Gutter Politics

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street_gutter_by_chaos0892-d3eb8tkI understand, Senator Warren. After months of baiting by the Mocker-in-Chief, you couldn’t resist publicizing the results of a DNA test demonstrating that you do indeed have Native American ancestry. And contrary to the dismissive takes on those DNA results by conservative pundits, it’s possible that you do have a fairly close relative who was Cherokee. (“Just about everything you’ve read on the Warren DNA test is wrong,” Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2018)

Many people forget the origin of Trump’s nonstop taunting of Warren and calling her Pocahontas: failed senatorial candidate Scott Brown. During the Massachusetts campaign, Brown unearthed Warren’s listing herself as Native American in a Harvard Law School directory and started slinging mud, implying that she was using some remote claim to get into law school and get ahead. (Funny how no one brought up Brown’s questionable decision to pose nude in Cosmo during his law school days.) So it has always been Republicans who have brought up Sen. Warren’s claims to Native American heritage, not Warren herself.

Of course, Warren’s news has not helped her politically at all. Trump, of course, doubled down on the mockery. He’s not a man who would ever apologize or admit to being wrong about something. And no matter how much he lies, how big of a buffoon he acts at rallies, and whether he describes women as “horseface” or brags about grabbing them “by the pussy,” Trump’s supporters will never desert him.

The Cherokee Nation is also displeased at the implication that having some Native American DNA makes a person part of that culture. Despite the fact that Warren has never claimed tribal membership in the Cherokee Nation, they see her release of a DNA test as nothing more than a political stunt. If I were them, I’d be a little more worried about my people being disenfranchised by unprincipled Republicans, frankly. But their stance has not helped Warren politically.

Let’s face it. Republicans are really good at mud-slinging. They faced little repercussion for calling Michelle Obama the president’s “baby mama” or for fostering claims that Pres. Obama was not born in the United States. They’ve allowed Trump to call white nationalists “fine people” and to make up offensive nicknames for anyone who opposes him. Even “Little Marco” Rubio and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz have basically taken it in the nether regions and accepted Trump’s leadership.

This is what bullies do. They don’t have true leadership qualities, so they push people around and call them names. And I do like the fact that Sen. Warren pushes back. She has relentlessly criticized this Administration for its many unprincipled actions since Trump took office and continued to crusade for fairness for the poor and middle class. She is not afraid of Trump. But in the face of his relentless taunts, she did succumb to temptation and descended into the gutter with him.

The problem with getting into the gutter is that you will get dirty – or killed.

 

 

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Ignoring the Glock In the Room

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A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)
[A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)]

Donald Trump and his buddy Jeff Sessions are at it again – taking aim at Chicago’s persistent problem with gun violence and coming up with all the wrong solutions.

Yesterday President Trump displayed his contempt for constitutional rights by declaring that the Chicago Police Department needs to institute a “stop and frisk” policy to stem the tide of gun homicides that has plagued the Second City for many years. Never mind that studies show such policies disproportionately target blacks and other minorities, especially in white neighborhoods. Never mind that a white Chicago police officer was just convicted of second degree murder for shooting a black suspect 16 times. The idea of giving police officers more license to confront people randomly  does not sit well with a community still reeling from the sight of that awful video and from the scandal of the city covering up that shooting.

Attorney General Sessions plans to make a statement opposing federal oversight of a sweeping police reform plan being proposed in Chicago. Sessions argues that the 2015 consent decree between the Chicago PD and the ACLU was responsible for an upsurge in homicides in 2016. The consent decree required documentation for every stop police made of a potential crime suspect.

But there is no evidence that the documentation burden on its own caused an upswing in violence. Furthermore, homicides increased in a number of U.S. cities in 2016. What is unique about Chicago is that “more homicides were committed with guns in Chicago than other cities.” (“Few answers as Chicago hit with worst violence in nearly 20 years,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 30, 2016)

Once again, our NRA-backed leaders leave out one of the most obvious issues when it comes to violence in Chicago: the proliferation of guns in our city. A lack of federal oversight and lax gun laws in the states surrounding Illinois make it far too easy to obtain guns, whether legally or illegally. The cost of an illegal firearm goes up dramatically when strict gun laws are in place. But Illinois’ relatively strict gun laws are meaningless when a gang member can make a 30 minute drive to Indiana to obtain a weapon.

Chicagoans are tired of being singled out by New Yorker Donald Trump for the rate of violent crime in our city, which isn’t even the highest in the country, contrary to popular belief. But what is really maddening is listening to our president propose wholesale violations of citizens’ rights instead of looking at one of the real solutions: making it harder to get a gun. Until we remove the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians and policy makers, gun violence will continue to plague our country, in Chicago and across the nation.

 

 

Burden of Proof

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I’m a little tired of seeing conservatives bemoan the lack of due process in the Kavanaugh situation. Where’s the presumption of innocence, they want to know? But we’re not talking about criminal law here. No one to my knowledge has suggested arresting and trying Brett Kavanaugh in a criminal court on charges of attempted rape. Rather, Judge Kavanaugh is being scrutinized for a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the United States.

Two women have come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault in high school and college respectively. This is not a small matter. It goes directly to the character of a proposed sitting Justice of the Supreme Court. And, if true, it indicates an attitude toward women that is incompatible with Supreme Court decisions on the myriad issues affecting women in this country.

I am not saying Judge Kavanaugh is guilty. But the allegations must be brought forward in a transparent and fair hearing by the senators who will decide whether or not to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Unfortunately, many Republican senators have already decided that they do not believe Christine Blasey Ford. Public statements by Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell clearly indicate that they will vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation no matter what Ms. Ford or other witnesses say.

Judging from social media, conservatives have all decided that Brett Kavanaugh is a good man being wrongly smeared. How do they know? I don’t think any of my Facebook friends are personally acquainted with Judge Kavanaugh. They are simply taking the partisan line, which is unfortunately the default in this country of late.

But there are many open questions. What does the reference to “Renate Alumnius” in Kavanaugh’s yearbook mean? Is it a reference to the alleged sexual conquest of a girl named Renate he and his friends knew in high school? What about the high school buddies who tell a tale of binge drinking and partying throughout high school? And why is Mark Judge, a man Ford claims was present when Kavanaugh attacked her, in hiding? If his friend Brett Kavanaugh is such an upstanding guy and there’s no truth to Ford’s accusation, you’d think he’d be eager to come forward and testify.

These questions about a Supreme Court nominee should give the Senate Judiciary Committee pause. And it should take the time to investigate the claims of the two women who have accused Kavanaugh. But even if the allegations are true, I doubt they will stand in the way of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. After all, when Anita Hill was practically dragged into the hearings by her hair to testify to sexual harassment by then-nominee Clarence Thomas, she was not believed. Rather, Thomas played the race card, declaring the hearing to be a “high-tech lynching.” I find that detail to be a bit ironic, as it’s usually liberals being accused of playing that particular card.

Many women have regrets over sordid sexual encounters with men. They may feel shame or disgust. But sexual assault engenders something else: fear. The women who have accused Kavanaugh have expressed such fear and its disabling effect on their lives. These women at least need to be heard and truly listened to. The mostly male Senate would do well to remember that these women are someone’s daughter. How would they wish their own daughters to be treated, not just by men such as Brett Kavanaugh but by their own deliberative body?

 

Just Be It

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In our current political climate, controversies abound about displays of patriotism – or the lack thereof. Colin Kaepernick’s famous (or infamous depending upon your point of view) decision to take a knee during the national anthem has incited a nationwide debate over such displays. And last week, the Nike campaign honoring Kaepernick’s protest has fanned the smoldering flames just in time for the start of football season.

Also last week, there were protests about the new movie First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. People objected to the omission of Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon, correctly pointing out that the American landing was a victory in the space race of the 1960s during the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The filmmaker’s decision to depict the moment as more of a human achievement than a political one was seen by some as evidence of a namby-pamby liberal sensibility.

Of course, controversy over demonstrations of patriotism in America is nothing new. In the Sixties, many protests against the Vietnam War featured the burning of the American flag. Fierce battles over Americans’ First Amendment rights vs. respect for our national symbol raged. More recently, President Trump has suggested punishment for people who would burn the flag. And so the controversy goes on.

The problem is that it’s one thing to stand up for the national anthem and another thing altogether to be a true patriot. It’s somewhat hollow to wave a flag over the bodies of men, women, and children killed in a pointless and immoral war. It’s easy to plaster a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on our cars but more important to fight for the safety and dignity of our military men and women, both active duty and veterans. And the sight of the Stars and Stripes is cold comfort to black families who have lost innocent spouses, parents, and children to police brutality.

The other day I noticed that the flags in my small home town had gone up, no doubt to commemorate the devastating losses our country suffered on 9/11. I admired the grace and beauty of the flags lining our streets as they rippled in the breeze. They brought to mind all that has transpired, both good and bad, since that horrible day when terrorists attacked our land.

What I most admire from that fateful day 17 years ago was the outpouring of support for the victims of 9/11 and their families. The courageous acts of first responders. The leadership of then-mayor Rudy Giuliani. The rebuilding of the site where the Twin Towers fell. The tireless advocacy by Jon Stewart and others to maintain the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to help those affected by the horrific act of violence. Sure, people started putting out flags and adorning their cars with patriotic messages in the wake of 9/11. But it was action, not symbolism, that made a difference in people’s lives. It was people being patriotic, not just saying they were.

One of the most iconic photographs from World War II is the Pulitzer-Prize winning shot of marines hoisting the American flag at Iwo Jima. The image captures the gritty reality of war, courage, and sacrifice. Some of the flag-raisers were killed in action a few days later. The image has been depicted in movies and made into a U.S. postage stamp.

But it was the selfless sacrifice of fighting for freedom and against tyranny that made the difference – not whether or not the American flag waved from the top of Mt. Suribachi. So as we mourn the losses we sustained on 9/11 and in the ensuing years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s do more to be the patriots we claim to be when we raise the flag or place our hands over our hearts during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

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The European continent is in the midst of an unprecedented outbreak of measles – unprecedented, at least, since a vaccine was developed to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella in the 1960s. Thirty-seven people have lost their lives due to complications of this very serious disease. Why? Because people refuse to believe accepted scientific fact on the safety of the MMR vaccine.

Ignorance is killing us.

Possibly the biggest threat to future civilizations is the warming of the Earth due to greenhouse gas emissions. The ice melt at the North and South poles, rising sea levels, catastrophic weather events such as deadly hurricanes, and record-breaking heat waves in places like Canada and Scandinavia are all harbingers of doom. But they’re harbingers many people are willfully ignoring.

My cousin is visiting from the Pacific Northwest. She has a nagging cough from the smoke that is hovering over Washington State due to wildfires raging in British Columbia. My cousin told me that as her small plane “puddle-jumped” from her hometown to Seattle, she was unable to see any of the landscape below because the smoke was so thick.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is rolling back emissions standards for automobiles, deregulating the EPA, and encouraging a resurgence of dirty coal production. This is the 21st Century equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Once again, there is consensus that man-made global warming is a reality and that it may already be too late to save parts of the world from devastating floods, droughts, and famine. But for economic and political reasons, our government leaders are refusing to act. And they have persuaded many otherwise intelligent people that climate change is “fake news.”

And don’t look for future generations to be smarter about scientific facts. It’s well-known that the state board of education in Texas has an outsized influence on what school textbooks are selected across the country for use in our schools. In recent years, board members have objected to the theory of evolution being taught as fact, with one board member even declaring, “Evolution is hooey.” (Gail Collins, “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us,” The New York Review of Books, June 21, 2012)

Science used to be the one pure subject that we could count on not being tampered with by political or ideological concerns. But in our politically charged atmosphere and with so much information (and misinformation) at our fingertips, even our scientific knowledge is being called into question constantly.

I guess the number one skill we should be concentrating on in educating future generations is critical thinking.  Only dispassionate and thoughtful inquiry will lead us to truth and away from ignorance.

 

Divided We Fall

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Aretha L. Franklin, President George W. BushThe news that Aretha Franklin died this week created an outpouring of tribute on social media. Everyone posted articles, photos, videos of performances – all honoring the Queen of Soul. It was heartening to me to see, for one brief moment, a meeting of hearts and minds on a subject.

In our divided country, you can’t even talk about the weather without potentially getting into a fraught argument over climate change. Everything from the Robert Mueller investigation of Russian collusion to the prospect of NFL players taking to their knees in protest this fall is cause for anger and vitriol.

It’s not that thoughtful people can’t disagree on a subject. With a two party political system, free speech, and a free press, it’s inevitable that individuals will have differences and the urge to express those differences. What’s new about the current state of discourse is that one needn’t confront someone face to face. With social media, we can sling insults at each other from a safe distance.

A case in point is Donald Trump’s use of Twitter. The president usually tweets in the wee hours of the morning, a time when most people’s discernment and judgment are not at their highest. These pronouncements are often filled with vitriol, as Trump attacks anyone he perceives as an enemy. And even though said “enemy” can take to Twitter to send a counterpunch, there is something not quite real in the exchange. If Trump were forced to confront these people face to face, I doubt whether he would act in such a hateful and spiteful manner.

This is true for all of us, and it is making America an inhospitable place. “Comments” sections on social media are minefields we should approach on tenterhooks. Feelings get hurt, friends get “blocked,” and our images of people we’ve known and liked, or even loved, are tainted.

The divisiveness prevalent in today’s society should worry us. It feels as if the very social fabric that makes up civilization is being irreparably torn. And once it is in tatters, it may be impossible to put back together.

War on Truth

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There are no less than three non-fiction titles on the New York Times best seller list that are pro-Trump apologetics. The titles, Such as The Russia Hoax and Liars, Leakers, and Liberals, clearly demonstrate a predilection for believing Trump’s wild claims and denials at the expense of demonstrated facts.

From early days in Trump’s improbable ascendancy to the presidency of the United States, Trump has boldly spewed bald-faced lies. He started to gain support based on the untrue and racist rumor that President Barack Obama was really born in Kenya. His platform itself was built on lies. As pointed out in The Washington Post, Trump’s claims that immigrants were crossing the border in record numbers, creating a massive crime wave in America, were demonstrably false. (“When it comes to lying, Trump is nonstop,” Washington Post, July 13, 2018)

The lies continued when Trump was elected, and many people were dumbfounded at how ridiculous it seemed that he would make such an issue of lying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Kelly Anne Conway’s coining the term “alternative facts” came shortly after such preposterous lies were called out by the media, which Trump and his supporters have tried to paint as the enemy of the people.

In fact, if you go on the PolitiFact website, you can find ten pages of Trump lies. It just goes on and on. The more he lies, the less his supporters seem to care about what is really true. They simply shout “Fake news!” and continue to fawn at Trumpian feet.

The assault on truth is incredibly disturbing. Without agreement about what constitutes reality, reality becomes subject to those with the power and money to shout the loudest and make their message most prominent.  In his seminal novel 1984, George Orwell presciently describes a dystopian world controlled by Big Brother: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” More and more, the ominous words from that futuristic work hit closer and closer to home. (Another noteworthy quote from the novel: “Ignorance is strength.”)

Trump’s lies about Russian interference in the 2016 election are particularly damaging. With only minimal protest on the part of Republicans, Trump has painted the Robert Mueller investigation as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” He has cozied up to Vladimir Putin, meeting him privately and making God only knows what concessions to a ruthless dictator from a country that has been a sworn enemy of the U.S. since shortly after World War II. Presumably in order to shield himself from accusations of collusion with Russia, he has gone on the attack against our highest law enforcement and intelligence communities.

Presidents in the past have lied, sometimes egregiously. Lies and coverups are what brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. And although Bill Clinton survived a seamy sex scandal, impeachment based on lying to Congress, and numerous other questions that cropped up during his two terms as president, these lies came back to haunt Hillary Clinton in her bid for the presidency in 2016.

I am not claiming Donald Trump colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. But if Trump is willing to lie about things as inconsequential as the size of an inauguration crowd, I have to wonder what other forms of dishonesty he is willing to engage in to grasp and hold onto power. It’s my hope that if there is any truth to the seeming conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, that truth will come to light and the American people will hold this president to account as they have presidents in the past.

As a nation, we need to hold fast to our ideals about honesty and integrity. Without them, we become no better or more free than the some of the worst autocracies we see around the world. Truth is always something to seek and hold onto, no matter the cost. Let’s hope that for the sake of our democracy, “The truth will out.”