07 October 2016

When words do not mean what they say

I wonder if durring the debate, you noted as did I, that whenever Gov. Pence claimed he or Mr. Trump were being "insulted" by Senator Kaine, they were in fact being quoted. Simple concept: when you are being quoted, if you look stupid, you are not being insulted, you are being exposed.

30 September 2016


I recall reading a comment about the Chicago Tribune of his youth by Mike Royko. He said, if I recall, that reading McCormick's editorials he was never sure if the enemy was Hitler or Roosevelt. That came to mind as the incredible decision to endorse Gary Johnson, perhaps the least informed person ever to appear on a national party ticket emerged.

This election pits a qualified, competent, caring woman against a nut case. Mrs. Clinton is so bright and so much more able that Fox News (!) reported she won the recent debate by 23 percentage points in their poll. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump keeps saying he won the CBS poll, which simply does not exist.

During the Lewinsky scandal some wag said that Bill Clinton had a sometimes difficult relationship with the truth. Mr. Trump has no relationship.

We all at one time or another lie. Have I -- yes, have you -- yes. I have probably said a dress, tie, or haircut looked good when I didn't like it. Have you? Do either one of us do it every day about every issues, repeatedly, even when the truth would not hurt us? We know a candidate who lies an estimated once every 4 minutes. (Politico made it 3 and a fraction and I rounded it in his favor!)

But the Tribune, the paper that once published national security information in war time, and was not believed because the enemy, Japan, did not consider them credible, has managed not to make the obvious choice. No, they picked Gary Johnson who could not name Vicente Fox when he brought him up, and did not know that Aleppo is the major city being contested in bloody horrible fighting in Syria.

I am sure that I won't agree with every decision Mrs. Clinton makes as president. I am equally sure I won't agree with every vote Tammy Duckworth casts in the Senate. That is OK, we are a republic: they do not have to do exactly what I think best. I am not committed to voting for Mrs. Clinton when as I expect, she seeks re-election. But even the Tribune editorial noted that unlike Mr. Trump, Secretary clinton is qualified to be president.

Ever play a board game with a toddler who knocked the game over rather than loose? That is the Tribune editorial. They wanted a Republican they could endorse, they got Mr. Trump and they kicked the table over. Immature cowardice in action.

21 September 2016

Chaos Comes

It may be, although I still doubt it, that Mr. Trump will win. My expectation is that Sec. Clinton will, but I have been wrong before. Regardless, America has been deeply wounded and may be unable to recover.

Let me tell you what Donald Trump has done. He has unleashed and normalized racism, misogyny, nativism, homophobia, and oddly for this clearly agnostic man, theism. The demons are out from under the rocks, and it will take quite a lot to put them back.

Slime, nativism, and bigotry are hardly new. The Koch brothers whose money was unleashed by the worst decision since Dred Scott v Sanford in 1857, Citizens United v FEC, stand in a long line. That line includes Sen. McCarthy, blacklists, and the John Birch Society.

Eventually, the country partially recovered from the Scott decision. You may recall learning about some aspects of the recovery process, worked out in places like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Ford's Theatre. Whole States were ruined, cities burned, railroads and highways destroyed, and an estimated 270,000 military casualties, no one knows the civilian death count, were the price of the Dred Scot debacle.

Arguably, the toll ran higher. Jim Crow, the legalization of racism, was a direct result. In many ways, compensation differential, ongoing sexism, and police shootings among them, we are still paying.

What precipitated the War Between the States was a period of stark political instability. The two party system, at the beginning of the 1850s, meant the Democrats and the Whigs. At that balance point in history, Whigs included Abraham Lincoln, John C. Fremont, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay. By 1852, when the party could not manage to support an incumbent President Fillmore, a single issue had destroyed it. That issue was argued as the legal status of slavery in the newly developed territories West of the Mississippi, but it was really about racism. Were slaves, or potential slaves people? The Dred Scott decision said no, and America bled.

We should note the current political self-destruction began over a single issue. The social role of the State it was called. It was not one drunk Senator's lone work. Serious thinkers, such as Senator Goldwater and William F. Buckley contributed to the discussion, but were drowned out by the remnants of the Jim Crow culture, the intellectually bankrupt ravings of the likes of Ayn Rand, and opportunistic "TV preachers" advancing their interest in theocracy. But the argument was centered on a mix of racism, "welfare" was perceived to go to Blacks, and misogyny, welfare MOTHERS were the source of all evil.

The dissolution of the Republican party became visible this year as so many candidates with so many mutually exclusive viewpoints made it difficult to discern any theme other than a general discomfort with strong women (Mrs. Clinton) and African-American leaders (Pres. Obama.) The party of Dewey and Eisenhower was now the home of Cruz and McCarthy.

Mr. Trump emerged from the chaos as the candidate after a fratricidal primary process. The process left the Republicans with primary candidates who refuse to endorse or campaign for Mr. Trump in the face of outright threats from RNC chair Priebus. We should note that Mr. Priebus is an employee of the fracturing party. Trump is the candidate of chaos, from chaos.

Rational folks keep waiting for Trump to finally do or say something that destroys his campaign. As the "debates," actually staged TV confrontations approach, Trump attacks the platform before ascending it, and the possibility of a blowup grows. If he does not blow up, or "lose" by some ethereal standard, and manages to keep close to truthful answers, he will have survived despite his attacks on the First Amendment, and other parts of the American "Bill of Rights," his unconscionable attacks on the Federal Judiciary, and his amazing attacks on journalists.

No matter who ultimately wins, chaos comes. Even if Mrs. Clinton wins, the rocks are overturned, the slime is released and the chaos is upon us. If as I think, we are seeing in the 17 candidates that arose in the primaries the impending death of the Republican Party, the rise of chaos and the incapacitating of the two party system, we can expect the rise of splinter parties. In fact some are already visible: the Libertarians, who have been a fringe group for years are suddenly poling near 9%, enough to materially impact the election. Suddenly it matters that David Duke, an open racist, endorsed Trump. The standards are eroding, the center is not holding. Chaos comes.

Citizens United may well be the Dred Scot of our day. The system is disrupted. Last time it was, we landed in a vicious war. We are more advanced in our killing technology now. In 1860, the first machine guns had recently been developed. They had little impact on the war. We have perhaps advanced too much.

Chaos Comes.

25 July 2016

The Speeches

In any modern political convention, with modern defined here as since 1960, there are always a few speeches that have lasting impact, for better or worse. Of course "better," and "worse" in this context can be relative -- what is "better" for one's opponents can be "worse" for a speaker.

The speeches were often more about Mrs. Clinton than they were about either the most disregarded document in recent memory, the GOP's platform, or the candidates. With the singular exception of the unintended compliment to Mrs. Obama that emerged when the, "explanation" of the glaringly obvious plagiarism in Mrs. Trump's speech, the comments about Mrs. Clinton were universally negative, but so too was the tone of the event. Mrs. Clinton and to a lesser extent, Mr. Obama were the targets of hostile,vicious, unremitting negativity. One of the NPR reporters (I think it was Mr. Brooks) called the tone, "Richard Nixon without the optimism."

The only counterpoint to the negativity that I observed, was in the speeches from the Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, and the Trump family. And those, as we may notice below, did serious damage to that disregarded, often incoherent document, the GOP platform.

If you forced yourself to watch the convention, your take away may be different than mine. With that caveat, here are the things I noticed about the speeches.

The speech of Senator Cruz was interesting because after congratulating Mr. Trump on his victory, he never mentioned the candidate,ticket, or the platform again. Rather, he laid out a view of conservatism that while less negative than the convention's (hardly difficult) was notably different from the Trump speeches. Stunningly, he never asked the delegates to work for the ticket, never acknowledge Governor Pence's existence, and never asked anyone to vote for the ticket. He was actually booed off the podium when he finished without any endorsement.

Predicting a speech's long term impact is tricky. Sen. Cruz seemed to be making a declaration that when, not if, Mr. Trump loses, he, Cruz, is running in 2020. Whether or not Mr. Trump looses, at least some of the delegates will be back. Returning delegates tend to be activists - with long memories. Sen.Cruz was brutally called out on his pledged support for the ticket, expressed as what the delegates at least saw as a promise. When he met with the Texas delegation the next morning he was roundly attacked. The Senator won the Texas primary so that most of the delegates were actually pledged to him, in context, the anger was stunning.

I actually thought the Senator's explanation made some sense. In fact I agreed with him so completely, I am reconsidering. He noted that his pledge to "support the ticket of my party" did not include the word "endorse." A moment in laughable legalism perhaps, but a point that a legalist might consider. He also noted that in any case he had not given Mr. Trump a carte blanche. While then, he does not support Mrs. Clinton, there are consequences when one attacks another man's wife (Mr. Trump did,) and slander his father (which again Mr. Trump did.) As much as this may shock Mr. Trump, it appears vicious, violent, and grossly inappropriate attacks have consequences.

Ms. Ivanka Trump's speech was unique in one respect. She actually gave us a glimpse of her father acting in a charitable way. There is a credibility issue unfortunately. She said Mr. Trump sometimes reads stories in the papers asks his secretary to locate persons mentioned, and arranges for them to come meet him, where he offers assistance, access to his own network, and sometimes jobs. The story did seem real to her. On the other hand, it is interesting that no one so helped appeared as a speaker. It is still a nice story, and I hope it is true.

Her speech, was surprisingly liberal. She said her dad, and she would fight for, "equal pay for equal work." That is a standard rallying cry of the progressive feminists. I know, I am one. And nothing in the platform suggests such a view.

She also said that the Trump companies are, because her dad insists, "gender, ethnicity, and life style neutral. The picture of her dad as some sort of fair-minded centrist (at least) tycoon is a long way from his campaign. It is also distant from the candidate the platform anticipates. It is also a long, long way from the ultra-right wing views of Gov. Pence.

Finally, we must consider Mr. Trump's acceptance speech, or perhaps I should say, "acceptance rant." Very little of the record setting 75 minutes did not appear angry and was not shouted. It really was a 75 minute scream.

Using the tone that dominated all week, (what David Brooks on PBS called Nixonian,) Mr. Trump described a vision of America beset by enemies abroad, illegal immigrants committing crimes and terrorism at home, and troubled by "allies" who let America pay while gaining benefits from our efforts. In each (overstated when not false) case, he laid the blame on Mrs. Clinton.

Among the most egregious claims were:
  • "My opponent wants to repeal the Second Amendment." I have no idea what Mrs. Clinton thinks, nothing she has said or published supports this statement. At best it is hyperbole, but flat out lie seems to me more fitting.
  • According to Mr. Trump, Sec. Clinton "advocates "mass amnesty, mass immigration." Actually,she has advocated neither. Mrs. Clinton has never called for amnesty. She has supported plans, including the one offered by Republican President Bush, designed to provide a path that could regularize the status of some illegals.
  • Mr. Trump would have you think that there are large numbers of criminal acts perpetrated by illegals, or legal immigrants that only can achieve that status because of Sec. Clinton and President Obama's unrestricted immigration policies.

    The truth is a bit different. The per capita crime rates for immigrants, legal or not, actually are lower than for the native born. I can only speculate, but I would think that immigrants want to avoid crimes that might make them targets for INS. In any case, the simple fact is that you are more likely be a victim of crime caused by native born citizens.

What was most stunning, was that with the single exception of the stupid, unconstitutional, and unworkable idea of a border wall, Mr. Trump did not say a single word about a plan, or policy. He says he will solve the problem he says we have without a single suggestion of a law, or plan. His entire policy is a shouted, angry, "I am your voice," and perhaps more terrifying, "Only I can" when talking about problem solving. We have no idea what he will be saying as the voice.

I suppose one positive note is that in offering no policies or plans, Mr. Trump ignored the ignoble, incoherent GOP platform. Unfortunately, Mr. Pence actually supports the thing.

As we move to the DNC, yes there will be controversy, what we can hope for is arguments about actual policies, a touch of humor, and perhaps a description of America that is not dark, violent, and ugly.

That is my take away of the GOP vision, the country: is in crisis. Mr. Trump offers himself as the political messiah who will single-handedly solve the crisis. The Constitution does not call for a messiah. In fact, it sets up Congress as the strongest branch, the first duty of the President is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Only the House of Representatives can even originate a tax or spending bill. The Trump vision is of a president who is the sole leader. It is frankly authoritarian.

That approach is simply evil.

14 July 2016


Now Dallas is the sight of a series of shootings. One fool with a rifle killed five officers before they killed him. There is a lot to say about this horrible week, and much that should not be said.

One of the things I think I am learning is that Twitter can be fun and entertaining, but like rifles, in the wrong hands it can be tool of evil. Illinois has many daughters and sons to be proud of, this is the home of Lincoln, Douglas, John Peter Altgeld, Jane Addams, Ellen Starr, Bp, Philander Chase, Cyrus McCormick, and many others. It is also to our shame the home of Joe Walsh.

Former Congressman Walsh, we do rectify our mistakes in Illinois, so he is a former Congressman, has a talk show. It is amazing to me that so many failures, left and right wing, land up with talk shows. Walsh's show is not on my listening list, so I cannot tell you much about it.Ah but by the magic of Twitter, I can tell somethings about his actions.

After the 5 murders in Dallas, before the other recent shootings aimed at working cops, many of us wanted to express our respect and appreciation for the thousands of honest and fair police in our nation, and our horror at the evil in Dallas. Groups ranging from Black Lives Matter to the Senate Majority expressed their sorrow, anger and concern for the families of the killed and support for the families and the wounded officers. Flowers and teddy bears, the common symbols of our love and mourning began to pile up at the Dallas Police headquarters, Go Fund Me efforts to support the victims proliferated. At the same time, similar memorials and Go Fund Me efforts for the two men killed in Minnesota and Louisiana were continuing to draw support. Both Euro-Americans and Afro-Americans were contributing to both.

Into our already existing horror, Joe Walsh saw fit to insert his racist Tweet. Calling the Black Lives Matter group, "punks" and disrespecting President Obama, he wrote, "This is war." He blatantly called for a race war, and with, "Watch out Obama" he identified a target. As might be predicted, his Tweet drew a firestorm like swirl of angry posts in the short time it took Twitter managers to remove it, and it was quickly copied and preserved in other places by those who didn't want him to be able to claim he was misquoted.

Those of us who prefer to emphasize that he is a former congressman are not surprised that he is defending the Tweet. He claims he was not calling for race war or assassination. I suppose if I were looking at a couple felony indictments, I too would claim my cowardly, racist posts were benign.

Three things I think I have learned:
  1. The swift angered reaction from Euro-Americans suggests some of us are finally learning to understand white racism exists and is evil.
  2. Free speech and the marketplace of ideas work. It was only a few minutes before Twitter clients were alerting both Twitter management and both Illinois and Federal law enforcement to the post.
  3. No one can accuse WLS management of courage. Walsh still has his job.
We are all learning that our common tongue is littered with with code words. "Persecution" now means to fundamentalist/evangelicals, the denial of white privilege. "Watch out" when combined with, "This is war" is a targeting instruction worthy of ISIL.

We are perhaps learning that we have over militarized law enforcement. Given the circumstances, I find it difficult to criticise the decision to use deadly force against the murderer. Five police lives were five too many, and risking others would have been unconscionable. I do however find the fact that the battlefield remote bomb was available to the police disturbing. But not its use! That is appropriate given the circumstances, and I along with many horrified Americans have only support, prayers, and tears to offer.

In contrast to the justified use of force in Dallas, the killings in Minnesota and Louisiana loom large and ugly. We need more police like the professionals in Dallas who ran towards the shooter, and fewer who make up threats after they kill black men.

If there is one thing we do not need in this mix of anger and pain, it is the vitriol and in my reading, stupidity seen in posts like Joe Walsh offers. Illinois has done over the decades so much better.


26 June 2016

The "big man," or Counsel

One of the effects of chemotherapy I find, is a feeling of general weakness. This probably explains both the infrequency, and brevity of my posts over the last 3 of so months. Add in the time the cancer took to develop and manifest, and we are back quite a ways. A writer, any writer, needs to feel well. During the time I was ill, America has changed as the primary and caucus season has played out.

There is a well known albeit perhaps fictional story of the day the Founders announced the proposed new Constitution of the United States. A lady in the crowd is said to have asked Ben Franklin, "What sort of government have you given us, a monarchy, a confederation?" Franklin is said to have replied, "A republic madam, if you can keep it." A true story or not, it is apt, and Franklin seems to have told it himself in later years.

Lincoln at Gettysburg, framed the issue this way. "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.1" Keeping a republic is neither simple task nor one with assured success.

Republics can be lost. Republics have enemies.

There are reasons why republics have enemies. Republics have citizens: period. When a republic has a set of citizens who stand above or outside its equality, the society seeks to correct the situation, sometimes violently. So we have the Terror in France, the many European revolutions of 1848, the American Civil War, and the Revolutions of what became the Soviet Union. Sometimes the republic fails, as it did in Germany and the Soviet Union. As the fate of the "Third Reich" shows, such losses can be fleeting. There is in the story of Germany a cautionary tale for Mr. Putin.

Enemies of republics have to offer an alternative vision of the world. One is the great man fraud. The Romans lost their republic because they fell into the idea of the Counsel / Dictator. This was great man who could in time of great need dictate outcomes and rule, temporarily. When the Republic ran into a man named Caesar and named him Counsel, its life was over. When Germany decided it needed a Fuhrer, destruction and fire were its fate. But none-the-less, the idea of the great man persists. It is especially persistent among those who think they because of some trait, should be the upper class and are clearly not.

Beginning in Iowa, we Americans have been in the process of selecting a new president. At its best, when the selection process is working as a part of the republic, the contests are between competing visions of how government should be focused. A republic in fact requires competition between ideas, what a former president famously once called, "the vision thing." It is precisely in what Jefferson called, after the French, "the marketplace of ideas."

On one side, the democrats, that has been a description of the contest. As the race has progressed, Mrs. Clinton, who has won, has moved towards the progressive side of the street, as the marketplace has worked its function. While Sen. Sanders for whom I voted, did not win, his ideas have changed the focus and raised serious issues.

The other major party has been engaged not in a contest of ideas and visions, but in a sorting process. The question not what the vision is, but rather who was the great leader. Somehow, and no I do not understand how, Mr. Trump blustered and bullied himself through the sorting. The GOP is much too fractured to offer a vision of the future. "Repeal Obama-care" is neither a vision nor a program. Mr. Trump's horrible wall idea is not either.

We face the coming conventions knowing the outcomes. The main interest in the conventions will be how progressive the Sanders effect will drive the Democrat platform on the one hand, and what of Mr. Trump's ideas (consider the "wall") will be in the Republican platform.

After the conventions, here is what I think will happen. Consider before you count on this however, that as a predictor, I thought Mr. Trump would be gone before my cancer. In any event, I think Mr. Trump will have something of a tough time finding a vice-presidential, "running mate." I think he will cap out at about 40% of the electorate, with some very odd looking polls. This because I think those who have bought into the great leader idea will project onto him their own ideas. I expect Mr. Trump's support to be shallow, much broader than deep. At the end of the day, I think Mrs. Clinton will win.

I hope this set of projections is closer than my repeated expectation that Republican voters might come to their senses. If we fall into the false hope of the great leader, the republic Franklin gave us to keep will be in grave danger.

1 The Gettysburg Address, A. Lincoln

17 June 2016


Probably every blogger, essayist, columnist, politician and every preacher has been thinking about the right words to offer after the Orlando murders this week. Of course, there are always exceptions, this week Mr. Trump who uniquely among Americans should be thinking about the right things to say, seems unwilling to think at all.

I have read or heard quite a sampling of the commentaries, and as Sunday approaches it is depressingly likely we will hear, or read more. So, joining the chorus, herewith some reflections.

2016 is an election year. So, we inevitably have to deal with the fallout. But first, I think we need to deal with some theological items. The politics, like STD's, war, and poverty will be there when we are ready

Christians fall into several broad categories. One, which is where I live and pray, is Christianity that sees itself called to live into the kingdom of God. That is, Jesus began the kingdom, and we are called to make it real and present in the life of all. This means that it is not, “charity” it is our calling to bring the abundance of God's creation to all. Our mission then is living the reconciling love of God. We do not seek conversions, or fund missionaries to increase our Average Sunday Attendance, but rather to bring the world a bit closer to its reconciled vision.

In that context, what do we say about Orlando?

First and foremost we say that God loves each and every person the murderer shot. Their sexual identity does not moderate or reduce God's love. For those recovering from the shootings, that means offering whatever assistance we can. To those families dealing with religious bigotry towards their loved ones, it may mean offering funeral liturgies. What it does not mean is judging the victims, living or dead.

Second, it means naming the evil. These killings and woundings are the logical end of homophobia. This was terrible, but not terrorism. The killer may have attempted to wrap his evil in some sort of Islamic fanaticism, but his homophobia drove him, and that evil needs to be named.

Third, it means defending Christianity from guilt by association. When a faux Christian like Pat Robertson discovers that “Islamic terrorism” and American liberals share a “pro-gay” agenda, and that somehow that means we should not object if they kill each other, that is NOT Christianity. Actually, I have never heard or read something he said that is Christianity. We need to make that distinction clear.

After the religious thoughts, I think we must rationally consider the state of our laws. Most guns used in crimes begin their journey legally. The guns are legally purchased, and either stolen or unlawfully trafficked. It turns out relatively few are stolen.

Living in Illinois as I do, I cannot go to a retail store and pick up an assault weapon. I have to have a Firearms Owners Identity Card (I do have one) and the retailer and I have to observe a waiting period after I pay for the gun.

Or I can go to a gun show in Indiana, a 45 minute drive, buy a gun because I have a driver's license, and bring it home. I would never do that, but someone does. Chicago police estimate 40% of the guns they recover from crime begin in Indiana gun shows. Someone is not only driving to Indiana to evade our laws, they are selling the guns.

We think our laws save lives several ways:
  1. The classic crime of passion is sometimes avoided as passions and anger diffuse over time. This is especially important in potential suicides, a large part of the gun deaths in America.
  2. Background checks can be extended if the seller has concerns.
  3. We effectively close the, “gun show loophole.”
It is my view that a national version of the "FOID" makes sense. I also agree with the idea that if a person is on the, “no fly”list, they should automatically fail a background check. Of course, due process means that they have a right to challenge the listing, but that is not about guns, it is about fairness. Congress is not doing much, and has not for 7 1/2 years. They could create a process to notify citizens of their no-fly status and an appeal process. While they might actually have to do their jobs, they could probably get it done quickly. They would then have at least one accomplishment for the term.

So those are my political ideas. I am interested in yours.
St Laika's

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