Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

I'm taking the day to be with my family and to eat ribs.

I will resume breathless screeds next week.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hail Caesar!

I go back and forth about whether their is such a thing as fate. This is one of those weeks where I believe.

The shooting of the congressional baseball team in Alexandria is terrible enough, and predictably, the right wing scream machine is in full blather blaming the Democrats and their anti-Trump rhetoric for setting a nasty tone. Of course, the conservative media treated Obama with kid gloves and honey for eight years and were really only kidding about his being a Muslim or not a citizen or being in league with his Arab buddies whenever oil prices shot higher. Or plunged lower.

Same reason, different day.

What was arguably worse than Alexandria was the Greek Chorus made up of cabinet members expressing their undying love and personal fortunes for the honor of serving the least qualified president we've ever had in the White House. This display undermined every philosophical and practical underpinning of our democracy. These people don't work personally for the president; they work for the American people. You know, the ones who pay their salaries and upon whose behalf they serve. Remember serve? This is a government based on service. By turning their fealty over to one man, they have greased the slippery slope that the president (shudder) sits atop.

But wait, there's more.

The Fickle Finger of Fate also pointed north of DC, aiming its digit squarely at Central Park, where the Public Theater is presenting "Julius Caesar" with a Caesar who looks remarkably like the president. Of course, this has caused controversy when Caesar is sliced and diced at the play's ides, and has led Delta Airlines, you know, the airline that kicks families off of flights, and Bank of America, you know, the bank that never learned from a financial crisis, to cancel their support for the theater. Reason enough to abandon Delta and BOA.

As any high schooler can tell you, though, the killing of Caesar doesn't solve Rome's problems and leads to wars starring Mark Antony, Cassius and Brutus. The killing is the essence of the tragedy for all involved, but the scream machine sees it as a death wish for Democrats and a scurrilous depiction of gratuitous violence.

Wrong.

It's art, and art sometimes has to challenge and outrage us because it shows us a side of humanity that we don't think about. Or want to see. Or recognize in us, but is too painful to say out loud. Worse is that Trump's budget cuts spending on the arts and humanities so we can all get dumber and singularly praise him for being more effective than anyone except FDR.

But these are the lies that Trump thinks he can continue to tell and get away with. Praise he believes he's earned for...700 jobs in Indiana? A health care plan that he's said was both "great" and "mean?" And now, an investigation into whether he obstructed justice.

As usual, though, it's the Bard who gives us the fitting end, the speech that Caesar gives extolling his own virtue as the only one who can save Rome:

I could be well moved, if I were as you.
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.
But I am constant as the Northern Star,
Of whose true fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks;
They are all fire and every one doth shine.
But there's but one in all doth hold his place.
So in the world: 'tis furnished well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive.
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion; and that I am he
Let me a little show it, even in this:
That I was constant Cimber should be banished,
And constant do remain to keep him so. (3.1.64-79)


He is murdered soon after.

Exeunt.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest




Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Snowflake Presidency

When are Americans going to wake up and realize that Donald Trump is like any other guy in a bar with an opinion and limited facts? That he's essentially a guy who went into dad's business, concentrated on spreading his money around to anyone who would spell his name correctly in big neon letters, and that he knows virtually nothing about how the American political system works or the ideas on which it is based? As for his defensiveness and inability to take blame, that makes Trump not just the first snowflake president; it makes him a virtual blizzard.

Realizing this makes it quite a bit easier to dismiss 95% of articles that are written about him that register shock--shock!--at the things he says and the things he does.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Trump asked, indeed demanded, that James Comey stop the investigation into Micheal Flynn. I have no doubt that Trump knew virtually nothing about how his travel ban violated basic American values and legal norms. I have no doubt that he is unschooled in any of the vital public issues that confront our nation at this moment including, but not limited to health care, the environment, taxes, job creation, roads, bridges, airports, technology information systems, the Internet, immigration or foreign relations.

He, and I assume many of his shrinking support base, sees himself as the great disruptor, when in fact he is clueless about how his words and actions damage him, much less how they damage the country. Just in the past two days Trump has finally affirmed that the US stands firmly behind our NATO allies and that we will defend them under every circumstance. And he's said that he will address the issue of whether there are Oval Office tapes of his conversations with Comey and others.

But why wait? In the first case, Trump's waffling and non-commitment in Italy only served to heighten mistrust of the US as a staunch ally. In the second, if you or I had said such a thing we might immediately be accused of withholding evidence in a criminal investigation. This is not disruption or draining liquids or statecraft.

It's an ignorant guy in a bar watching cable news and spewing his uninformed opinion.

And it's not going to stop. The White House staff was able to keep Trump occupied throughout Comey's televised testimony, which, if you have any experience with children who have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, you know is a Herculean task, and he generally stayed off Twitter for the day. But he came roaring back with venom, calling Comey a liar and offering to testify himself under oath with nothing more than...himself. And he's his own worst enemy. Comey has witnesses and written notes. Trump has...beer and pretzels.

As I've said, my life has become lighter and less fraught since I committed to the obvious and judged Trump, correctly, to be nothing more than an uninformed blowhard.  The real problem with my assumption, though, is that the other people in the White House and in Congress must step up and make sure that Trump's worst excesses do not become law. What happens when Rex Tillerson and others with some modicum of knowledge resign because Trump has contradicted them one too many times? What happens if Senate moderates can't defeat the ruinous Trumpcare bill now in front of them? What happens if Paul Ryan continues to excuse Trump's behavior because, essentially, he doesn't know any better?

Obviously, the first thing is that I will become heavier and more fraught, but it will also mean that the country will be in spectacular danger. That's why those who oppose the administration's direction must organize and coalesce around candidates that will take back the House and/or Senate in 2018. That's got to be the one indivisible goal for those of us who see the danger that's plainly in front of us.

Otherwise, we will continue to be buried under the billions of snowflakes yet to descend upon us.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest


Sunday, June 4, 2017

We'll Always Have Paris

Of all the things that Donald Trump has done to make us weaker over the past 5 months, his withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord is the one that feels most like a betrayal.

Because it is.

His decision betrays common sense. The only reason to withdraw is because Trump and the rest of the conservative know-nothings simply don't believe that human activity has led to a rise in greenhouse gases and a dangerous warming of the planet. All of the discussion about whether Trump believes in climate change is moot. He doesn't have to say anything more about the subject. By throwing his lot with the deniers and hopelessly believing that coal and oil are the future of the country (and the world), he is overtly saying that we can continue to burn fossil fuels and nothing will happen to us. I guess he's chosen not to recall the terrible air and water pollution that plagued the country until the EPA and the Clean Air and water Acts were passed.

Yes, there are some small business owners who believe that climate regulations will hit them harder than the large corporations that oppose the president's (shudder) decision, But the Paris accord didn't force anybody to impose strict regulations on anyone. Of course, that's one of the main points of opposition from the right: if other countries could set their environmental bar low, it would mean that most of the regulations and sacrifices would have to be made by the major industrialized countries. And since the United States is the world's number 1 polluter (are you tired of winning yet?), we would need to regulate ourselves more. Of course, this is hogwash, and not a reason to pull the country out of the agreement.

The real damage in all of this is that by leaving the pact, the United States gives up a great deal of credibility and power. When the US signs an agreement, we need to abide by it, especially when every other country in the world, save for Nicaragua and Syria, is a signatory. Pulling out sends the message that we are no longer to be trusted.  Of course, most of the negative reactions by the rest of the world have been aimed at Trump himself. Most of the rest of the world knows that the majority of the country supports the science behind global climate change and sees Trump's decision as representing a minority view meant to appeal to his limited, and shrinking, support base.

And really, if you're another country, why would you renegotiate an accord that took years to come to fruition with a president who could step back from it at any time? And if Trump is only going to agree to deals that are advantageous to the US, why would any country agree to negotiate with him?

In the end, America First and isolation will only serve to highlight the selfish and short-sighted nature of the Trump administration. The United States needs to be a leader and a role model in this world. We need to call out dictators and leaders who abuse press freedoms and commit human rights abuses. Trump has sent the message that we will not be doing that to the extent that we have in the past. His is a transactional administration, which basically means that if you give us money, we'll pay attention to you, but if you don't, we won't honor our commitments as robustly as before.

This is terribly dangerous and can only lead to other powers, such as China and Russia, filling in the space that we should be occupying. And as China and India confront their pollution crises, which they will absolutely need to do, they will find that wind, solar and even nuclear power will be cheaper and healthier for their billions of people. Meanwhile, the administration is asking the country to go back to the 1950s when workplace safety requirements were few and polluted air and water was everywhere. Especially in Pittsburgh.

We've just taken two steps backward and none forward.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest