From Tragedy to Farce

Of all the lurid allegations flooding the media,  the story about Garrison Keillor (photo) seems the most improbable to me.

You may have caught Keillor on public radio.  His “Prairie Home Companion”  was aired every weekend for 40 years. It was the kind of show you could share with your kids – if they would  sit still long enough. Nothing remotely unseemly, just a good natured caricature of small town America that might make you smile.

Keillor, who is now 75 years old, came across as a mild mannered yokel with malice toward nobody. I could picture him saying “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am,” while holding the door open for a female companion – not “acting inappropriately” in any way.

But he was fired after a female colleague accused him of – I’m not sure what it was she accused him of.  Minnesota Public Radio said he was accused of “inappropriate behavior,” but did not elaborate.

Keillor recalled placing his hand on a woman’s bare back while consoling her and said he had apologized and was forgiven. Could that be the “inappropriate behavior”? If so, how would Minnesota Public Radio describe President Trump’s self-professed preference for placing his hands?

Yet Trump has not been fired.

Look, without a doubt, there is, and has been for a long time, an epidemic of sexual assault in the workplace. There’s no doubt that women have every right to cry, “Enough!”

But let’s not get carried away.

Let’s not throw mud at 93-year-old George H. W. Bush. If he gave some woman a pat on the behind, I say cut him some slack. I’m sure he meant no disrespect. After all, I understand that pinching women’s bottoms is a popular male pastime in Italy.

The rampant abuse of power being exposed in the media is a tragedy. Some of the allegations of “inappropriate behavior” verge on farce.

There’s a huge difference between placing your hand on a woman’s back and locking your office door and raping her. Or trying to rape her.

Men who lure women to their offices or hotel rooms and expose themselves are obviously sick, dangerously sick. They should be arrested and ordered to undergo treatment.

Men who inadvertently place their hands on a woman’s bare back are perhaps a little careless. I sincerely doubt they deserve to be fired for it.

Keillor’s explanation

 

“Dirty Tricks” Keep Coming

Political parties employ a wide range of tools that voters might not know about. They rely on partisan “think tanks” to provide a rationale for their policies… They employ psychologists to find words and phrases that resonate in our subconscious minds… They dig up dirt about their opponents and “leak” it to the media…

And they sometimes use “dirty tricks.”

These are not just the everyday lies we’ve come to expect in political campaigns. And they are not just fictitious rumors like the famous story about John McCain fathering a black baby and the hilarious accusation that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring from the basement of a pizzeria.

We should be accustomed to these false tales by now. They’ve been standard fare forever. Congressman Davy Crockett accused candidate Martin Van Buren of secretly wearing a female corset back in 1836.

“Dirty tricks” include elaborate schemes designed to discredit some candidate or group. And they’ve been around at least since Richard Nixon’s tricky era.

(For example, Nixon’s henchman Donald Segretti composed a fake letter on Edmund Muskie’s letterhead falsely accusing Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of fathering a child with a 17-year-old girl.)

Today’s Republican Party has doubled down on this strategy.

You probably know about a Republican “oper4ative” named James O’Keefe who uses disguised actors and edited videotapes to smear Democrats.  He has targeted such groups as ACORN and Planned Parenthood,with concocted interviews that were later debunked.

O’Keefe is still around  (funded by the Trump Foundation) and still trying to trick Democrats.

But he doesn’t always succeed.

Recently, for example, he hired a woman to tell the Washington Post she was impregnated by Republican candidate Roy Moore when she was 15 and had an abortion.  The Post had exposed Moore’s sexual pursuit of high school girls when he was in his thirties, and O’Keefe was obviously hoping to discredit the story – and the women who accused Moore of molesting them.

But the Post editorial staff are pros. They don’t get tricked that easily. They checked out the woman’s claims, found they were false, and  published an account of the attempt to trick them instead of the false story O’Keefe had tried to plant.

Now, he’s the one with egg on his face. But you can’t bet this won’t stop O’Leefe and the other dirty tricksters waiting in the wings.

The failed “dirty trick”

More on the tricksters

The James O’Keefe story

Planned Parenthood and ACORN

 

Democracy under Siege

 

You might believe Republicans in Congress would think twice before voting for their utterly cynical tax legislation. Polls show widespread disapproval of the bill.

Calling it the tax cuts and jobs act, or something similar, fools nobody. The bill stinks. It punishes the poor and middle class and provides lavish benefits for the rich and corporations.

It also ensures a crippling national debt for generations to come.

Nobody in their right mind would expect voters to reward them for such a monstrosity.

But the Republicans are convinced they must pass it if they hope to stay in power.

Or maybe not.

Maybe they don’t fear a backlash at the ballot box, after all.  There’s the protection provided by their rampant gerrymandering in 2010 for one thing. That virtually guarantees reelection for many Republicans.

What about those who can’t rely on gerrymandered districts to save their hides? Aren’t they shaking in their shoes?

I doubt it. They have their own safety net.

The bill is crafted in answer to demands from their wealthy donors – billionaires and global corporations. Politicians who obey donors’ orders can count on the donors’ gratitude. If the voters kick them out of Congress, there’s a place for them in the boardroom.

So we the people might not have the final say, after all.

As long as members of Congress can move freely into corporate jobs when they lose their seats, they will be beholden not to voters but to the benefactors who provide those jobs.

That’s hardly government of the people, by the people and for the people. I have to wonder whether America has crossed the line between democracy and plutocracy.

Next year’s midterm elections will answer that question. It’s still possible for the people to regain control of the nation’s destiny. But only if we have the will to do so.

Tax bill details

 

No Conservatives Today

Real conservatives are not necessarily bad people. They are not the blight progressives might think they are. Indeed, they can even be useful sometimes. Isn’t it a shame they’ve gone the way of the dodo bird?

Real conservatives want to conserve. They value tradition. They quite reasonably ask if a system is working, why fix it?

Of course just because something is working doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.  And it doesn’t mean it’s fair. Feudalism worked. Caste systems have functioned quite efficiently. Oppressive dictatorships can be remarkably efficient. Would you want to live under any of those conditions?

But conservatives can act as a brake on headlong change. And that’s not always such a bad idea.

Sadly, I bet you couldn’t name a dozen politicians today who fit that definition of a conservative.

Today’s “conservatives” very much want change.  They want radical change. And the kind of change they want is depressingly retrograde. They want to undo all of society’s material and moral gains.

They would return to a feudal society in a heartbeat – as long as they’re the lords and masters and we’re the serfs. They would revoke freedom of the press, freedom of speech, women’s rights and civil rights – all of the rights and  freedoms that democratic societies have won over the years.

And, all the time preaching religion, they would abandon the old, the poor and the sick to fend for themselves, refusing to let them even forage for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table.

How that “conserves” anything beats me. It squanders. It corrupts. It inevitably fosters degraded education, inadequate health care, rampant injustice and a myriad other afflictions that inevitably destroy a society.

If there are any true conservatives remaining, they should sue the charlatans who are abusing their brand so blatamtly today.

More on the death of conservatism

 

Thankful for the USA

 

My daughter Grace and her husband Frank treated Sandra and me to Thanksgiving lunch at the Hilton Garden Inn yesterday. It was really pleasant dining and chatting with them, their sons Jonathan and Adam, and Frank’s sister Maria.

Frank and Grace drove to Lakeland from Miami, and so did Adam, who picked up Jonathan in West Palm Beach. Frank and Grace picked up Maria in Northport.

That’s a round trip of at least 500 miles, and I really appreciate the effort.

At lunch, Grace asked us what we were thankful for, and we all gave short, cute responses. It wasn’t the time and place to go into detail.

So I’ll give it some thought this morning.

I’m thankful to be alive at 83, of course. Most people don’t make it this far along life’s highway.

I’m thankful for my wife’s love and companionship. It would be a bleak life without her.

I’m thankful that I’m still able to hobble around the golf course, even though I play so poorly these days.

I’m thankful for  the affection I enjoy from my brothers, Bill and Peter, and my sister Elizabeth. After all these years, we are still the best of friends.

I’m thankful for my three children and two grandchildren, and I’m especially thankful that they are safe and free from political oppression.

That’s more precious than many Americans might realize.

Even with Trump in the White House. Even with a tiny elite gobbling up most of the nation’s wealth. Even with all the faults we constantly grumble about – racial conflict, political chicanery, boorish, often predatory, male behavior, a flawed criminal justice system, widespread bigotry and hypocrisy…

I’m sure you can think of other things you would like to fix.

But thank God we live in America. This society is not perfect  – far from it – but we have the freedom to address its failures. We are free to speak our minds and vote our conscience.  And if we don’t, there’s nobody to blame but ourselves.

I was born and grew up in Jamaica, beautiful, charming Jamaica. And my island home will always have a special place in my heart.

But I’m thankful to be an American.

 

Sex in the Workplace

 

The reports of inappropriate workplace behavior flooding the media are not just sad.  They’re disheartening. As a man, I know it can sometimes be difficult to keep our minds on the task at hand when we’re distracted by an attractive coworker.  But it’s inconceivable that the attraction should lead to the behavior that’s being reported.

Surely, we men should have enough self discipline to keep our clothes on and our hands to ourselves?

I imagine women are not all impervious to sexual instincts. For example, there are reports of female schoolteachers being tempted by their male students.  But apparently women usually manage to restrain any inappropriate impulses they might have. Especially in the workplace.

I notice that some of the men accused of unwanted sexual overtures say they thought their feelings were reciprocated. I wonder what gave them that idea. A sidelong glance, perhaps? A sly smile? An affectionate touch on the arm?

Women have been known to use their allure to advantage. Did they occasionally go a little too far?

Of course there’s no excuse for the behavior I’ve been reading about. But dare I say a word in defense of Al Franken? He stole a kiss. He posed for a photo that was in inexcusably bad taste (at right).  But what prompted him to take such liberties? A misunderstanding perhaps?

And Bush the Elder. How old is he? Ninety-three?

I am 83, and I suspect any inappropriate intentions he might have are only in his mind. I imagine the physical contact he has with women at his age are meant as expressions of affection or something just as innocent. They might even be the result of failing eyesight.

Yes, I know, some of the alleged incidents occurred years ago. But even so, they seem relatively innocuous compared with some of the other reports..

Roy Moore is something else. He is accused of preying on high school girls. I know it happened a long time ago but so did Bill Cosby’s atrocities. And Cosby didn’t get a pass despite his advanced age and poor health.

I believe in redemption. I believe in forgiveness. But they must be accompanied by contrition. And Moore is not contrite. He is defiant.

The way the media lumps together the avalanche of accusations is unfair.  Soliciting sex from a minor is very, very different from making a pass at an adult coworker. Both are wrong, of course. But one is heinous, the other is stupid.

Without a doubt, the attention being given the problem is welcome. It’s time men and women had this talk. Obviously, our mothers didn’t level with us. They let us think women and men were more or less the same when it comes to impure thoughts and the like.

Obviously, we’re different.

As the French say, vive  la difference. If only we men could better understand the difference. It’s high time someone explained it to us.

 

The “Welfare Queen” Myth

 

You may have heard the story:

In Chicago, the authorities found a woman who used 80 names, 30 addresses and 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.

It originated with Ronald Reagan and has persisted in America’s folklore ever since. Some versions describe the “welfare queen” as driving her Cadillac to the supermarket to cash in her food stamps.

Did I mention she is black?

In the political discussions I’ve had with neighbors, abuse of the welfare system often  emerges as their trump card in discrediting my “liberal” views. They invariably ask why they had to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps while so many people today are living high on the hog without having to do a lick of work. They don’t have to say it, but my white neighbors are talking about black people.

Now, a report has emerged that shows it’s white Americans who profit most from welfare.

According to  a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a DC based think tank, welfare benefits were collected by 6.2 million white Americans in 2014, compared with 2.8 million Afro-Americans and 2.4 million Hispanics.

The study also showed nearly half of welfare recipients – white, black or whatever – took advantage of the government’s assistance to become productive tax payers instead of tax takers..

Does Trump know this, I wonder. Does he care?

Apparently not. He’s vowing to slash welfare benefits, a move that would inordinately punish his white working class supporters, not the black Americans they resent so fiercely.

And you know the Republican controlled Congress will be with him. They’re in favor of any policy that would shred the social safety net and turn back the clock to the days of Dickens.

Trump’s promised crusade

More on Reagan’s story

 

The Real Bottom Line

 

I just read a report that big-money donors are threatening to abandon the Democratic Party “if they go too far left.”

As an example, a wealthy Democratic donor named Stephen Cloobeck said on TV recently:

I’ve talked to Schumer. I’ve talked to Wyden. I’ve talked to Pelosi.  And I said if you use the term billionaires again, I’m done… And I told them to stop it. Knock it off…

Asked if he is worried about the party moving too far to the left, Cloobeck declared:

So much so it would make me quit the party. And I’ve made it very clear I’ll cut your money off. And others will do the same.

Cloobeck must think money buys elections. And I can understand why. The recent obscene spending on election campaigns in Ameruca might make it seem the Almighty Dollar determines results at the ballot box. But what does money really buy?

Ads of course. And professional campaign operatives with their skill at “getting out the vote.” Psychological manipulators with their focus groups and creepy behavior management… All of it indisputably useful.

But money can’t buy enthusiasm. Money can’t buy conviction. Money can’t buy passion.

And that’s the bottom line.

Bernie’s crusade in the last presidential election demonstrated the power of the people over the power of the purse.   And Trump’s showmanship, salesmanship and guile defeated Hillary’s massive spending.

Cloobeck argues that everybody hopes to get rich some day and they don’t want the government taking their money when they do.

But that kind of thinking by America’s politicians has already produced an economic environment in which the top 10 percent of the population owns 80 percent of the wealth.  Even the most deluded American must by now realize how elusive that pot of gold has become for the ordinary working stiff.

So when the big money threatens to abandon the Democratic Party, I say let them go.

There’s nothing Democrats have to offer those donors in return anyway.  Or there shouldn’t be.

In a two-party system, the parties should offer alternative agendas – not the same old system of serfdom and servility. When both parties are beholden to corporations and the rich, who will help the underdog? Nobody.

So what incentive does the underdog have to vote?

Democrats should tell Daddy Warbucks to keep his ill-gotten riches. We aren’t for sale any longer. We will make do with our nickels and dimes.

When we the people pay the piper, we the people will call the tune.

The Cloobeck interview

 

Chastising us with Scorpions

 

Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

That’s what the Biblical ruler Rehoboam promised the Israelites. And that’s what the Republicans who control America’s government plan to do to us. But they aren’t as honest as Rehoboam. They pretend they’re doing it for our own good.

The tax reform bill approved by the House yesterday spells out a vicious assault on Americans, especially on the poor, the old and the sick.

And the Senate version is even worse.

The bills represent a massive transfer of wealth from the poorest and most vulnerable Americans to multinational corporations and the super-rich (the main source of the Republican Party’s campaign donations).

The poor and middle class – even families making as little as $10,000 a year – will pay more income taxes.

Old folks like me will pay more for Medicare – and get less.

As a result of  Obamacare sabotage (in the Senate bill), health insurance rates will skyrocket, and chronically sick people will once again be unable to get coverage at any price.

Schoolteachers will lose their deduction for classroom supplies, and graduate students will be taxed on their tuition waivers….

The list goes on and on…

The justification of this sadistic assault is the timeworn theory that if the corporations and super-rich get to keep more of their loot, they will use it to expand their businesses and thus provide jobs.

I’m sure that by now, most Americans must realize the theory doesn’t work.

I doubt even Republicans believe in it still. What they really want to do is further enrich the big companies and wealthy individuals who fill their campaign chests.

They don’t care how much the rest of us will suffer.

But they should read their Bibles. They will find that the Israelites refused to submit to Rehoboam’s oppression.

And they should be warned that this time they might be going too far.

As the old folks say in Jamaica:

Every day bucket go to well, one day the bottom will drop out.

What the House approved

What the Senate bill proposes

Chastising graduate students

Sabotaging Obamacare

 

The Oldest Dirty Trick

 

It’s the oldest trick in the book. Even toddlers do it. When some tot calls another tot a bad name, the response is often, “You’re the (bad name)!”

Or:

I know you are but what am I?

And the Republican Party shamelessly resorts to that strategy whenever their skullduggery is exposed.

Of course they’re trying it now as the damning evidence mounts in the Russian hacking scandal.

They’re planning to launch an “investigation” to show that Hillary is the one who colluded with the Russians.

Really.

Hillary is such a convenient target. They have spent years – decades – trashing her credibility, and although their allegations always get laughed out of court, much of the mud has stuck.

The chants of “lock ‘er up” are easily revived.

This time, it’s an old uranium deal that’s being dug up. And you can bet the Republican “investigators” will manage to squeeze days and weeks of negative news cycles out of this one.

It doesn’t matter that there’s no collusion scandal there.

 Even Fox News anchor Shepard Smith recognizes it. And you know Fox News is the Republican party’s megaphone. The Fox crew is spearheading a  crusade to smear Hillary (again), claiming she and Bill pocketed millions (billions?) in exchange for letting the Russians buy a Canadian uranium mining company.

Although Russians were among the myriad donors to the Clinton Foundation, there was no quid-pro-quo (as you probably guessed) and Shepard Smith – Fox anchor though he is —  could see that. He called the collusion charges “inaccurate in a number of ways.”

Naturally, Fox viewers are outraged. They’re roasting him on Twitter and reviling him in every way they can think of.

But even a Fox News host has to draw the line somewhere.

More on the Uranium One deal

More on Shepard Smith’s stand

Hillary’s defense