Wednesday, June 17, 2015

U.S.S. Republican Ship of Fools

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It's difficult to keep track, isn't it? There are a few candidates missing here. Oh, yeah, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee are two and maybe Jim Gilmore and Peter King are two more. Do you think average Republicans can even identify all the candidates in this photo? 

As we watch all the hopefuls board the 2016 Republican Ship of Fools one by one, we have to shake our heads at how nonsensical the GOP has allowed its nominating process to become. There are some serious nominees here, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, maybe a few others. The rest are living in a world of fantasy, including Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, George Pataki (his great sin is being too mainstream), Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Lindsay Graham and oh, yes, the epitome of showboatism, Donald Trump.

But hopeless as their candidacies are, they can do some damage by making the Republican field look  stupid. Instead of Bush and Walker and Paul and Rubio sitting down for a real discussion of how they would handle the important issues facing the country, we will have Graham wanting to declare war on Day One of his presidency, Rick Perry wanting to building a wall four miles high and two miles wide between the U.S. and Mexico, Rick Santorum explaining how contraceptives are evil, Ben Carson opining that prisons prove gayness is a choice.... 

Instead of that serious debate among serious contenders, they will be dragged down having to match the Tea Party favorites to prove their conservative bona fides. The no-chance candidates will pull the potential nominees farther to the right than they would naturally go, much to their detriment in a general election. 

Meanwhile, Donald Trump will be the Genghis Khan of Republican field although he doesn't have a prayer of actually winning. He shredded them all in his announcement speech. Imagine how much bloodletting he'll engage in during the debates.

And who gets to make the decision about which Republicans will be allowed to participate in the debate (and, therefore, in the primary)? Why, Fox News, of course. The Republican leadership happily ceded its responsibility for vetting the candidates to good old Fox. (They are going by notoriously unreliable polling but they haven't revealed what polls they are using or what the criteria is). 

And, naturally, Fox is more interested in the entertainment value of the debates than in the actual goal of allowing voters to make commonsense decisions for winnowing the field. So, when you look at it that way, you can see that The Donald will definitely provide more bang for a news channel's buck.

Good old Reince Priebus, Republican Chairman, must be wondering where all his power went since Fox has more authority than the party in the nominating process and the Koch Brothers will have more money than the party in the election process. What does the GOP actually need a leadership for?

There has to be a better way of narrowing the field down to a few sane candidates who might actually have a chance of winning rather than watching them having to respond to the utterly fantastical assertions of the right-wing nuts so that they come to the general election weak and bleeding. 

Come on, Republicans, get with the program. The country is better off when we have a strong race of competing ideas. You're ensuring that your candidate will come into this with one hand tied behind his back. 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

With Friends Like These......

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Hillary's campaign is beginning to bring back bad old memories. I'm starting to be reminded of just why I disliked Rachel Maddow and Ed Shultz and Chris Matthews so much in 2007. I'm remembering my resentment of Ted and Caroline Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi, et al.

It's all coming back to me how they screwed over Hillary for Barack Obama and I'm seeing the same thing again now, only this time, it is Bernie Sanders.  Most of the MSNBC crew were naively beguiled by Obama. Who could support a female, who, granted, was hard-working and experienced, a proven warrior, but also middle-aged and somewhat dowdy, compared to a handsome, hip young black man? Hillary was so old news while Obama was fresh and optimistic. He was change they could believe in. He was hope. He was the recipe for being able to cross the cultural and political divide that existed in Washington. (Uh huh, sure thing, how's that working out for them?)

They didn't actually come out against her so much as they were dismissive. They exalted him and damned her with faint praise. She, they told us, sadly, was a terrible campaigner. She was too cold or maybe it was too emotional. She arrogantly took her position as front-runner for granted. She was an elitist. She this, she that..... Meanwhile, there was Obama floating above the fray clad in the robes of the savior. God, he's so cool!

Surprisingly, considering their accusations about her, she was winning Texas and Pennsylvania and Ohio and Florida and Michigan and California  and even states like West Virginia and Kentucky, but yet, they swooned when Obama won little western caucuses in states that hadn't voted Democratic in a presidential election for generations. She won Massachusetts in spite of the most important Kennedy's going for Obama.

And the powers-that-be in the democratic leadership made sure those little caucuses were as important, or even more important in the scheme of things, as the big populous blue states she won. They withheld Florida and Michigan's votes until Obama was declared the winner, then let those states switch their votes to him so it looked all kumbaya within  the party.

I was furious about all that at the time because I felt like the woman had been treated pretty much the way women are always treated in this country, we who belonged to the women's auxiliary rather than the main group, which would, of course, be run by men. Always destined to be the cookie makers and the tea pourers.

And now, we have Bernie Sanders. And don't get me wrong. I really like Bernie Sanders but I'm hating, once again, seeing the liberal news crowd putting him on a pedestal compared to her.

Rachel Maddow pretends that she just wants a competitive primary ("that's even good for Hillary") but you can tell that below the surface, her heart goes pitty-pat for Bernie. "Really," you can almost see her hoping, "is there a possibility he could actually win?"

Chris Matthews had a panel that dissected Hillary's campaign with rather petulant dissatisfaction. She's staked out some strong liberal positions on immigration and voting rights and gay marriage but none of it so far, is enough to please the liberal pundit class.  

And she went to Texas on a fund-raising trip. Oh, my. Because money shouldn't be a factor just because the Republican, whoever he is, will have barrels of Koch money and Adelson money, as well as other millionaires and billionaires too numerous to mention.

I'm come to the conclusion that Hillary simply isn't pure enough to please the left. She's extremely bright but face it, she's a slogger. She's a worker bee. She puts her time in to learn the issues and concisely express where she stands. She is noted for being strong on women's and children's concerns, but face it, these aren't what the media finds glamorous.

Hillary, like her husband, will work with anyone if it means getting something done. Bill joined forces with the Bush's on various catastrophic events and developed a real friendship with them. He welcomes anyone to join his Foundation if they'll give money to his pet causes. Perhaps, he hopes they'll find enlightenment but if not, at least, he has their check to build a school or combat AIDS or immunize children or rebuild a community hit by tragedy.

I think Hillary is the same. She's practical, realistic. She knows everyone won't love her but maybe they can still find some common ground to achieve a common goal. On the other hand, she'll fight if she has too. She's engaged in hand-to-hand combat with her enemies before.

The Republican candidates are piling on. They aren't wasting a lot of time worrying about Bernie Sanders, no, they are making every effort to destroy Hillary's credibility and while they are doing so, the lefty media is sniffing contemptuously.

With friends like them, Hillary doesn't need any enemies.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bruce or Caitlyn? What Difference Does It Make?

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Oh, man, I don't really want to do this but it almost seems obligatory for one who writes about social issues since it is the "Story of the Week".

Caitlyn Jenner, aka Bruce Jenner, made her big reveal, her transition from a man to a woman, in the splashiest way possible, appearing in a corset on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. At the same time, Caitlyn's Twitter page debuted and garnered over a million followers almost instantly.

I don't really care much about Jenner as an individual but the sad fact is that there are a lot of transgender people out there, miserably trapped in bodies that don't agree with with who they are in their heads. In a time when society is so much more accepting of homosexuality than it used to be, most transgender people are still deeply closeted, knowing the kind of contempt and vituperation they will receive if they announce themselves as what they are - from family, friends and the public, at large.

So, often, it takes a celebrity, someone famous and rich, like Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner to take on a controversial issue such as this one. No newspaper or news show would pay much attention if Joe Nobody tried to explain his position or state his case. In fact, the media mostly pays attention to transgender people when they commit suicide, brought to despair by their conflicted lives and lack of compassion from those around them.

In fact, Joe Nobody would never have the opportunity to sync his mind and body as Jenner has done because it is expensive to transition from one sex to another. It is especially costly if you have significant reconstructive surgery in an effort to be attractive in your new role.

Jenner's very public sex change has been carefully orchestrated, of course, from the first interview with Diane Sawyer to the pictures of a semi-transitioned Jenner and then to the heavily advertised article and photos in Vanity Fair. There is also a reality t.v. program looming on the horizon.

It all seems rather crass and commercial but it is probably also the only way it could be done to accomplish what Jenner wants to accomplish which is to draw attention to transgenders and their struggle to be accepted for what they are.

And, really, why should it be anyone else's business? If you are a man living in a woman's body or vice versa and your most heartfelt wish is to integrate the two parts of your self into one coordinated whole, why should anyone care?

I, personally, don't care. Life is all about trying to discover yourself and and doing so with the most integrity and honesty possible. If changing sexes is what it takes for you to do that, more power to you. If you have the wherewithal to help make it easier for others not so fortunate as Caitlyn Jenner is doing, hurray for her.

My life will go on exactly the same with Jenner is Bruce or Caitlyn and so will yours.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Flying Flags Is Too Easy

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I touched on this issue in my NASCAR blog this week but I wanted to expand on it here.

I think there is no question that NASCAR is the most patriotic sport, the sport most supportive of the military. Generally, that is a good thing. We love our flags and fireworks and flyovers, and we especially love our soldiers. This year, every car on the track had the name of a fallen warrior where the driver's name usually goes. Teams brought the families of those so honored to the race.

But even on weekends not celebrating Memorial Day, NASCAR goes above and beyond. No invocation neglects to mention the members of our Armed Forces. Uniformed personnel are usually front and center at races. Driver's foundations support veteran's groups. Flags fly on every race day.

Having said all that, I wonder how many race-watchers really think about whether the soldiers whose names were on those cars went to their deaths for a good and just cause? Face it - America is a war-like nation. We are ready to send our planes and ships and tanks and yes, our kids off to battle at the drop of a hat. We have been at war many more years of our history than we've been at peace.

We've fought Germans and Japanese and Native Americans and Mexicans and southeast Asians and Koreans and Iraqis and Spanish and Italians....and we've fought each other. We've fought for territory and we've fought to defend friends and we've fought for abstract geo-political principles.

As the old saying goes, "if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." The military is America's hammer. We have the biggest and the best. We spend more on our military than the next 20 nations combined. We let other critical matters go unattended to ensure we have the most ships and tanks and missiles.

When it comes to war, America is Justifiction Nation. We had to drop those atom bombs! We had to torture those people! We had to engage in extreme rendition! We had to exchange guns for hostages! We had to assassinate bad guys like Allende! We had to get Saddam Hussein!We have to send out our death-dealing drones! America, it seems, has to do bad in order to do good.

It is estimated that America has lost 1,411,397 soldiers in all our various wars (with the Civil War and World War II accounting for the most, by far.

And yet, looking at all those deaths and all those years of war, what have we really accomplished? I will grant you World War II. I'm not an expert but it seems to have been necessary, although in the end, we traded Germany for Russia, which seems like something of a toss-up. Still, I suppose we couldn't let England fall. And, perhaps, Korea was a more positive outcome than if we hadn't gone.

But we committed genocide on the American Indians and took a lot of hits on our side too, but hey, we had to have that land, right?

We fought the Civil War to keep the country united but all these years later, it seems the South still harbors an enormous grudge. Maybe we'd have been better off to let them go their own way.

Over all, is the world a better place because of all our many interventions? We've supported corrupt governments at least as often as honest ones. We mucked around in South America. In Nicaragua, for instance. Do you know what finally happened in Nicaragua, the country Ronald Reagan told us was of such great importance? Do you care? Well, the the bad guys won against our chosen side, the Contras. Nicaragua is a republic now and recently moved to liberalize its policies.

We went to Vietnam to keep the dominoes from falling but they fell anyway. Vietnam began to be less dictatorial and more prosperous when the war was over. We trade with them now.

Afghanistan is now our country's longest war. The Taliban is as strong as ever and the "real" government is gutless and deceitful. Just like Russia, we'll eventually withdraw, much the worse for wear.

Iraq. Can anyone say things are better there? ISIS makes Saddam and even al Qaeda look like pikers in the brutality department but they are taking over huge swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, the official government military run like whipped dogs with their tails between their legs, leaving the weaponry we gave them behind as a gift to ISIS.

The entire Middle East is a giant cauldron of boiling hatred. In my opinion, anyone who believes America can change that is delusional, no matter how many of our kids we're willing to give to the effort.

I don't believe there is never a time for war but certainly, we hop in and out of deadly conflicts as if the lives of our children were no more than fuel to keep the military-industrial complex running.

Our children - "our" being the key word. Which brings us back to NASCAR. There has recently been something of a baby boom in the sport. It's fun to see all the drivers with their little ones during the pre-race ceremonies. But for all that NASCAR honors the troops, what do you want to bet that none of these little NASCAR kids will ever be a troop.

If we really thought all our wars were vitally necessary, we would insist on a shared sacrifice instead of allowing less than 1 percent of our citizens to bear the entire burden. That makes it too easy for us to say, "sure thing, on to the next war." (Iran, perhaps.)

In light of that, excuse me if having my dead child's name on the side of a race car wouldn't mean that much.  


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Evangelicals versus "Nones"

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According to the latest Pew poll, fewer Americans consider themselves affiliated with any religion than ever in our history. Pew did the last survey of religious life in America in 2007 and then again in 2014. In that span, the number of people who called themselves Christians dropped from about 78 percent of the population to just under 71 percent. Meanwhile, the Americans who considered themselves atheist, agnostic or of no particular faith increased from 16 percent to 23 percent. (I understand why these last are lumped together as "everyone else" but that can be misleading because their spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs are often miles apart).

Still, almost 71 percent of us consider ourselves Christian, which means Christianity remains the dominant faith by far. By contrast, Muslims and Hindus together comprise less than one percent with Jews at 1.9 percent (a slight rise).

This all means that 56 million Americans are not followers of any religion, which is the second largest total behind evangelicals, who claim 62 million believers.

This sets up the political fault lines we see in American politics as most "nones" tend to vote Democratic while evangelicals vote overwhelmingly Republican.

Meanwhile, mainline Protestants, which used to be the majority, have fallen by about 5 million. Catholics have dropped 3 percent. Ethnicity makes a difference. One third of America's Catholics are Latino. A quarter of evangelicals are minorities.

All of these trends are even more accentuated when it comes to young people, particularly Millennials.

Why is this happening? There are many theories and I have one. Keep in mind, it is from observation and reading only, there is no scientific research behind it so you can accept or dismiss it as you see fit.

I believe the two main trends - fewer Christians in general and more evangelicals in particular, are interconnected.

Different groups of people need different things from their religion. Some require structure and exclusivity. They want to know they are indisputably right while anyone who disagrees is wrong. There is no room for tolerance. They need passion from their faith, the passion of the true believer. Doubt makes them uncomfortable. Homosexuality is wrong. God said so. So is abortion. Period. End of story.

If you die without having accepted Jesus, you're going to hell. God does not make allowances. The rules are the rules. All you have to do is follow them unquestioningly and you'll be fine. Otherwise, you're going to hell.

On the other hand, to the "nones', evangelicals, (and by extension, Christianity itself), seem increasingly harsh and judgmental about their fellow man. Reading their militant posts on social media pushes the "nones" farther away from the established church. They often consider themselves spiritual even if they are no longer religious. They prefer a kinder, gentler deity, one who made us with all our weaknesses and is understanding of them.

I would expect that Pope Francis will drive away some of the more philosophically militant Catholics while drawing back some of those who fell away during the more intolerant reign of Benedict.

So, there is a push/pull in American religion today. It is the same divide we see in our politics between conservative and liberal. The number of religious are smaller, over all, but they are ever more driven to work their will on the country, which is what religious freedom laws are all about.

The "nones", meanwhile, fight against having to abide by the rules of the religious, rules they themselves don't believe in.

Where does this leave the mainstream churches? Standing on the sidelines trying to find a way to make their own views relevant. All the interaction is between the fundamentalists and the "nones".

Religious war has never turned out well. I have no doubt that this one won't either.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Number One Priority for Republicans - Abortion

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The political parties argue about many issues - wars and spending and gay rights and climate change and on and on but truly, abortion is and has been for the last many years, the Republicans' main priority and, increasingly, that also includes contraceptives. They are obsessive about it. It's one of the first laws Republicans push when they have control of any legislature - national or state. This was all outlined by Rachel Maddow on her show last night. But what is it that really drives Republicans on abortion? Is it truly love for fetuses? If that is so, some of their legislation seems to work at cross-purposes with those declarations.

- For instance, Colorado has had one of the most successful programs for lowering teen pregnancy rates and teen abortion rates, one for which they've received national recognition. They did it by providing IUDs to girls who don't want to get pregnant. They lowered the teen pregnancy rate by 40 percent and the teen abortion rate by 35 percent. You would think Republicans would hail those results but no, as soon as they took control of the Colorado legislature, they de-funded the program. Presumably, the pregnancy and abortion rates will now begin to go back up so what was the Republicans' rationale?

- North Carolina has one of the most prestigious medical schoolsin the country at the University of North Carolina. Republicans considered banning the teaching of when and how to perform abortions at UNC until they discovered that such a backward move might lose the school its accreditation, then they back offed....reluctantly.

- Still North Carolina legislators did proceed with passing a measure that would mandate women who wanted abortions to be forced to have an unnecessary ultrasound against their and their doctor's will...and here's the good part - not only would they have to have an ultrasound, they would then have to send it to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to be filed. I guess this is the Republican idea of limited government. If the idea of seizing women's ultrasounds doesn't make you hear the Jaws theme playing in the background, then you are insensitive to government overreach (except when you believe it is your ox being gored because....guns).

- Tennessee's Republicans just voted on new restrictions meant to close their family planning clinics, much like the ones in Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin.

- Oklahoma's governor, Mary Fallin, just signed a bill mandating a three-day waiting period before a woman can proceed with an abortion.

- Alabama just passed three new laws restricting abortions.

- Arkansas, not to be outdone, passed six!

- So far, 11 states have passed 37 new laws restricting abortion in 2015.

And what about the national Republican party. Oh, yes, The House too is pondering what kind of abortion bill to pass next. If you remember, a so-called "fetal heartbeat" bill was the first legislation they contemplated voting on in 2015. It was so onerous that even Republican woman balked and in the end, the bill was pulled. But, not to worry, they haven't given up.

Despite the fact that in the next few days, they have to a) re-authorize NSA spying which was recently found to be unconstitutional as it stands, b) pass a Defense appropriations bill and c) decide whether undocumented aliens can enlist in our military, they still have plenty of time, it seems, to debate and vote on new abortion legislation.

Right now they appear to be struggling with a couple of components of the proposed bill. One is whether to impose a 48-hour waiting period on rape victims wanting an abortion, as well as requiring proof that the she has sought counseling. The second question deals with incest victims. At what age can girls who've been impregnated by their fathers or other family members be allowed to have an abortion? The current Republican thinking seems to be that if you are 17 or under and don't want to bear your freaking father's child, then yes, we guess, you can have an abortion. But if you're 18, nope, you gotta' go ahead and do it 'cause we say so.

They are considering this bill even though, if anything, they've made it worse, so will the Republican women who opposed it before suddenly decide to capitulate? Does it have a chance to get 60 votes in the Senate? (Unlikely). Will the president veto it? (Absolutely!) So, why do they insist on tilting at this windmill with all the serious issues they should be working on instead? Is it just to please their base? Does this so color their thinking, they can't not do it? Do they simply believe they must control women because God know what we'd do if they let us get out of hand?

So far as I've heard, all the Republicans running for president are pro-life, some more than others. To people like Mike Huckabee, pro-life not only means anti-abortion, it means anti-birth control as well.

The Republicans love them some fetuses, hell, they don't even have to be fetuses, they can be eggs, not even eggs, just their cute single little sperm is enough to call forth reverence from the Republicans. They feel this way right up until the sperm becomes a fetus becomes a baby and is born, then it's "hey, Mom, if life is tough for you and your little brat, too bad so sad. You want help with food, with housing, with healthcare, well, sorry, Exxon and Citibank come first."

I will simply never understand why any woman votes Republican.