Friday, May 12, 2017
The president's latest flurry of self-incriminating behavior begs the question: what is the remedy for the country when its president is clearly not in control of himself, has committed prima facie illegal actions and none of his so-called advisors, spokespeople and legal representatives seem to have any ability to provide him guidance or indeed to even anticipate his next unhinged act?
There has been talk - almost from the beginning of our current "long national nightmare"- about the possibility of the vice president, senior advisors and congressional leaders invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump. But removal by Trump's own people was never really likely, since Trump's character deficits were glaringly apparent even before the election and none of these people seemed inclined to oppose him then, much less remove him.
What stops seemingly sane government officials from acting?
The reason, the argument goes, is that the Republicans and Trump's inner cabal will continue to back him until they get their own agenda through -- which seems to be to repeal the ACA in order to claw back funds to then finance a huge tax cut to the wealthiest 1%.
Here's the thing, though. In the current chaos, it isn't likely that there will be much legislative activity, and certainly not of the type the Koch brothers et al had in mind when they pinned their expectations on Trump/Pence. In fact, as the dripping of investigative fire crackers increases to a tsunami of bombshells, the likelihood increases of not only failure to pass the Republican agenda but the collapse of public support for Republican in the House and Senate.
The strangest thing of all is that this could all be avoided by the Republicans! The argument that Trump and only Trump is necessary to get the massive wealth distribution legislation passed just doesn't make sense. Mike Pence is at least as committed to that agenda as his reluctant running mate, having been approved as early as 2014 by the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist and others in the billionaire elite.
They don't need Trump anymore now that his emotionally manipulative, hate-filled and sadly effective campaign has already delivered all three branches of government into their hands. It would be ever so simple to pretend to wake up and -- acting appropriately shocked, dismayed and kept in the dark - deliver the knock out blow to Trump and his band of merciless men. They could point to Trump and his associates as the source of all the nation's ills right now and claim to restore calm and dignity to the office and get government back on track. They could renenergize the Republicans in the House and Senate and answer Paul Ryan's and Mitch McConnell's prayers.
What's stopping them?
To be continued.
Saturday, April 29, 2017
|A rite of spring - the calving of an iceberg|
I'm from Newfoundland, known not only as the place where the events portrayed in the hit musical Come From Away take place, but also one of the best places on earth to view an annual parade of icebergs.
Newfoundland's icebergs "calve" off the glaciers on the west coast of Greenland. They break off in late winter/early spring, and make their way via the Labrador current out into the north Atlantic ocean. Then, they hug the coastline of the island of Newfoundland, gradually losing mass as they enter warmer waters below the 49th parallel until they melt entirely away - usually at some point just south of the Grand Banks.
Historically, the number of ice bergs that can be found in the northwestern Atlantic varies from year to year. In an average year, the peak of iceberg season (usually late May) would see a few hundred ice bergs drifting in the transatlantic shipping lanes. As of the first week of April, 2017, more than 400 ice bergs had already been counted in the area. The average for early April is about 80 bergs.
A warning by USCG ice patrol Commander Gabrielle McGrath notes that, early this month, three icebergs were found outside the boundaries of the area the Coast Guard had advised mariners to avoid and she is predicting a fourth consecutive “extreme ice season” with over 600 icebergs in the shipping lanes during the peak of the 2017 season.
John Konrad, gCaptain, April 19, 2017.
People who deny the reality of global climate change can spew their pseudo-science but Newfoundlanders know this is not normal. The effects of all that sea ice and the hugely increased number of ice bergs are numerous and not limited to just the ice. The increased ice keeps the ocean temperature offshore colder later into the year, too. Apart from a longer colder spring (and in Newfoundland, spring is an often miserable, foggy, wet, cold season), the colder ocean temperature means that the annual capelin spawning season has been pushed later and later into the summer. The capelin roll that used to happen in early June every year, is now occurring in mid July and even as late as early August. Whales travel to Newfoundland in summer to feed on the capelin and it is not yet known how this altered capelin season may effect the whales migratory habits and wellbeing.
Global warming is the cause of many similar cascading effects around the planet. The effects of global climate change on ice, capelin and whales are just the tip of the iceberg regarding how planetary ecosystems may be disrupted by the changes. Some we already can predict and it is possible that there will be many more effects that we cannot yet foresee.
Some people, like William Happer, you'd think would be able to grasp science - being a physicist and all -but no. Maybe, since his discipline is physics and not climate science, the professor simply cannot comprehend the overwhelming conclusions of the vast majority of climate scientists that global climate change is real and it is being accelerated by human activity.
Then again, his penchant for comparing the work of climatologists to Nazis (WTF!) throws up a vaguely familiar flag. Happer has been vying for a position in the Trump administration. So, there's that to consider.
The world is a complex ecosystem and sometimes we just need someone to explain things in plain language to help make sense of things. Enter Bill Nye, the science guy! Nye is well-known for making science fun and interesting to kids, so he is probably the best possible person to explain the danger of ignoring climate change to the ignorant - and the willfully ignorant - in the Republican party.
"Sir, with some respect, I encourage you to cut this out..."
Bill Nye to William Clapper
A mechanical engineer, Bill seems to be about as qualified to speak about climate science as Happer the physicist. More trustworthy, too, since Nye is not vying for a job in a corrupt, science-denying administration and has little to gain by it. Of course, a couple of minutes of air time and even less for each member of the panel, didn't give Bill much time to get a message across about the science of global warming, so he used his time in an even better way: to school Happer on his willful ignorance and misleading of the public, and to draw attention to the false equivalency that various media perpetuate in their eagerness to appear to be "even-handed".
Check it out:
Friday, April 28, 2017
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has a reputation on Capital Hill for being an incredibly ambitious man. In a 2015 article enumerating instances where he climbed over his former mentors in his ruthless pursuit of greater power, Huffington Post reported that Cheffetz's ambition is so notorious, his name has become "a verb" in political circles. Every move he makes - every career decision - appears to have been meticulously planned, even if that doesn't appear to be the case at first glance.
|All things to everyone...|
Run... Last Wednesday (April 19), Chaffetz announced that he will not be seeking re-election in 2018. Not for his own seat in the House of Representatives, and not for Orrin Hatch's seat in the U.S. Senate. Interestingly, he was pretty specific about not running in 2018, thereby leaving the door open for a run for another office; perhaps Governor of Utah in 2020 or... some other office in 2028.
|Sounds like Jason's striking a|
bipartisan note to play out on...
Away... Then, just as everyone was adjusting their sets and preparing for a new Chaffetz, reinvigorated House Oversight Committee Chairman, he announced that contrary to his statements last week ("I am healthy"; "I still have a job to do and I have no plans to take my foot off the gas."), he in fact is not healthy, needs foot surgery and oops! looks like he will have to take that foot off the gas after all. Let's just pause for a moment here to take in the sheer oddness of these contradictory statements within the span of 7 days. It seemed kind of weird last week when he threw in "I am healthy" into his announcement, but now it just seems bizarre, especially with the choice of metaphor he used to describe his continued commitment to his job!
|Speaks for itself, doesn't it?|
The more likely explanation is, as several articles have pointed out, simple ambition. Chaffetz has already registered the domain name JasonChaffetz2028.com for instance, and he is nothing if not a forward planner. The current mess in Washington DC, and the potential for even worse scandal involving treason, is a stink he does not want clinging to him, even 11 years from now.
My own view is that it is possible for the truth to be both ambition and collusion, although it is looking more like simple ambition. Chaffetz's coldly insensitive remarks about Healthcare last month were apparently heard in Utah and blew up campaign contributions to his Democratic opponent, Kathryn Allen. That unexpected news, combined with the unexpectedly bad reception he received during the spring recess, very likely changed the calculus. Chaffetz made an abrupt change of course at least once before in his career, and for much the same reason - evidence that his success was far from assured persuaded him to drop his plans of running.
|Ouch! Feels like Jason's not going|
to be hitting the gas for awhile...
Maybe Jason decided that with RepublicanCare looming on the horizon, which aims to remove protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, he had better schedule that elective surgery to remove the screws from his 12 year old injury sooner rather than later.
Whatever the case may be, Jason is no longer in the house - he has fled to Utah. We certainly live in interesting times.
For your Friday Feature, for no particular reason, I give you "Run Runaway" (Great Big Sea) :
I like black and white
dream in black in white
you like black and white
|Looks like Jason's got it sussed...|
all things to everyone
If you're in the swing
money ain't everything
if you're in the swing
If you got it sussed*
don't beat around the bush
if you got it sussed
oh now can't she wait?
no no come on and wait
oh now can't she wait?
I like black and white
dream in black in white
you like black and white
- Jim Lea, Noddy Holder
* "If you got it 'sussed'" = If you've got something figured out
Thursday, April 27, 2017
|Respect. How does that work, anyway?|
“I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim—so modestly and so humbly—to possess. It is time to withdraw our 'respect' from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world.”
― Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever
Respect. We hear a lot about it. But, how do we as individuals and as a society determine who is deserving of our respect? The Paige Sultzbach story got me thinking about this.
We hear every single day that we owe special, unassailable, respect for the religious beliefs of others, simply because they are religious beliefs. There is no way to evaluate the relative merits of religious ideas because the very act of questioning, evaluating or criticizing religious beliefs is deemed disrespectful and being disrespectful of religion is taboo. This catch-22 situation means that even when religious ideas clearly cause harm to ourselves or others, the cultural taboo which demands unearned respect for religious dogma and practices also forbids questioning them.
More precisely, people are pressured every day of their lives to pay respect - and be subordinate - to the religious majority wherever they live. In Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (to name a few countries under explicit Islamic rule) that would be the Muslim majority. In the USA, Denmark, Hungary, Canada and Great Britain (to name a few countries with explicit or implicit Christian state religions) it is the Christian majority. Of all of these, the United States was the first to explicitly guarantee in its Constitution that no single religion would be established by the state, thus preventing the official empowerment of one religious group over all others. In this way, the framers of the Constitution hoped to provide the foundation for a truly revolutionary new kind of nation: a country where people could be as free as humanly possible; where the rights and welfare of the individual would be balanced as far as humanly possible with the rights and welfare of the rest of the people, preventing both tyranny of the majority and the rise of theocratic dictators.
|Freedom of religion!* |
*For Christians only.
Demonstrating a wisdom beyond experience (because such a nation had never been tried before), they determined that, in order to form a more perfect union, the United States must be kept free of the appalling religious strife that had destroyed virtually every great civilization in history before them. They were convinced that freedom of religion in a nation that could not legally favor any one religion over the others would offer the best hope for the country to prosper, by enabling the people to prosper in peaceful coexistence as equals.
The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power.
But there have always been ambitious groups who seek to restore the bad old days of feudal oppression for their own benefit. There have always been people who consider themselves the chosen ones - the nobility which is called to rule over the lesser classes. Before the ink was dry on the US Constitution, religious groups were attempting to circumvent the prohibition of establishment of state religions. The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power. That battle over the separation of church and state has been waxing and waning constantly in the 225+ years since Independence, and while the Constitutional guarantee has held in theory, in practice the religious power-play has succeeded in carving so many inroads into the separation of church and state that the country has been reduced to a de facto Christian nation.
|You want to build a mosque? Well, we have news for you.|
Just guess whose country we think this is!
The truth is that the Christian religion has been quietly empowered both financially and politically, and it aims to gain supreme power by replacing the current republic with a Bible-based state. Christian conservatives will never cede that power willingly. The truth is that when minority religions or the non-religious expect equal respect from the Christian majority, the Christian majority cries persecution and refuses to honor the Constitution that they claim to uphold, but which they are undermining because they hate it as a threat to their ambitions. When a minority's beliefs conflict with majority Christian beliefs, the majority will use every avenue available to force the minority to accept having Christian belief shoved down its throat, even when the Constitution has promised that this will not happen. For Christians, the First Amendment guarantees their religion; they believe that it guarantees that they have the right to strip away the freedom of others to enjoy public life free of Christian proselytizing and the presumption of Christian supremacy. Christians regard the insistence of others that the Constitution guarantees them the same freedoms and rights as Christians as a challenge to Christian rights.
|...as long as it is Christianity|
The very act of respecting the beliefs of non-Christians - or even of allowing them to be visible, free to simply exist in this society - is perceived by Christians as an attack upon them. In short, the Christian majority claims to be oppressed if they are prevented from oppressing others. It is an amazing fact of western life that the concept of religious persecution has been perverted by the Christian majority to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as a meaningful description of the reality of what persecution actually means. It has been turned on its head. In the United States today, Christian religious belief is accorded such a level of public respect that it must be deferred to in every situation. In schools, in government offices, in supermarkets, hospitals and gas stations, non-Christians cannot escape the constant demand for public obeisance to Christianity.
|Ah, religious respect |
for girls and women.
Last week, a young girl was made the scapegoat in a fundamentalist Catholic power-play. The fact that Christian misogyny is still so open and accepted in society is bad enough, but the repeated expressions of respect by everyone involved - including the victims of the discrimination itself - for this medieval, systemic marginalization of women and girls was little short of amazing. In a breathtaking show of oppositional apologia, the ultra-conservative Catholic school in question brazenly couched its policy of discrimination against girls as "teaching boys to respect ladies". Apparently, the only way to "respect ladies" is to bar them from sports they are qualified to play, deny them opportunities to compete with their ability peers and generally limit their horizons as far as possible within strictly segregated, narrowly traditional gender roles.
The gender roles that Our Lady of Sorrows and similar ultra-conservative Christian organizations advocate for boys and girls tend - as always when "religious tradition" is invoked - to mean these things: active, dynamic, leadership roles for boys; passive, submissive, invisible roles for girls. In this religiously-fueled zeal to squeeze their female adherents into a suffocatingly circumscribed world of few joys and almost no choices, conservative Christians are exactly like their conservative brethren of other faiths - ultra-orthodox Jews and the Islamist Taliban, for instance - which enshrine repression of women into their orthodoxy under the same perniciously virtuous-sounding label of "respect for women".
|A lifetime of shrouded invisibility.|
Now, that's respect!
I do not respect the beliefs of Our Lady of Sorrows school. I condemn their beliefs and their actions as the immoral, repressive expression of deeply misogynistic theology. Attempts to establish medieval religious extremism should never go unchallenged in a civilized, egalitarian, free society. We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism. Domestic turmoil usually lays the conditions for the rise of oppressive theocracies, but war and failed government are not the only ways that authoritarian rule can gain a foothold in a contemporary society. Too often, authoritarian theocratic regimes take over when the people of a country have become complacently overconfident in their ability to detect and deflect such extremism. Tolerance of religious oppression is not respectful. It is foolhardy.
We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism.
It is time to stop paying undeserved respect to religious groups which marginalize and disrespect selected groups of human beings - usually female-bodied human beings. People who possess sincere respect for the essential humanity and dignity of others must refuse to offer "respect" for these oppressive ideologies. We must stand up and declare that this behavior is an affront to human dignity. It is immoral and people must have the courage to call it what it is. Religion is powerful. It is powerful enough to call for the elimination of its opponents in many parts of the world, and most religions do not hesitate to do so when they feel threatened. But, if people who value freedom of religion and who understand the threat which tyranny of the majority poses will not stand up, then we are - willingly? - participating in the destruction of our own democratic republic.
(This post was previously posted in 2012)
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Tonight, Hulu will air the first episodes in a ten part serial adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood's tale of a dystopian America in the quite near future became an instant classic and according to Sophie Gilbert's excellent review in the Atlantic, this television adaptation of the novel is unlike anything we have yet seen on television or in film.
Several other reviews -- all seem to be glowing.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
The Chicago Tribune
As Atwood wrote: Nothing in any society happens quickly, or without warning, and "in a gradually heating bathtub, you'd be boiled to death before you knew it". Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune