigations are ongoing, including the fake ones run by Republican-dominated Congress, and the real one with the Justice Department-appointed Special Prosecutor.  This is the only issue with legs unless Trump finds a way to fire the Special Prosecutor and install his own lackey to dismantle the investigation.

·        Attempting, already, to influence, bully and coerce the Russia investigation into absolving him and his family of blame.

·        Discrediting our own intelligence agencies when they provide anything that can be considered “bad news.”  Like, “We intercepted a call your campaign manager made to the Russian ambassador.”  How can we use legitimate intel on the world stage if the president is denigrating the integrity of our spy network?

·        Bringing in industry hacks to cabinet positions for the express purpose of neutering oversight, rolling back regulations, and clearing any obstacles to unfettered corporate profit.  In particular, defanging the EPA, by bringing in an energy industry executive like Scott Pruitt and getting rid of all the climate, fossil fuel, and nuclear scientists.

·        Purging scientists at all the rest of the cabinet departments, to hire big business yes-men.

·        Ditching the Paris Accord on climate change and forfeiting our leadership role at the table.  Allowing the United States to become the laughing stock of the civilized world.  Other countries consider us a small-minded, provincial, selfish and short sighted little nation, long on muscle but short on brains.  Alienating allies and aggrandizing our traditional enemies.

·        Displaying far more interest in producing a “win” than producing an effective health care bill.  And this is the “family values” party, who is supposed to heed and revere Jesus above all else.  (At least that’s what the florists and bakers say before denying services to a gay couple.)

·        Claiming to respect the Constitution, yet doing everything he can to undermine the First Amendment with respect to religion and more aggressively, criticizing a free press for doing what it’s designed to do.  Freedom of the Press is more than supporting Fox “News” (when they agree with you.) 

·        Continuing to campaign and hold rallies 8 months after the election.

·        Continued obsession with Hillary Clinton (regarding alleged crimes) and margin of victory (in losing the popular vote.)

·        Refusal to release tax returns, which could show where the money sources are and what foreign countries hold IOUs.

·        Self-enrichment at taxpayer expense, by taking most every weekend off to visit his own properties.  (Yes, he may stay free, but the taxpayers have to pay for his security, entourage and other staff.)

·        After criticizing the amount of golf Obama played, going out and playing even more golf (at his own courses, of course.)  In 27 weeks, Trump has visited his own resorts 41 times and played 17 rounds of golf.  In comparison, Obama played 11 rounds in the same 27 weeks.

·        Insufficiently disassociating himself from his business.  His leaving it to his sons to run is hardly a sufficient buffer.  Foreign governments are already springing for fancy suites in Trump properties, to curry favor with the president.

·        Already looking into pardons for his family, staff and his own self.  That may be the new normal… Get into office, profiteer your brains out, siphon as much money from the treasury as possible, then pardon all involved.

·        Imploring the police to abuse suspects while they’re in custody.

·        Lastly, a complete inability to tell the truth about anything!  And then combining attacks against the press or anyone else who would dare to fact-check, so that even when the lies are reported, his base won’t believe them.

What we have here are so many outrages, it’s impossible to even begin to press for change.  By the time any one item garners attention, two new outrages arise to gobble up the news cycle.  And two more after that, and two more after that.

I mean, look how long Reince Priebus’s resignation was a story.  That lasted right up until new Communications Director Scaramucci shot his mouth off in a taped interview, blamed the reporter, and then resigns/gets fired himself.

And while all these outrages blend together in a sea of chaos, the new Powers That Be are working behind the scenes, to scoop up federal cash, strip public protections and lay waste to our natural resources, in homage to the almighty dollar and unrestricted profit margin.

The funny thing is that this is the best we can hope for, for the next three and a half years.  Sure, Trump may finally do something that gets him impeached, (I doubt the GOP would ever have the balls to turn on one of their own), but the result would be even worse.

Without Trump, we will have Mike Pence left in charge, who with blissful diligence and homage to both Jesus and big business, will go about completing the Republican pipe dream with efficiency and clarity of purpose.

In Pence’s world, women’s’ uteri will be more stringently regulated than a Fortune 500 business. 

So I’m just going to sit here and root for the chaos to continue.  We’ll all be a lot safer in the long run until we have a shot at flipping the House and Senate in 2018 and taking back the presidency in 2020.

In the meantime, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Survey Says: The GOP Wants Us Stupid

A survey came out two weeks ago from the Pew Research Center, in which 60% of Republican or conservative-leaning respondents said that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country.  (Nearly 75% of Democratic respondents said they had a positive effect.)

Two years ago, the positive/negative response between political parties was about the same.

Then Trump happened and see, we’re getting dumber by the minute.

OK, it’s not really that simple, but there have been signs leading up to this alarming finding.

I’ve said this several times before but it bears repeating: Republican leadership does not want an educated electorate.  The last thing they want is for people to think for themselves or be able to dissect a statement or argument.  What they want is pliability and obedient workers who do what they’re told.

Look how long Fox “News” has been railing against the “Eastern elite,” or “egg-headed intellectuals.”  They’ve been demonizing intelligence since Day One by holding the most educated among us up to scorn.

Look how much time they devote to college protests, the more chaotic, the better.  It’s like riot-porn for them.  Then they can get together on Fox and Friends and cluck about how horrible these liberal college students are.  Granted, a lot of that has been because of the increased amount of protests directed at our current president.
Just look through an aggregated news web page like Yahoo.  Every time you see a blurb about college protests, or liberal professors, or university political correctness gone wild, check the source.  Guaranteed it will be from Fox, or the Federalist, or the New York Post, or some other conservative mouthpiece.

This is no accident; they want you to distrust places of higher education.  Right-wing media has been leading people in this direction for years… It’s just become more prevalent in the last couple years.

Conservative power brokers know that college can teach people about how to spot logical fallacies and how to pick apart arguments, political positions, and media advertisement, (political and otherwise).  College students are likely to learn about scientific processes and enough earth science to call strict biblical teachings into question.

They do not want this.

They want to be able to spew fake news stories across social media and have people take them as stone fact.  They don’t want more people like me taking their stories and memes and picking them apart line by fallacious line.  (Like you can see here anywhere under the Debunkery label.)

I went to college many years ago, so I admit, things might not be the same.  (For example, political correctness was just becoming a thing.  I remember when we had to change the name of our charity “services auction” away from The Annual Lincoln’s Birthday Slave Sale, to something much less catchy.)

I never really saw any raging liberalism coming from the faculty, other than an occasional TA or old hippie music professor.  For the most part, there was no discussion of the political environment at all.  We just learned the subject at hand, whether it was journalistic principles, the history of broadcasting, the art of public speaking, or how to write ad copy.

But, I also took classes on values analysis, principles of logic, and mass marketing, which taught me how to dissect advertisements from magazines to TV… how to tear down (or construct) an argument… how to examine the motivations of the persuaders, to find their interests… in other words, they taught me critical thinking.

That’s the last thing conservatives want from young people now.  They do not want their little angels coming home from school with wild ideas about how old the earth is, or how being LGBT is not an elective sin, but a happenstance of birth, or that recent climate changes are not cyclical at all.

They don’t want kids exposed to anything that will contradict conservative values or a religious upbringing.  And because the Religious Right is married to the GOP, they want to keep those bonds strong and the sheep plentiful. If they go to college, kids may learn to recognize the disconnect between the Christian morals with which they were raised and the policy positions of those who claim to represent them. 
If the kids from religious families start thinking for themselves, they might not support politicians who vow to keep wages low while providing tax breaks for the rich, because it goes against the word of Jesus, no matter how many snappy memes the Koch Brothers’ media lackeys can produce.  That’s bad news for Republicans.

So how do they combat that?  they run an endless number of negative stories about trouble on college campuses… riots, underage partying, date raping, weird roommates, politically correct administrators running amok, and any other scary-sounding event that shakes up a conservative home.
They create stories and memes designed to undercut the influence of the smartest people in the country, making it seem like they’re too busy philosophizing in the Ivory Tower to solve any real-life problems, while the simple folk get things done with common sense and prayers.

You cut access to government-sponsored college loans and jack up the interest every chance you get.  Then you keep the cost of college education so high and part-time job wages so low, there is zero chance of kids putting themselves through school on their own, without it taking until well into adulthood.

You keep pushing standardized testing in elementary and high schools, so teachers have to promote conformity and teach to the test rather than teach how to think, how to learn and how to blossom. 

It’s unfortunate when a major political party wants you to ignore the only rational thing the legendary Dean Wormer ever said. 
For the GOP, “Fat, Drunk and Stupid” is exactly the way they want you to go through life.  All the better to take your vote, enrich themselves and blame their opponent for your lousy lot in life.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Odd Bits - The Media Edition

Enough about me; let’s bitch about the state of things!

Obstruct This
I keep seeing GOP accusations and subsequent enraged internet comments that the Democrats in Congress are obstructing presidential appointments, as well as other minor matters such as the current tax giveaway masquerading as a health care bill.
Hello, Mr. Pot, this is Mr. Kettle.

Please. The Republicans spent eight years obstructing President Obama like a three-layer cheese sandwich with a cork inside, on every initiative whether it was good for the country or not, just because it was Obama who wanted it.  That includes stealing a Supreme Court seat for no reason but that it wasn’t their guy doing the seating.

For them to turn around and complain about getting obstructed is ludicrous.  And still, they have to mislead in order to press their point.

For example, in the Fox “News” story I linked above, they claim that the current approval rate of 20% is much lower than it was during the first two years of the Obama administration.

They don’t mention the good reason for that, which is that the Democrats had a super-majority of 60 in the Senate, so it was much harder for the GOP to obstruct.  But then after the 2010 election, which gave them control of the House, and 2014 when they took the Senate, they refused to pass a single meaningful piece of legislation.  If Obama wanted it, they voted it down, simple as that.  Then they spent the rest of their time in session passing poison pill bills with zero chance of being signed into law.  (Like repealing the ACA more than 70 times.)
If Republicans don’t like the obstruction now, they can look in the mirror.  They created this zero-sum culture.  Now they have to deal with it. 

Time to Get Serious on Police Shootings
Yep, there was another unjustified police shooting this weekend, one which may finally make police forces around the country take a good look at their occupational culture.  This time they really screwed up… they shot a blonde.

An Australian woman who had placed a 911 call to report a sound in the alley behind her home was fatally shot by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Oof-dah.

We know that after the repeated police shootings of black men and black women and white guys who dress like black men, nothing has changed.  The body cameras the cops were wearing, as mandated by all these prior killings, were not turned on, according to the initial police report.  We’ll see what they say in the later police reports.  These things have a way of evolving over time. 

Meanwhile, I can just see President 45’s briefing on the matter:

Advisor: Mr. President, we just had another fatal police shooting.  This time it was an immigrant.

Trump: That’s what they get for coming here.  See, I told you we need a wall.

Advisor: No, Mr. President, the immigrant wasn’t Mexican.

Trump: So we lost another raghead dude, who’s just going to radicalize here and blow something up.  No big deal.

Advisor: No, it wasn’t a Muslim man, it was an Australian woman.

Trump:  Good God, man!  Was she hot?

Advisor: As a matter of fact, she was a very attractive blonde.

Trump: Dammit, I could have married her!  Tell all my people… We have to do something about this.  We have to act and act fast.  The American people will never stand for this senseless slaughter of hot blondes.

Advisor: What do you want us to do, sir?

Trump: Figure out how to blame it on Obama.

I know it’s really not a laughing matter; it’s yet another highly preventable tragedy.  But it’s still the same old thing, and now the “shoot first, ask questions later” way of conducting police business has killed yet another innocent human being. 

The widespread killings of unarmed black people and resulting protests, riots and unrest haven’t moved the needle one bit.  Maybe that will finally change, now that they’re murdering blondes, and no amount of fluffy “Cop plays with city kids” or “Cop rescues baby ducks” videos are going to repair the damage.

OK, who am I kidding?  Of course they will.  The law enforcement apologists will be out in 3…2…1… go.

Fox “News” Lite
You may remember a post I did in April, taking the Republican-controlled FCC to task for permitting Sinclair Broadcasting to buy up TV stations all over the country.  I said that there were reasons for limiting TV station ownership, mostly because if too many stations were run by one entity, that entity would have an outsized influence over the country’s viewing public.

That brings us to today’s Baltimore Sun, whose TV critic wrote an article about the use of Sinclair’s new extending reach.  In the past, they forced all affiliates to run a 90 second opinion piece three times a week from their “Chief Political Analyst” and former Trump campaign advisor, Boris Epshteyn.  Now they are now requiring that affiliates run his Trump propaganda pieces nine times per week.

And remember, these aren’t all Fox affiliates that Sinclair owns, they’re an assortment of major networks.  But now we’ll be seeing a steady diet of conservative talking points and carefully selected news stories aired, to highlight any GOP successes and Democratic perceived failures.

This is one more part of the creeping Republican power grab.  It’s actually quite brilliant.  They spend big bucks to win state and local seats, which beget governorships.  Once in control of state government, they gerrymander the hell out of the congressional districts and create voter suppressing requirements for elections.

Control of the states’ elective process begets control of the federal government, through which they can change laws that prevent them from amassing even more power and influence, like with banking regulations and media ownership.

They control the media to control the message, to control YOU.  And we don’t even notice.

The Democrats really have their work cut out for them.

A Fake to the Right
And while I’m talking about media, just keep in mind what “Fake News” really is.  Trump and the Republicans throw that term around a lot, but it’s almost always misused.  Ahem…

Fake News: Stories known to the writer and publisher as false, which are being published, circulated and quoted as if they’re true.

Not Fake News: Stories one desperately wishes were false but are not, or in other words, true stories about bad things one has done. 

Whenever you hear Trump or the muttonheads on Fox calling the Russia stories “Fake News,” you can be guaranteed that it’s the latter definition.  The stories about Russian collusion are corroborated and sourced out the wazoo.  (Just because there are anonymous sources doesn’t mean they’re wrong.)

NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, even MSNBC… they present stories that, though occasionally slanted, are fact checked and corroborated using traditional journalistic practices.  And when something they report turns out not to be true?  Or even if they ARE true but their conformation practices have been violated?  The story is retracted, apologies are issues and heads roll.

When was the last time Fox ever apologized for a story or fired someone for being delivering factually incorrect information?

Never, that’s when. 

The most you see is that they stop talking about it… AFTER they’ve gone to great lengths to convince you it really is true.  And by then, Fox viewers have already taken it as gospel.  No apologies, no one gets fired… they just walk it back.

Folks, that’s not journalism and it’s not news.  It is the very definition of Fake News.

Occasionally Shep Smith at Fox will suddenly remember that he used to be a journalist and calls a spade a spade while contradicting his network’s spin.  Then like clockwork, Fox “News” viewers write in to protest, claiming that the Emperor really does have clothes on.
The only thing Republicans know about Fake News is that it’s a term that’s been hurled at their preferred stories, so they just turn it around and hurl it back. 

If only they learned what it was first.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Glory of Doing Nothing

I apologize again for skipping a post last week, but not really because I was on vacation.  I took my annual trip to go see my old buddies back in NW Ohio, the VP of Hell No and the Chairman of Fuck Off (or CFO).  I wasn’t keen on doing anything that resembled “work,” lest I start down the slippery slope and accidentally do something productive, while I’m supposed to be relaxing.

The trip was almost kiboshed before it even started when I leaned over to grab my suitcase and felt something “pop” in my right calf.  It wasn’t very painful but it felt funny.  I couldn’t get much push from my foot when I walked.

Then by the time I got off the plane, I had a significant limp.  But even limping along like Verbal Kint, I was still moving faster than the hordes of dum-dums in the airport, around whom I had to maneuver.

As I progressed through the remainder of the day, it continued to cause me to limp, so I feared my vacation might be remembered more for icing my calf than icing my quaff.  But when I got up the next day, it felt much better.  There is still a “catch” in my calf and I still can’t push off with my right foot, but I don’t need to limp. 

You don’t want to be seen limping around Baltimore… you just look like prey.

Anyway, we’ll do a quick rundown of the week’s activities, such as they were.

The VP picked me up at the airport and we headed straight back to the local tavern.  He just lost his Dad last month so this was the first time we didn’t stop to pick him up before going to the bar.  There, we toasted our lost friends and family.

Back at the house, the VP’s son and his family were visiting from Columbus.  The CFO and his daughter came out as well and we had dogs and burgers on the grill.  The VP just recently got DVR service so we rounded out the night by watching various Steelers-related shows and specials.

I’d never been to a Costco before so we rectified that on Sunday.  We had to stock up on meat products for the week’s grilling.
Three racks of ribs and eleven pounds of pork butt.  That’s what I call a Pork-a-palooza.

The previous week, I took my first serious try at eating blue crabs (a Maryland specialty.)  Sweetpea taught me how it’s done and I muddled through about five crabs. 
Working on my first blue crab.

What I learned is that it’s more about having a social event than actual eating.  When they talk about eating crab in the Midwest, it’s an entirely different thing.
The crab case from Costco.  Now that’s my kinda crabbin’.

I also learned that you can make a lunch out of nothing but samples at Costco.  There was one table handing out grilled steak pieces.  We walked by and a couple of ladies said, “$8.95 a pound,” as we took a sample.  When we doubled back later, there was a dude there.

“$8.95 a pound,” he said, as we took another bite.  When we walked by again, not 45 seconds later, he said, “$8.95 a pound,” so we took a third piece.  Apparently, Costco hired Dory to hand out samples.

Another lady was cooking seasoned pork loin medallions.  We circled her like sharks, waiting for her to put some on the tray, but she kept putting her finished morsels in a plastic container.  The VP and I must have hovered for 20 minutes, waiting for her to produce the goods.  When she finally did, people came running from every direction.  We weren’t the only ones staking her out, I guess.  The smell alone was drool-inducing.

That evening turned out to be bratwurst night.
Ohio sausage party.

The CFO and his daughter were back, along with her boyfriend.  His other daughter was there too, with her baby.  And the VP’s son’s daughter arrived as well… I spent 30 seconds talking to her before I even realized who the hell she was.  When she saw me, she ran up and gave me a hug, and I’m thinking, “Who the hell is this?  I know it’s the VP’s family… which one is she?

It had been at least six years since I’d last seen her, when she was 4 or 5 years old.  I’d even blogged about it, remarking about how little girls “flit” rather than walk.  Couldn’t believe it was the same person. 

The VP’s wife’s family all came for the day; most of whom I’d never met, and those I had, it had been at the VP’s wedding almost 40 years ago.  So I mostly chilled in the TV room and watched movies.  Of course, I had to come out for the pulled pork.
The pork, in its initial, un-pulled state.

I finished the night at the tavern, with the VP and CFO.

The VP has more tools than any human I’ve ever met.  I should have known it was a “like father/like son” situation.  He told me he got his dad’s tool box.  I figured it was a regular tool box, about the size of a fishing tackle box.  I was mistaken.
I should have known that this was what his family considers a “tool box.”

From inside the toolbox, the VP pulled out the biggest Allen wrench I’ve ever seen.
It looks like it came from some exotic IKEA that sold furniture for giants.

Tuesday was the Fourth of July, (Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!) so we just hung out at the house.  The VP smoked the ribs, which were a-MAY-Zing!

The CFO, VP and I killed the night digesting our ribs and watching movies.

If you thought the trip to Costco was exciting, you should have come with the VP and I to the DMV, so he could get his license renewed.  (We really know how to throw a vacation!)

Really, it wasn’t too bad.  Only took about 20 minutes, unlike the two and a half hours it took me the last time I had to renew in Baltimore.  But the best part was the office was a couple doors down from a Mexican restaurant, where we went for lunch.

They asked if I wanted a large or small beer, which I usually take as a trick question.  Of course I want the LARGE beer… But then they set this 32-oz monster mug down in front of me.  [Gulp]
I swear, I had to two-hand that one.

We couldn’t fill up though because we had big plans for the evening.

Every year when I visit, we always earmarked one night for a visit to my old college town to get the best pizza on the planet, at a shop called Myles Pizza.  Unfortunately, Myles closed last year, so I was not anticipating a trip this year.  However, the CFO’s daughter (who just graduated from my alma mater) told me that she heard the place that replaced Myles was very close in quality.  So I figured we’d have to check it out for ourselves and do some due diligence.

I was mighty glad we did.  It was practically the same pizza, and just the way I like it… Massive.
The new establishment's name: 516 Pizza.  I think the 516 comes from how many ounces are in the pizza.

There was no beer for us after that dinner.  We had to make do with something less filling but no less satisfying; a nice bottle of Woodford Reserve.

That night, the local town had its Founder’s Day fireworks show, but we didn’t have to go anywhere.  We could see it from the VP’s driveway.
Oooh.  Ahhhh.

The VP and I watched some more DVRed Steelers stuff, including the Steelers/Chiefs playoff game from this January.  It was funny because I remembered practically nothing about that game.  Not coincidentally, that was the evening I first met Sweetpea.  I was probably distracted.

Final grilled entrée for the week: chicken.
Not pictured: the baked potatoes.

My last day in town was as uneventful as the previous five. We hung out until afternoon, then went out to the tavern for dinner.  (Fresh perch special… no pics though.  You’ll just have to use your imagination.)

I know it sounds like my vacation is nothing but a big zero.  We didn’t really go anywhere exciting or do anything unique.  But, like every year, it’s what I need: just some uninterrupted time to unplug from daily stress and workplace pressure.  I want to somewhere I can just be… hang with my oldest friends, drink cold beverages, eat grilled meat, smell the clean air and look at the stars.  Or at least, movie stars.

I know it’s not exotic or fascinating but it’s what I need.  I returned to my Sweetpea’s arms on Saturday, loaded with stories, scuttlebutt, a couple pieces of leftover pizza and two quarts of pulled pork.

Perfect end to a perfect week.  Thanks, guys, for having me out.