Uncategorized

Fear and Loathing…

The symmetry is as awful as it was expected. 

In the same week that saw the death of the man with the last, most obvious connection to the non-violent protests that eventually ushered in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s, Donald Trump’s personal federal police force tear gassed protesting moms in Portland, Oregon.

In this Feb. 15, 2011 photo, President Barack Obama presents a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The two events are connected in a tableau that perfectly illustrates the perilous state of American democracy. 

The praise for Georgia Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon and moral consciousness of the often-amoral American political process, was near universal, with earnest commemoration even from many conservative Republicans. For the most part these Republicans never voted with Lewis, but they knew – at least for public consumption – that his righteousness grounded in his personal commitment to decency and in his religious faith transcended partisanship. 

The fleeting praise rings deeply hollow, however, when you consider that Lewis’s great cause – voting rights – has been under persistent attack from Republicans, most distressingly by the conservative majority in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby County case, which gutted key provisions of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. That’s the law John Lewis was peacefully marching to support when he was nearly beaten to death in Selma, Alabama.

A young John Lewis, beaten nearly to death, while marching for the vote in Selma, Alabama in 1965

“The decision in Shelby County opened the floodgates to laws restricting voting throughout the United States,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which tracks voting rights issues nationally. “The effects were immediate,” Brennan says. “Within 24 hours of the ruling, Texas announced that it would implement a strict photo ID law. Two other states, Mississippi and Alabama, also began to enforce photo ID laws that had previously been barred because of federal preclearance.” 

When the court’s decision was announced, Lewis immediately understood the import. The court, he said, “put a dagger in the very heart of the Voting Rights Act.” And the political murder continues. 

From Republican-led gerrymandering in Wisconsin and North Carolina to blatantly partisan efforts in Georgia and elsewhere to suppress the vote to Donald Trump’s attacks on voting by mail – the type of voting Trump has regularly done himself – the GOP assault on voting has been broad and deep. Moreover, repeated efforts to restore the safeguards removed in the Shelby case have been stonewalled by congressional Republicans, even though most of them, including a unanimous Senate in 2006, supported extending the law for 25 years.

Republicans, now cozy in Trump’s party that celebrates white nationalism and increasing authoritarianism, can’t abide more Americans voting, or voting more easily. The country’s changing demographics spell doom for a party built on aging white voters, so for Republicans clinging to power means making sure Americans outside the GOP demographic are marginalized. And what better way to weaken their commitment to democracy than by making voting harder, or even impossible. 

All this will come home to roost in November amid an out of control pandemic when GOP efforts to delegitimize voting by mail and limit polling places collides with a deeply polarized electorate fearful for its health, wealth and security. That Trump explicitly refuses to say he’ll accept the election outcome should chill every American spine. The Civil War, after all, began over one section of the nation refusing to accept the outcome of a presidential election in a country where millions were denied not only the vote, but citizenship. 

Meanwhile, desperate to redirect the gnat-like attention span of too many Americans away from his disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump has sent his own special paramilitary force on to the streets of Portland, Oregon, allegedly to protect federal buildings. Yet, in the incompetent and improvisational way that characterizes the president’s every action, the overwhelmingly peaceful anti-racism protests in Portland, now headed nightly by hundreds of women in yellow t-shirts, have only grown amid the federal presence; a presence strongly condemned by local officials.

Portland’s nightly protests have only grown larger with the insertion of federal paramilitary personnel

And well it should be condemned. America has no national police force, even if Trump hopes to turn the Department of Homeland Security into one. It is the very definition of un-American to dispatch unidentified federal agents to an American city to spirit protesters off the streets and hustle them away in unmarked vans. This is the nightmare of Pinochet’s Chile or Putin’s Russia.

And presidents don’t unilaterally insert federal agents into communities without the consent and advice of authorities on the ground. As The Atlantic’s David Graham wrote recently, “Trump appears to be trying to do something novel in this country: establishing a force like interior ministries in other countries.”

One of the few Republicans willing to condemn what Oregon Senator Ron Wyden calls Trump’s “jackboot goons” is the first secretary of Homeland Security, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. “The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism,” Ridge told a radio interviewer. “It was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”

I’m old enough to remember when every Republicans would have been appalled by Trump’s Portland stunt, which is so far out of the mainstream of what was once considered the conservative understanding of the role of the federal government as to boggle the mind. 

One can almost hear one-time Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth rage against “armed agency officials and helicopters,” who she was convinced were violating the Constitution to enforce the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s. Helen was wrong about her “black helicopters,” but she did articulate the once widely shared conservative view that turning federal agencies into paramilitary forces was a really bad idea. 

Trump’s motives, of course, both for trying to suppress the vote and for staging a photo op in Portland, is to stimulate fear, to stoke division and hope that he can eek out a second term from the outrage smoldering in his shrinking political base. It’s a strategy as transparent as his spray on tan and as cynical as his instant pivot to a message that wearing a mask is now OK by him. 

“My question,” Oregon’s Wyden said this week, “[is] where are the Senate Republicans who preach state rights and freedoms as Trump sends paramilitary forces into cities uninvited and tramples on the Constitution? Are they so cowardly that they too will try to convince the country that ‘walls of moms’ are threats?” 

Turns out they are cowards, senator. They really are. 

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Additional Reading:

Twilight of Democracy

The historian Anne Applebaum has done important work on Putin’s Russia and the rise of authoritarian governments around the world. In her new book – Twilight of Democracy – Applebaum assesses the state of American democracy. She’s not all that sunny about it. 

“By 2016, some of the arguments of the old Marxist left—their hatred of ordinary, bourgeois politics and their longing for revolutionary change—met and mingled with the Christian right’s despair about the future of American democracy. Together, they produced the restorative nostalgic campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump. Two years earlier, Trump had railed against American failure, and called for a solution Trotsky would have appreciated: ‘You know what solves [this]? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have . . . riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.’”

Read the excerpt here.


Trump May Not Accept the Election Outcome

Lots of commentary this week about Donald Trump’s testy interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, particularly about the president’s refusal to say whether he will accept the results of the November election and the crisis that would surely follow.

Donald Trump’s sweaty, often incoherent interview with Chris Wallace

The always excellent Jonathan V. Last hits the nail with his piece in The Bulwark.

“The most likely path to a crisis isn’t a president who says, ‘I understand that I lost by 6 million votes, but I do not like this outcome and will not be leaving.’

“No, the path to crisis is a president who says, ‘These results claiming I lost by 6 million votes are illegitimate. The vote was rigged and it was not a fair election. We are going to contest the results with every option available to us and prove that I, in fact, won.’”

Read the whole thing.

Why are Restaurants so Loud 

Most of us aren’t going out to dinner much these days, but one can hope that will change before too long. Meantime The Atlantic asks and answers a question I keep asking – Why is it so loud in so many restaurants?

“Restaurant critics and journalists have long complained about noisy restaurants (San Francisco Chronicle food reporters have carried around sound-level meters since the late 1990s), but in recent years the clamor against clamor has reached new heights. Like the open office, the loud restaurant seems to have overstayed its welcome.

“That’s because loud restaurants are more profitable.”

But of course. Read the whole thing.


Quarantine Kat 

Life under the COVID-19 lockdown inspired Portland animator Jerold Howard to create “Quarantine Kat”—an animated character that channels Howard’s daily struggles at home: from balancing the mundane with the profound, to the temptations of excessive snacking.

We can all identify with this cat, er, kat. 

Watch the short video

Thanks, as always, for reading. Please share and/or send comments any time. Be well.

2020 Election, Trump, Uncategorized

Fantasy Land…

The essential objective of the Republican Party for the next five months is to rewrite the history of the last three and a half years. The strategy is to throw up so much flak that distorts or revises reality that by election day enough voters are so thoroughly confused or so supremely disgusted that they won’t vote, concluding American democracy is just not worth the bother. 

The GOP strategy is driven from top by a cult figure who, as conservative columnist Max Boot wrote recently, doubles as the “unhinged conspiracy-monger in the White House.”

Americans have for a long time, and very strangely, been susceptible to conspiracy theories. But now the old, standard wacky notions – the moon landing was faked, extraterrestrials landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, Elvis is still alive – have given way to conspiracy theory as politics.  

If it’s in the local paper it must be true – right?

“Classically, conspiracy theories are propagated by people on the margins – they’re almost a weapon of the powerless, for holding the powerful to account,” says Russell Muirhead, a political scientist at Dartmouth College who has studied this American fixation with the nutty. “But right now the new stuff is coming directly from the powerful, which is really quite extraordinary.”

Donald Trump’s obsession with conspiracies provides both insight into his lack of character, as well his re-election strategy. Given his criminally botched response to a deadly pandemic that left 100,000 American dead in barely two months, while tanking the economy, perhaps for years, the Conspirator-in-Chief can hardly run on his record. He must shift attention to keep his most committed supporters both entertained and distracted from reality. 

Trump’s one-time chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who also once headed Breitbart News, a website cesspool of half-baked nonsense and rightwing propaganda, perfectly described the GOP strategy in 2018. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon told the writer Michael Lewis. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

And that is precisely what Trump has been doing while his willing enablers, including the timid souls Idaho voters dispatch to represent them in Washington, D.C., stand by mute amid the fetid garbage. 

Trump, of course, rode to real political prominence peddling the fake news that Barack Obama was not an American citizen. Many of his supporters bought the “birther” nonsense, and some still do. They also bought that Mexico would pay for his wall and that China would pay for his tariffs. Initially they bought his claim that the COVID-19 virus was “a hoax,” but clearly some conspiracy theories get overtaken by events. 

Barack Obama’s birth certificate – from Hawaii

Now Trump is asking them to buy the hoax that voting by mail will lead to vast corruption of the electoral process, a convenient claim for a guy who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes in 2016 and will need a spectacularly outrageous conspiracy theory to justify his loss in November. 

The man the Internet whit Dave Pell calls “the Cloroxymoron” has, of course, had to manufacture new conspiracies as the old ones run out of steam. There is “Obamagate,” a conspiracy so deep and impenetrable that the White House press secretary declined to respond to a question about just what it was. Then came the spectacularly obscene charge emitting from the presidential Twitter feed that former Republican congressman and cable TV host Joe Scarborough may have murdered a young female staff member in 2001.

That odious one drew a poignant response from the woman’s husband who correctly accused the Republican president of having taken “something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain.” 

In debunking the Scarborough nonsense, the Washington Post’s Craig Pittman might have been talking about the gutless lack of decency on the part of Idahoans like Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo, Republicans who know Scarborough because they served in Congress with him when he represented Florida. 

 “Trump’s tweets offer a reminder of the remarkable nature of the Trump era — that a sitting president can traffic in incendiary and false allegations while the political world around him remains largely silent, accustomed to Trump’s modern-day definition of presidential behavior,” Pittman wrote. “As with many such eruptions from the White House, there will probably be little if any consequence beyond, in this case, the collateral suffering of a private family in Florida.”

At this point let’s note that a recent Yahoo/YouGov poll reported that “44 percent of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements.” Yahoo News felt compelled to note that is “a widely debunked conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.” 

That kind of statistic does, however, help explain why once sensible, fair minded guys like Crapo and Simpson now behave as they do in our Age of Trump. They have become paralyzed with the fear that the most fever swampish in the GOP base will turn on them. 

It’s a reasonable fear. After all Oregon Republicans just nominated a U.S. Senate candidate who is a believer in the wacky QAnon conspiracy theories that promote Trump as a world savior, while Idaho Republicans like Janice McGeachin and Heather Scott have become the party’s modern day “Know Nothings.” 

A conspiracy so immense…

Some of the president’s most loyal followers – and most fervent conspiratorialists – have taken to calling Trump the “God Emperor,” but this emperor’s clothes are missing even if the two Mikes and so many others ignore the reality. Their essential cowardice exposes the profound ethical and moral rot in the modern GOP under Trump. It will follow them all their days. 

“We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered,” David Frum wrote in his 2018 book Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, has basically given up on the silent majority of GOP officeholders who have aided and abetted the intellectual destruction of their party. 

“What happens next is up to you,” Frum writes, knowing that once principled conservatives like Simpson and Crapo, unable or unwilling to exercise leadership at a time of peril, will do nothing, while cowering in a corner literally and figuratively clutching their seats.

—–0—–

Additional reading:

Trump: The Manly Man 

Conservative commentator Tom Nichols writes in The Atlantic that the president is the least manly man to ever occupy the Oval Office, and the mostly white men who support him make up a cult-like following that has an image of Donald Trump divorced from reality. Nichols writes: “Perhaps Howard Stern, of all people, said it best: ‘The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump for the most part … He’d be disgusted by them.’ The tragedy is that they are not disgusted by him in return.”

The Manly Man?

Masha Gessen on Rising Authoritarianism

I try to read everything the historian and essayist Masha Gessen writes, both for her insights into the rise of authoritarianism in the world, but also because she brings an immigrant’s perspective to our current moment. Gessen was born in Russia and wrote an excellent book explaining Vladimir Putin. She spoke recently with Interview magazine.

INTERVIEW: What is the worst-case scenario for the future? 

GESSEN: A renewal and reinforcement of all kinds of borders—national, state, regional, whatever. We try to go back to exactly the way things were, and this means that the poor get poorer and the wealth gap grows. Two areas that are perhaps most in need of awakening and reinvention—healthcare and education—become worse versions of their already terrible selves. We learn nothing except that no one will help you.

Read the entire interview

New York Without Newspapers in 1945

For 17 days in the summer of 1945 newspaper deliverymen went on strike. “All told, 14 major papers were left without their usual means of distribution. According to an estimate in the New York Times, some 13 million customers in the city and surrounding area were deprived of their daily newspaper.”

This is a cool story about a time when most Americans got all their news in a paper.

The Man in the Red Coat

And finally…I’ve been reading a slightly strange, yet deeply interesting book by Julian Barnes about some truly fascinating characters of what we now call “the Belle Epoque.”

The Princess of Monaco said Dr. Pozzi was “disgustingly handsome”

“Barnes’s title comes from a magnificent full-length 1881 portrait of [Dr. Samuel] Pozzi by John Singer Sargent, which didn’t re-emerge into public view until 1990; Barnes tells us that viewing it was the original inspiration for this book. Sargent himself mentioned it in a letter to Henry James in London to introduce a visit from ‘Dr. S. Pozzi, the man in the red gown (not always), a very brilliant creature.'”

Highly recommended for the profiles of Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and a cast of other “beautiful” people.

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Thanks for reading. If you are inclined share or recommend this post to a friend. Stay safe.

2020 Election, Pandemic, Trump, Uncategorized

Unrelenting Logic…

There is an unrelenting mathematical logic to the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus. Denial of the logic is like playing Russian Roulette, the odds are unpredictable and choosing incorrectly is deadly. 

January 22, 2020Donald Trump: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

As brutal as the math will become – a couple hundred thousand cases become a million cases, a few thousand deaths become 100,000 deaths – the logic cannot be denied, unless you reside in a partisan political fantasy land. 

February 25, 2020Rush Limbaugh: “It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.” 

And it’s not like we haven’t been through something like this before – it happened in 1918 – it’s just that we don’t remember the history, or we chose to ignore evidence in plain sight. The logic remains. 

The Idaho Statesman, October 15, 1918

October 10, 1918 – The Wallace Miner: “We are confronted by an epidemic of influenza which will affect more than half of our population in probability. There is a shortage of physicians, nurses and hospital accommodations.” 

March 20, 2020 – The New York Times: “Even in the best case situation, with a shortage of skilled doctors and nurses, caring for Covid-19 patients with life-threatening respiratory distress will be like using a Band-Aid to stop a carotid artery bleed,” Pauline M. Chen, MD

News briefs from the Kendrick, Idaho Gazette, October 1918

October 11, 1918 – The Kendrick Gazette: “The quarantine has been placed in Idaho. All public gatherings, excepting schools, both public and private, are forbidden by an order issued Wednesday by the state board of health.”

October 15, 1918 – The Blackfoot, Idaho Republican: “In its fight to stop the spread of Spanish influenza, the public health service is investigating the causes of the disease, the conditions which promote its spread and the part played by carriers in epidemics of the malady.”

March 20, 2020 – The Hill: “The intelligence community was warning of the danger posed by the novel coronavirus throughout January and February as the White House downplayed the threat and was slow to roll out nationwide measures, reports show.”

October 17, 1918 – Twin Falls Weekly News: “To her credit be it said, Twin Falls has not hesitated to comply fully with the terms of the latest closing order to emanate from Boise…if it is necessary to close up every industry and every institution in the city in order to prevent an outbreak of Spanish influenza, Twin Falls will cheerfully do just that.” 

October 21, 1918 – The Spokesman-Review: “Three more deaths have occurred (in Nez Perce, Idaho) from influenza…(including) Carl Price, proprietor of the local garage…he leaves his widow and four small children.” 

October 22, 1918 – The American Falls Press: “Dr. Noth, who has been confined to his home for the past several days with influenza, suffered a relapse yesterday. Miss Virginia Nunnelly, who had been visiting in Salt Lake City for several weeks, has been summoned to help care for him.” 

October 23, 1918 – Spokane Chronicle: “Four deaths yesterday and three last night from pneumonia, following Spanish influenza, have resulted in closing the state college in all departments.” 

March 29, 2020 – Politico: “Liberty University, meanwhile, has invited its students to return to the dorms, whatever their circumstances might be. [Jerry] Falwell has said this decision was in students’ best interests—that students would be better off if they returned to campus before the coronavirus spread—but that suggestion has met with exasperation by public health experts, state and local officials, and many residents of Lynchburg.”

October 25, 1918 – Rathdrum Tribune: “The alarming spread of influenza throughout Idaho, caused the state board of health to order all public and private schools in the state to close indefinitely.” 

November 5, 1918 – Blackfoot, Idaho Republican: “The Bradford family is still seriously ill with influenza…Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Tanner are the proud parents of a baby son, born Monday morning. Both the parents are ill with influenza…Miss Hazel Quigley has been dangerously ill with the influenza, but is slightly improved at the present.” 

November 15, 1918 – Burley, Idaho Herald-Bulletin: “[With] the death of Ralph Jamison Gochnour from influenza Sunday night the University of Idaho lost one of its most prominent students…Mr. Gochnour was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. He was a young man of pleasing personality, a student of keen and inquiring mind.” 

Item from the Blackfoot, Idaho Republican, October 1918

November 22, 1918 – Kendrick Gazette: “There will be no church services in Kendrick Sunday. Both churches agreed to postpone church meetings for at least another week.” 

March 30, 2020 – Associated Press: “A northern Idaho lawmaker led a church service on Sunday despite a statewide stay-at-home order by Gov. Brad Little to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Republican Rep. Tim Remington, the pastor of The Altar Church in Coeur d’Alene, held the service, but it’s not clear how many attended…On Sunday, he told worshipers that the stay-at-home order violated their rights.” 

December 19, 1918 – Grangeville Globe: “Undertaker A.J. Maugg returned last Friday evening from Riggins where he was called the day before to direct the funeral of Mrs. Cleveland Hollenbeak of that placed who had passed away Thursday from influenza. Mrs. Hollenbeak was 28 years old and is survived by her husband and two small children.” 

December 27, 1918 – Salmon, Idaho Recorder: “The epidemic appeared last week in the stoutly quarantined community of Challis, where it is said more than a score of cases in pronounced form were reported. It was said the disease was conveyed to the town by an enterprising traveler who forded the river in order to get by the quarantine guards.” 

John Barry, author of the definitive study of the 1918 influenza pandemic: “Of all the lessons from 1918, the clearest is that truth matters…You don’t manage the truth. You tell the truth. . . Those in authority must retain the public trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.” 

March 27, 2020Charlie Sykes, conservative columnist: “[This crisis has] its own peculiar awfulness: the overlay of bad faith, cynical spin, and serial deception. Who do we believe? What do we believe? Who is telling us the truth and who is shoveling fabulist bullshit? 

“But what did we expect? We had taken a long vacation from truth because we could afford to, right?” 

“You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus, you know you can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody even knows what it is,” Donald Trump

March 30, 2020 – The New Yorker: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. Trump said repeatedly that he wanted the country to reopen by Easter, April 12th, contradicting the advice of most health officials. (On Sunday, he backed down and extended federal social-distancing guidelines for at least another month.)”

March 31, 2020Donald Trump: “This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks. When you look and see at night the kind of death that’s been caused by this invisible enemy, it’s incredible.”

March 6, 1919 – Salmon Recorder: “With but 18 new cases of influenza reported yesterday to the city health office the crest of the third revival of the epidemic is believed to have passed.” 

The logic is unrelenting. 

—–0—–


Additional reading:

  • In lieu of Opening Day, a wonderful essay on baseball by Adam Garfinkle.
  • NeverTrump conservative William Kristol – I’ll remind you he was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle – on how Trump has broken the Republican Party and conservatism for good. Kristol says: “We have now reached the terminus of craven loyalty and pathetic apologetics. I don’t see how either the political institution of the Republican party or the intellectual movement of conservatism recovers from what we have seen over the last three years—but especially the last three months.”
  • I won’t be reading Woody Allen’s new book, but you should read this review by Dwight Garner in the Times. Here’s a preview: “Volunteering to review [the book], in our moral climate, is akin to volunteering for the 2021 Olympic javelin-catching team. I told my wife and daughter my plan, and they stared at me as if I’d announced my intention to find the nearest functioning salad bar and lick the sneeze guard.”
  • And finally, video conference is bigger than ever in the age of physical separation. Here’s a thoughtful piece on how to make the most of it and also understand the limitations. And remember: failure to mute is the new “reply all.”
  • Stay safe.
Uncategorized

How We Live Now…

NOTE: A reached out this week (thanks social media) to a great reporter I’ve known and respected for a long time who now lives in northern Italy.

I was hoping Andrea Vogt, an Idaho native, would give me some fodder for my regular column in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune where she used to work. Andrea writes regularly for European newspapers and has produced documentaries for the BBC.

Andrea’s sobering, enlightened essay was more than I expected. I want to share it in full.

———–

Idaho has always been a bit of a paradise oasis, even when all hell breaks loose in the rest of the world: a safe place to live, a reassuring place to come home to, a remote place where it is easy to say with a blithe shrug “well, it won’t happen here.”

As the coronavirus pandemic swept through northern Italy, where I now live, I watched it encroach – despite a strict lockdown — toward my region, then toward the nearest city and then eventually into my small town.  

A billboard in northern Italy. The entire county has been under a lock down order since March 9, 2020

I live in one of the most affluent regions of Italy, with quality socialized health care, free and accessible for all – and yes, we pay for it with high taxes, but I have rarely had to wait long for an appointment and never had to worry about how to pay a medical bill. And yet, the severity of pneumonia associated with the coronavirus epidemic severely strained and at times overwhelmed the system here, mostly because so many patients needed serious help all at once and because Italy has such a large population of high-risk elderly and because, in the beginning, they underestimated the swift and deadly contagion. 

It is easy to make the mistake of debating the risks of coronavirus, when the more pressing concern is that the pandemic creates a shortage of ICU beds available for other emergencies –  things like ATV wrecks, logging mishaps, highway collisions, accidents at home or in the shop, or patients needing surgeries for other reasons, like cancer or hip replacements. Are the region’s hospitals and clinics equipped to meet all the needs of its residents as the pandemic bears down?

Idaho has the advantage of being naturally socially distanced by its wide-open spaces and sparse population. But this can also provide a false sense of security –  I hope I’m wrong, but I imagine that even though an invisible menace is threatening “everyone else,” in Idaho, life is probably chugging along fairly normally: farmers meet for coffee at the diner, loggers line the barstools at the tavern, prayer meetings and family gatherings still seem safe enough and the daily shifts at the factories – Simplot, Micron, Clearwater Paper — hum on, oblivious to the danger facing production lines.

That was the case where I live, too, an initial hesitance to close everything down, for fear of hurting the economy. It was gradual, starting in late February, but now everything (except commercial activities strictly linked to the basic supply chain and essential services) has lurched to a dramatic halt, as the economy (and personal freedoms) began playing second fiddle to desperately saving lives.

In a little town not far from me called Medicina, population 16,000, the virus raced silently through the local senior center, killing its cook, its handyman, the vice president and a whole table of retired card players – this virus tends to kill more men than women.  They felt safe. They were healthy and lived in a small town. They didn’t see it coming. Now Medicina is mourning their grandpas.

The day that happened I wrote an urgent email home to my mother, sister, aunts and uncles in northern Idaho. Ten days before there was any discussion of social distancing in the U.S., I urged them all to begin canceling appointments and preparing. I wonder about others who may not have such a personal connection to the pandemic, who did not receive a dire warning from someone they know and trust. I worry about the lack of unified, coherent federal response in the United States, which will leave poorer, less resourceful states more vulnerable. 

The center of the virus outbreak in northern Italy

Washington State, California and New York perhaps can manage on their own. But can Idaho? Will Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene have enough respirators (and what about overflow from Spokane?) How about St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston-Clarkston, with its large number of retirees? What about Gritman in Moscow and St. Luke’s in Boise?  

These are the questions to put to Idaho’s elected officials, who were apparently busy passing bills to regulate transgenders as the pandemic approached. They were elected to protect and represent you. Hold their feet to the fire and ask each one of them how prepared the hospital nearest you is, and what is plan B? How many ICU beds, how many respirators, how many masks in the storage closets for the frontline doctors, nurses and staff? 

This is going to matter to you much more in 10 days time than whether or not John or Betty changes their gender on their birth certificate. I pray Idahoans don’t end up facing the dilemmas unfolding in the rest of the world – but as a remote, self-sufficient, independent place that has always prided itself on preparedness, I hope Idaho’s elected officials, at state and local levels, are all pragmatically preparing a vigorous, level-headed plan to address to the real problems they could encounter. When there is a record snowstorm in the forecast, they get the plows ready. Now, they need to make sure Idaho’s hospitals are equipped to respond to this very different kind of storm, which they cannot say they didn’t see approaching.

In the meantime, fellow Idahoans, my advice is to stay home and stock up, not just on flour and butter for your pantry, but on the goods you might not expect to have needed to cope in the coming weeks: compassion, creativity, patience and strength. 

—–0—–

Additional reading:

  • Absolutely unbelievable story: Reuters reports that beginning in 2017 the Trump Administration slashed by two-third the staff of a CDC facility in China designed to work on epidemics. “The CDC office in Beijing is a shell of its former self,” said one of the people, a U.S. official who worked in China at the time of the drawdown.
  • John Barry wrote the definitive account of the 1918 pandemic called The Great Influenza. His interview with The New Yorker’s David Remnick is worth your time. And it’s not like this hasn’t happened before.
  • An outstanding young scholar and teacher at the University of Montana, Rob Saldin, has a book coming soon on the NeverTrump Republicans. Rob, who I am happy to call a friend, had a great piece recently in the New York Times. It, too, is on point for this moment in history.

Uncategorized

The NRA is a Fraud…

We learned with certainty this week what the more discriminating among us have known for a long, long time – the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a fraud. The Wall Street Journal, not anyone’s definition of the liberal press, produced the documents that prove how the NRA’s chief mouthpiece, Wayne LaPierre, and a handful of other top executives have scammed the nation’s gullible gun owners out of millions and millions of dollars.

LaPierre has perfected the gift of the grift. The Journal reported that he submitted bills for $39,000 worth of clothing during one – just one – visit to a Beverly Hills “boutique.” As writer Jonathan V. Last noted, it is possible, I guess, to pay $500 or $600 for a pair of pants, but at LaPierre’s rate of spending “that leaves you with close to 80 pairs of pants.” The documents obtained by the newspaper seem to indicate LaPierre, who usually seems more focused on bullet proof vests than Italian suits, somehow racked up clothing bills approaching $275,000, all billed to the Second Amendment loving deer hunters who send checks to the NRA. 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is introduced with Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, on May 20, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.

And then there’s the gun lobby’s lobbyist’s taste in travel, also amazingly spendy, $40,000 for a one-way flight from Washington to the Bahamas and $1,096 for “Airport Assistance” in Frankfurt, Germany. 

The NRA booked legal expenses over the last year of $18.5 million with just one law firm. That is a lot of billable hours, in fact more than $100,000 per day over the course of a full year. LaPierre also billed nearly $14,000 for three months rent for “a summer intern” who reportedly worked at the NRA. That is some rental. Some intern. 

Oliver North, the sleazy former Iran-Contra operative, served briefly as president of the NRA before being deposed a couple of weeks ago. He reportedly had a cushy contract worth millions annually. It’s difficult to tell from the organization’s 990 form what if any perks NRA board members receive, but former senator Larry Craig, a dependable shill for the NRA in Congress, is a long-time board member and at a minimum he owns a piece of the current scandal. 

LaPierre, living the pampered life style of the “elite” beltway hypocrite, is, of course, the guy who regularly keeps his cash register humming with bombast like this: “It’s up to us to speak out against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats.” 

There is more, pricy travel, expensive perks, insider sweetheart deals, but you get the point. Expenses incurred by the NRA brass that aren’t “just extravagant and wasteful,” as Jonathan Last wrote, “but … so insane that you can’t even really figure out how they were actually incurred.” An entirely different set of questionable activities has prompted an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

The NRA’s fraud – conservative columnist Max Boot describes it as a big part of the larger “racket” that American conservatism has become – dates back a long way. My personal NRA inflection point came in the early morning hours of November 1, 1986, three days before the gubernatorial election that year. The NRA was all over the Idaho airwaves that weekend smearing Cecil D. Andrus. 


“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Eric Hoffer


Andrus had, audaciously it turns out, honestly responded to one of the NRA’s “candidate surveys.” A big issue then was whether to outlaw so called “cop killer” bullets, Teflon coated rounds specifically designed to penetrate a bulletproof vest. Andrus said he had no problem banning the bullet since he’d never seen an elk wearing a bulletproof vest. The once and future governor also said he had no issue with bans on military-like assault weapons, the kind that have become the weapon of choice for our regularly occurring school massacres. 

The NRA gave Andrus a D-rating in 1986 and put up commercials calling him a threat to Idaho sportsman. The hunter-governor who never met a shotgun or elk camp he didn’t love just wasn’t pure enough for Wayne LaPierre. The gun lobby endorsed Republican David Leroy in 1986, a fellow who knew his way around a Boise courtroom, but a guy no one expected to occupy a hunting camp.

To understand how amazing – or outrageous – those NRA smears of Andrus were you need to know about Andrus the hunter and gun owner. In early October of that election year, Andrus quietly left the campaign trail for three days so as not to miss his annual elk hunt. As his press secretary I was deathly afraid some enterprising reporter would ask me where the candidate was and why he wasn’t shaking hands and seeking votes? In retrospect I should have put out a news release – “Andrus Pursues Mighty Wapiti Rather Than Votes.” He got his elk, by the way.  

Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, a gun owner and hunter, who understood the NRA’s fraudulent game

Andrus once stashed a new 12-gauge shotgun in my office while waiting for the opportunity to secret the firearm into his home. He said if he could get the gun home without Carol noticing she would never know he had purchased another firearm. He had so many guns that one more would fade unnoticed into the gun cabinet. 

The four-term governor was the kind of politician the NRA can’t abide, a passionate hunter and gun owner who thought the organization was off its rocker when it came to legitimate restrictions on the kinds of weapons that now regularly kill innocent people in churches, synagogues, schools and on street corners. Thirty years ago he correctly saw that the NRA, faking concern for sportsmen, while serving as stalking horse for firearms manufacturers, had just become one more radical ancillary of the Republican Party. Unlike most politicians he had the courage to say that the leaders of the gun lobby really built their political influence in order to facilitate their own financial enrichment.

For decades the NRA has been the biggest fundraising cash register on the hard right of American politics, whipping up outrage, constantly stoking fear and always depositing the checks. The fraud is finally coming home to roost. 

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(This piece originally appeared in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune on May 17, 2019)

Uncategorized

Dereliction of Duty…

Nearly 100 years ago — April 15, 1922 to be exact — a Democratic senator from Wyoming introduced a resolution in Congress that touched off one of the most significant investigations in American political history. The Wall Street Journal had reported the day before that the secretary of the Interior, a former Republican senator from New Mexico by the name of Albert Fall, an appointee of President Warren Harding, had engaged in unprecedented conduct. Fall had leased to a private company, without competitive bids, U.S. naval oil reserves at a remote field in Wyoming known as Teapot Dome.

Republicans, who controlled the Senate, actually voted to investigate the Republican administration. But expecting the investigation would come to nothing, they detailed the most junior member of the Public Lands Committee, Montana Democrat Thomas J. Walsh, to chair the investigation.

Montana Democrat Thomas J. Walsh, investigator of the Teapot Dome scandal

By the time Walsh was finished cataloguing Fall’s corruption and the bribes he received for facilitating the oil leases, the secretary was on his way to jail. Walsh became a political celebrity and Teapot Dome entered history as one of the great scandals in American politics.

An offshoot of the oil scandal was a parallel effort to investigate corruption at the Justice Department, an investigation also conducted by a Montanan, Democrat Burton K. Wheeler.

When the subjects of that investigation stonewalled the Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Congress had the power to issue subpoenas, compel testimony and demand production of documents. As the court noted in a landmark 1927 decision, the memory of James Madison was invoked, “the power of inquiry — with process to enforce it — is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. It was so regarded and employed in American legislatures before the Constitution was framed and ratified.”

Said another way: Congress’ oversight and investigative functions were legitimately earned amid a huge scandal uncovered by a newspaper and investigated by determined lawmakers. Now, decades later, congressional oversight and accountability is being frittered away amid a host of real and potential scandals by an administration that seems destined to replace Harding’s as the most corrupt in history.

The Trump administration has apparently determined that it will comprehensively stonewall oversight by a co-equal branch of government. The president says the executive branch will resist every subpoena for information, while the attorney general of the United States flips his middle finger to the House Judiciary Committee.

And the United States Senate — where Teapot Dome was exposed, where a corrupt attorney general (Harding pal Harry Daugherty) was forced to resign, where Harry Truman investigated the defense industry and where the crimes of Watergate were disclosed — continues to squander its constitutional obligations to investigate and check the executive branch.

As the Salt Lake Tribune noted in a recent editorial, “By abandoning the role the Constitution assigns them, to jealously defend the power of their branch of government against encroachments by other branches, Republicans in Congress surrender their duty, their power and their part in defending American democracy.”

Idaho’s two U.S. senators are poster boys for this shameful dereliction of duty.

Jim Risch has had the gavel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee now for nearly five months, months when the NATO alliance has been under siege from the White House, when Venezuela has been in crisis, when North Korea has saber-rattled with new missile tests, when tensions have mounted with China and Iran, and when Saudi Arabia has escaped responsibility for the brutal murder of a journalist employed by a U.S. newspaper. Yet Risch has required no testimony on any of this from the secretary of state or other senior administration officials.

Each of Risch’s public statements toes the administration line even as that line shifts and wobbles with incoherence.

Risch is also a senior member of the Intelligence Committee but has no interest in questioning the attorney general or special counsel Robert Mueller on the extensively documented Russian effort to interfere with American democracy.

Mike Crapo is a member of the Judiciary Committee, the committee that recently endured a word salad of obfuscation from Attorney General William Barr on the Mueller report. Crapo, rather than focusing on the substance of the special counsel’s work, used his precious time to question the nation’s top law enforcement official about how the Washington Post obtained a copy of Mueller’s letter taking issue with how his work has been characterized by Barr.

Idaho’s senators fail to follow up and that is not what their oath demands

Crapo might have asked, just as one example, about this sentence from Mueller’s report: “Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations.” Crapo didn’t display even a hint of inquisitiveness about the Russian investigation or the president’s behavior, but spent the hearing serving up softballs. His and Risch’s performance is rank political incompetence or, perhaps, it’s something else even more troubling.

Senate Republicans could well be ignoring their constitutional obligations, as the Salt Lake Tribune suggested, “To get themselves on the good side of a chief executive who is so clearly corrupt, engaging in obstruction, campaign and ethics violations, using the presidency as a cash cow for his personal business interests, who disrespects the separation of powers, freedom of the press, the rights of minorities and immigrants and our long-standing international alliances.”

In other words: Crapo, Risch and fellow Senate Republicans have willfully surrendered their own and congressional power for wholly partisan political reasons.

By consistently placing loyalty to a president of their own party above the institution of the Senate and the good of the nation, they mock a sworn oath to “support and defend the Constitution” against all enemies.

Political courage is an increasingly rare commodity these days and playing to the prejudices of your partisan tribe trumps all other considerations. But that is not what the job — or the oath — requires.

While it may seem quaint to invoke the Constitution as a guide to appropriate congressional behavior, it has never been more important to do so. Democracy may well die in darkness, but it also dies when people sworn to protect it ignore their responsibilities and that is what Risch and Crapo are doing.

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Uncategorized

The Trump Swamp…

My weekly column from the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune

—————–

When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke slinks away next week from the big building on C Street in Washington, D.C., he will have, in the space of less than two years, placed himself in the history books along side Albert Bacon Fall.

For a guy who once claimed to be a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” committed to conservation and protection of public lands, to leave office under an ominous ethical cloud and compared to Warren Harding’s Interior secretary who went to jail over the Teapot Dome scandal is a stunning come down. Once a rising Republican star, the former Montana congressman, now seems certain to be dogged by a host of investigations and forever tainted by association with the administration of Donald J. Trump.

So-to-be former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke .

When Zinke was named to the Interior post – Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rogers and Idaho’s Raul Labrador were contenders, but passed over – he was widely praised even by conservation groups. Zinke had crafted a bipartisan image in Congress, “the only Republican to support a Democratic amendment to permanently authorize the so-called Land and Water Conservation Fund,” as Politico noted. But proving the truism that absolutely everyone who works for Trump is tainted by the proximity, Zinke will be remembered, perhaps even beyond his grifting ethics, for rolling back national monument designations and generally trashing the conservation legacy of previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

The two Idahoans who have served as Secretary of the Interior – Democrat Cecil Andrus in the 1970s and Republican Dirk Kempthorne for the last three years of the George W. Bush administration – were polar opposites in political ideology, but each understood that serving as the chief steward of all the people’s land carries a solemn obligation. While Kempthorne will likely be best remembered for the six-figure remodel of the secretary’s office bathroom, he did bring a genuine spirit of collaboration to the job. Andrus’ legacy as one of the nation’s great Interior secretaries is secure, in part, because he engineered the largest conservation initiative in history by protecting vast swaths of the last frontier – Alaska.

Zinke, despite the conservation rhetoric that temporarily assuaged some skeptics, attempted to transform the Interior Department into an extension of the oil, gas, mining and grazing industries. Zinke did his best to make true the old joke that the Bureau of Land Management, the BLM, is actually the Bureau of Livestock and Mining. This, of course, was Trump’s aim in the first place.

The president, who one assumes has never spent a night under the stars, never fished a Western trout stream or devoted a second to thinking about conserving America’s most special places for future generations, turned stewardship of the environment over to fraudsters. Ethical shenanigans forced Scott Pruitt out of the Environmental Protection Agency – remember the $50 a night condo he rented from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist and his $3 million a year security detail? And Zinke now leaves subject to a potential criminal investigation involving the chairman of the oil services company Halliburton and some land Zinke owns and wants to develop in western Montana.

Trump appears poised to name as Zinke’s replacement an oil and gas lobbyist, the current No. 2 at the department, who literally has to carry a card with him delineating all his potential conflicts of interest. Into this swamp Labrador and soon-to-be-ex-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter have stuck a toe. Each has been mentioned as a potential secretary of the Interior. Labrador needs a job and seems to be campaigning for the position. He tweeted fulsome praise toward Trump last week for – wait for it – signing an executive order, something Trump does over and over again in lieu of having a real agenda. Otter doesn’t need a job and should trust his gut and hang out at his ranch.

Vast acreage of the federal government during the Trump administration has become an ethics-free zone. A former Trump national security adviser may yet go to jail, three cabinet secretaries have resigned amid swirling scandals and the president himself is buffeted by a persistent special counsel, involvement in a campaign finance scandal that paid off a porn star, a corrupt family foundation and lord knows what else.

Remember draining the swamp? Zinke’s imminent departure reminds us that promise was as phony as Mexico paying for a wall.

The resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, a decorated Marine Corps combat veteran, who leaves after issuing a withering indictment of the president’s abandonment of allies and leadership on the international stage, should also give any Interior aspirant ample reason for pause.

If Trump comes calling on Labrador or Otter, they should remember the words of the conservative scholar Eliot Cohen, a State Department counselor to Condoleezza Rice during the second Bush administration.

Writing last week after Mattis’ resignation over a matter of principle, Cohen said in The Atlantic: “Henceforth, the senior ranks of government can be filled only by invertebrates and opportunists, schemers and careerists. If they had policy convictions, they will meekly accept their evisceration. If they know a choice is a disaster, they will swallow hard and go along. They may try to manipulate the president, or make some feeble efforts to subvert him, but in the end they will follow him. And although patriotism may motivate some of them, the truth is that it will be the title, the office, the car and the chance to be in the policy game that will keep them there.”

But, it’s not worth it. Anyone who gets close to this chaotic mess will get stained, or even destroyed. The evidence is in plain sight. The swamp devours the swamp’s own creatures.

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Editor’s Note: My biography of Montana New Deal-Era Senator Burton K. Wheeler has an official release date – March 21, 2019. The book, a look at a genuine political maverick, as well as a much different U.S. Senate, is available for pre-order at Amazon or the University of Oklahoma Press.

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Uncategorized

The Manifestly Unfit…

      Anderson Cooper: You’ve said you want to end Obamacare. You’ve also said you want to make coverage accessible for people with pre-existing conditions. How do you force insurance companies to do that if you’re no longer mandating that every American get insurance?

       Donald Trump: We’re going to be able to. You’re going to have plans…

       Cooper: What does that mean?

      Trump: Well, I’ll tell you what it means. You’re going to have plans that are so good, because we’re going to have so much competition in the insurance industry. Once we break out — once we break out the lines and allow the competition to come…

Transcript of Second Presidential Debate

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I suspect it will take a few days for the full impact of the second presidential debate to truly sink in with American voters. Fresh garbage, after all, takes a few days to ripen and begin to, well, you get the idea.

The looming and continuing threat - Trumpism.
The looming and continuing threat – Trumpism.

Two thoughts dominate the day after what was surely the sorriest spectacle in the modern history of presidential campaigns. The first thought relates to the second, but seems more immediate and at least today more sobering: Donald J. Trump has brought a level of coarseness, hate and un-Americanism to politics that will shape the near and long-term trajectory of the country.

And I write that without any further analysis of “the tape.”

You don’t easily, or perhaps even at all, put the vileness of this man’s approach to politics back in the bottle. Trumpism is like a tiny dollop of plutonium – even a small amount contaminates and kills.

Uncategorized

Oh, Canada…

     “When the time for change strikes, it’s lethal. I ran and was successful because I wasn’t Pierre Trudeau. Justin is successful because he isn’t Stephen Harper.”
                                       – former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney

– – – – –

We Americans don’t generally pay much attention to The Great North. Canada is only on the mind when the Blue Jays are in the playoffs, when we laugh at the late, great John Candy (a Canadian, eh) in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or when we long for a doughnut and a Moosehead. You hockey fans are an exception.

Del Griffith (John Candy), the shower ring salesman, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Del Griffith (John Candy), the shower ring salesman, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Here’s some of what you may have missed, while wondering when Trump will finally go too far.

Campaigns Need Not Be So Darn Long…

Canada just completed one of its longest election campaigns in its history – a whopping 79 days! What, you say, they ran a national campaign in…what, less time than it takes Joe Biden to decide to run in a national campaign. You can do this political business in an intelligent and competent manner and not spend two full years doing it. Really, you can.

I was in the Great North in September, while the candidates were in the hustings and while one of the nationally televised debates took place. The campaign was sharply focused, but in a remarkably civil manner, perhaps thanks to the “sunny ways” of Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party who will now become the new U.S.-friendly prime minister.

Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Trudeau
Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Trudeau

I read the papers while in Canada and have followed the campaign since then, and with full respect to the many U.S. news organizations I respect and follow regularly, the broad and deep coverage of the Canadian national election was also sharply focused – much more on issues that personalities – and remarkably civil. Yeah, I know, this is Canada where niceness is embedded in the national DNA, but what a refreshing thing to see the three principle leaders of the national parties acting, mostly, like serious adults going about serious business.

Serious Campaigns Make for Serious Voters…

If anything Canadian politics is more complicated than ours. National elections are three or four-way affairs, so Trudeau, the left-of-center Liberal, was not merely trying to oust Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but also triangulating with the also left-of-center New Democrats who might well have, had they run a better campaign, replaced the Liberals as the liberal party in Canada. Got that?

Canadians had enough of their prime minister.
Canadians had enough of their prime minister as this “modified” sign on Salt Spring Island indicated in September

More parties, more policy positions, more nuance, and real political strategy also seem to make for more engaged and smarter voters. For example, if you were among the 7 in 10 Canadians who were feeling than Stephen Harper, who had become a remarkably divisive figure, had run out his string as prime minister, what do you do at the polling place? You needed to make a choice: who has the best chance to dumping the prime minister? In Canada its called “strategic voting” and young Trudeau, the son of the flamboyant former Prime Minister Pierre, played the strategy perfectly.

I’m such a political junkie that I watched the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s election night coverage (thanks C-Span) and was tickled to learn that one of the most frequently used search terms on Canadian Goggle these last few days was “strategic voting.”

Other quick observations: as the polls closed across Canada Monday night, first in Atlantic Canada, then in Ontario and Quebec and on to the West, the CBC almost instantly reported the results from the various “ridings.” There was very little delay in reporting which candidate was winning and almost no backtracking by the CBC’s political analysts. Their first assessment was almost always spot on and it was fast and authoritative. It would appear the Canadians know how to run a national election and, like much else, we might learn a thing or two from our northern neighbors.

Positive and “Sunny” Always Beats the Alternative…

And consider this: young, optimistic, and telegenic Justin Trudeau – one wag said it was impossible for him to take a bad photograph – based his campaign on an idea that would never, ever be so clearly articulated in the United States. Trudeau told Canadians; in essence, we are going to run budget deficits for the next three years in order to undertake important investments in infrastructure that will also help grow the Canadian economy. The Liberal platform is classic Keynesian economic policy, government investment in critical projects even if the investments require borrowing the money.

The policy is not new, needless to say. Barack Obama and many other American politicians have or do embrace the same notion. It is the candor that is refreshing. Trudeau in clear, precise language laid out his deficit spending platform and Canadians basically said: “Yes, that sounds about right.”

Pierre Trudeau in 1973 with the new prime minister under his arm.  Photo by Rod C. MacIvor
Pierre Trudeau in 1973
with the new prime minister under his arm.
Photo by Rod C. MacIvor

In contrast to the dour, nasty, often tasteless politics in our own country at the moment, Trudeau made a point of speaking compassionately about refugees, demanded that Canadian society embrace inclusion, and maintained a relentlessly upbeat campaign.

In his victory speech Monday night, Trudeau, a young man who grew up among politics and politicians and clearly learned a few lessons from his old man, again appropriated a great line from Canadian political history.

“Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways,” Trudeau said with a big smile, channeling the great Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. Canadians and their new prime minister remind us again that positive, candid, forward-looking, hopeful campaigns are almost always winners.

It’s a great country and soon, perhaps, we’ll know as much as Justin Trudeau as we do about Justin Bieber. It’s past time to pay attention to The Great North.

 

2016 Election, American Presidents, Baseball, Guns, Nobel Prizes, Obama, Oregon, Politics, Stevens, Supreme Court, Trump, Uncategorized

Guns and Myths…

     “I can make the case that if there were guns in that room other than his, fewer people would’ve died, fewer people would’ve been so horribly injured.”

                                        Donald Trump on Meet the Press, October 4, 2015              commenting on the mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon.

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One of the challenges in assessing the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is that you run out of words that begin to describe his idiocy and cluelessness. I haven’t used despicable for a while, so let’s use that to characterize Trump’s reaction in the wake of the horrific – and most recent – mass shooting last week in Roseburg, Oregon.

Trump: More Myths About Guns
Trump: More Myths About Guns

And, of course, the GOP front runner had to make the unthinkable tragedy of students and their teacher murdered in a writing class all about him. “I have a license to carry in New York. Can you believe that? Somebody attacks me, they’re gonna be shocked,” Trump blustered in front of a cheering crowd at a campaign rally in Tennessee.

The Republican clown then completed the trifecta of gun mythology, which includes the old canard that even more guns are the answer to mass shootings and that we should all be armed to make the country safer, when he dismissed the epidemic of mass gun murder in the United States as (and he should know) a mental health issue.

But it is about the guns…

“It’s not the guns,” Trump said. “It’s the people, these sick people.” But in fact, as everyone really knows but few willingly admit, it is about the guns, particularly when there are essentially as many guns in the society as there are men, women and children in the country, vastly more guns by population than any other country on the planet.

It’s also not about the myth of mental illness, although that certainly plays a part. Dr. Paul Applebaum, a Columbia University psychiatrist who specializes in attacks like the recent one in Oregon, told New York Magazine last week that it is a fool’s errand to attempt to deal with mass murder by attempting to predict who is capable of mass murder.

“When I heard the news of the Oregon shootings, I thought, I’m done talking to reporters about the causes of violence.” Applebaum told the magazine. Rather, he said, he had developed a one-size-fits-all statement for the media that concluded, “If you tell me that there’s nothing we can do about guns, I’d say then we’re done. We’ve conceded that we are willing to tolerate periodic slaughters of the innocent. There’s nothing more to say.’”

Over the next couple of days the horror that unfolded last Thursday at Umpqua Community College will quickly fade away as it always does after the most recent gun outrage in America, while the short national attention span will move on to something else. President Obama is certainly correct when he says mass gun murder has become so routine in America that we have trouble maintaining for more than about two news cycles the outrage that might move us to action. We aren’t just lacking in urgency about gun mayhem we just don’t care.

Police search students at Umpqua Community College last week
Police search students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon last week

The families in Roseburg will be left to attempt to cope with their grief and loss. But we should all grapple with the haunting words in one family’s statement that the loss of their 18-year old child has left their lives “shattered beyond repair.”

Meanwhile, the political class carries on with nary a skipped beat, repeating the old, tired and lame myths about guns. The Oregon victims deserve better – much better – than the perpetuation of myth making about guns from Trump and all the other apologists for mass murder who refuse to face facts about the society’s perverse embrace of the culture of the gun.

Debunking the self defense myth (using real facts), David Atkins wrote in the Washington Monthly that the right wing gun lobby and its slavish adherents have “gone so far off the rails that reality is no longer a relevant boundary on discussion. As with supply-side economics, the benefits of gun culture are taken not on evidence but on almost cultic faith by the right wing and its adherents.”

This mind set, apparently, prompts a state legislator in Idaho to post on his Facebook page that he is “very disappointed in President Obama. Again he is using the tragic shooting in Oregon to advance his unconstitutional gun control agenda.” What a crock, but also what a widely believed crock. When it comes to guns we know what we believe even when it’s not true. Discussions – or arguments – about guns exist like so much of the rest of American political discourse – in a fact free environment. Myths about guns morph into “facts” about guns.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

                                      – Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The entirety of the mythology begins, of course, with the Second Amendment and the decades that the National Rifle Association has devoted to myth making about the twenty-six words of the amendment.

Former Justice John Paul Stevens
Former Justice John Paul Stevens

As former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has brilliantly related in his little book – Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution:

“For more than 200 years following the adoption of that amendment,” Stevens has written, “federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by that text was limited in two ways: First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a ‘well regulated Militia.’”

…A Well Regulated Militia…

Stevens says during the tenure of the conservative Republican Chief Justice Warren Berger, from 1969 to 1986, “no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything.”

In his retirement Chief Justice Burger bluntly said in an interview that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Only fairly recently, in fact in the last decade as Stevens points out, has the Second Amendment been broadly reinterpreted by the Court – the Heller decision in 2008 and the McDonald case in 2010, both decided by 5-to-4 votes  – to sharply expand its meaning. Of course, powerful political forces, including most importantly conservative politicians and the NRA, helped to propel these changes made by the most conservative Court since the 1930’s. The gun myths grew in direct proportion to the political agenda of the mostly rightwing politicians who benefitted most significantly from the NRA’s pressure and cash.

Nonetheless, “It is important to note,” Stevens writes, “that nothing in either the Heller or the McDonald opinion poses any obstacle to the adoption of such preventive measures” – expanded background checks and bans on assault weapons for instance – that were widely suggested in the wake of the Newtown tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 children in 2012.

Justice Stevens would go farther, as would I, in returning the Second Amendment to its original intent by inserting just five additional words. A revised amendment would read: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

But such a change seems unthinkable when federal lawmakers won’t risk NRA ire by even discussing the kinds of change that the existing Second Amendment clearly permits.

Rather than advancing an “unconstitutional agenda” as gun mythology would have you believe, Obama has suggested – he did again last week and will no doubt do again and again – that “responsible” gun owners should finally support common sense efforts that might begin to roll back the rate of slaughter. You have to wonder if there actually are “responsible” gun owners out there who are as shocked as some of us are about mass murder at a community college, or at a church in Charleston, or at a theatre, a shopping center, at Army and Navy bases, or in a Connecticut elementary school.

Has the NRA so poisoned the political well of reality that no red state Republican can dare say “enough is enough” and something must change? Is there no group of “responsible” gun owners willing to call the bluff of the makers of the gun myths? Does every NRA member buy the group’s more guns, no regulation logic, while blithely sending off their dues to enrich a collection of political hacks in Washington, D.C. whose real agenda is to – wait for it – maintain their influence and, of course, sell more guns?

So, while Roseburg mourns, the gun world turns away and Trump and others get away again with repeating the well-worn myths about guns. What we can be sure is not a myth is that we will be here again soon enough repeating the call for prayers for the victims and the first responders and we will, for a few televised moment at least, be stunned, while we consider the ever mounting death toll.

And so it goes. The cycle repeats. Nothing changes. A society’s inability to deal with its most obvious affliction hides in plan sight. We also quietly hope that the odds are in our favor and unlike the grief torn families in Oregon we’ll not be the next ones shattered beyond repair.