Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Donald Dilemma: Loves The Crowds, Hates The Presidency

I've been watching Donald Trump pretty closely (How to avoid it? Dear God in Heaven, how to avoid it?) and I have a theory.  Bear with me now, because at first you're going to laugh.  I know I did.  But here it is:  The billionaire Trump would rather die than be president of the United States.  But then he'd rather die than give up the attention, the fabulous, almost surreal attention.  From the people, from the press, from the Big Guys in Washington, from the world!  It's all his!  Donald Trump's!  He can't give it up!  He just can't!  But, damn, he does not want to be president.

One day, back in 2015, the showman Trump, the billionaire Donald, ridiculed by many, unliked by most, on a lark, dipped his toe--the most amazing toe in the world, let him tell you--into the presidential pool, and something magical happened.  People--ordinary people--liked him!  They really, really liked him!  Some of them thought he'd make a great president! Not just a great president but the greatest president this country had ever seen!  Maybe the greatest in the world! Him! Donald Trump!

Photo credit:  Richard Drew/AP
He came up with a clever slogan.  Such a clever slogan, you wouldn't believe: "Make America great again!"  Word got around that this billionaire with no political ties was going to make America great again.  The crowds came.  They roared.  He roared.  They were hooked.  He was hooked.

It didn't matter that he didn't have a plan.  It was enough that he agreed to hate all the people they hated, that he spoke off the cuff, that he said the most outrageous things--godawful things--and got away with it.  It became a spectacle and the show began to run on its own steam.  It was better than any juicy, shocking reality show.  It was better because they were all in it, participating, instead of just watching it on their TV screens.

But then something happened.  Donald Trump began to be taken seriously.  Some members of the fawning press went from enjoying the pure folly of it to asking him the hard questions.  The questions any serious presidential candidate should know.  Questions about the economy, about policy, about world affairs. But that's not what interested him.  Not in the least.

He saw he would need to attack the press and make them look silly.  And again, because everything he touched miraculously turned to gold, it worked!  Beautifully!  The press, because his campaign was the best copy ever, became his lap dogs.  To his own surprise, they gave him so much free time he didn't have to spend a dime of his own vast fortune to get him to the very top.

Heady stuff, that.  Not something a narcissistic egomaniac could easily turn his back on.  So what to do?  He didn't want to be president!  Live in the White House, that tacky old relic?  Deliver him!  Deal with a Congress that wouldn't give him his way?  Not on your life!  Learn the names of all those countries, their leaders, their cultures, and whether or not they liked us or  wanted us dead in our beds?  He was a Wharton graduate--a graduate.  School was over!

So Donald being Donald, he decided he needed to put an end to it.  The president part, at least. He was enjoying the hell out of the attention--who wouldn't?--so he would have to figure out a way to keep the crowds coming, even though the idea of being president was beginning to seem like a real loser.

He would be their fearless leader, instead, demagoguing his way into their heads and hearts; he would keep those auditoriums, those stadiums filled to the rafters.  He discovered, to his utter shock, that all he had to do was talk.  He could do that!

He recognized early on that it was the throw-away, comedic insults that drew the heaviest crowds, that brought the shouts, the laughs, the catcalls. They loved him, not as a presidential candidate, but as an entertainer! Who knew?

He kept it up and they kept coming.  The press couldn't get enough of the Phenomenal Donald  He could insult them, call them "scum", point at them in their press boxes with a finger that oozed hatred, and still they would come.  What the hell was going on?  He didn't know, he didn't care.  He was Number One.  Numero Uno.  One.  As in O.N.E.

But, Good God, he might be president!  How could he tell Melania Darling she might have to leave their Park Avenue penthouse?  What to do, what to do?  One day, as he was busy bragging himself up so as to avoid having to contend with real issues,  he told the crowd that his followers were so loyal, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."  The press went wild!  The internet went wild!  No way! Did Donald Trump really say that?

He did.  He did say that.  And even though he hadn't planned it that way (I'm guessing), it could well have been the moment he'd been waiting for.   Who says something like that and gets away with it?

Donald Trump, that's who.  So far, it hasn't hurt him AT ALL.  He hasn't moved from the top of the polls, the mighty polls.

But Trump has just announced that he won't be attending the Fox News GOP debate--the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.  Why not?  Because Megyn Kelly will be moderating and he can't stand her.  At the first debate she was rude to him.  Downright mean. She dared to ask him how he would handle the criticism about the nasty comments he's made about women over the years.  In answer, he began to make nasty comments about her.  Over and over, day after day. He called her a bimbo, a loser, a bad reporter.  He suggested it could have been menstrual flow causing all that meanness.

When he heard Kelly would be on the moderating panel, he gave Fox an ultimatum.  Megyn or Trump.  He harrumphed that Fox would never give up the crowds his presence would bring.  They would have to cave.

They chose Megyn:
"Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away," Trump said in a statement. "Roger Ailes and Fox News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn't play games."
Trump can talk like that because he is not now and never will be a politician.  He is a businessman who glories in his ruthlessness, a wheeler-dealer who always wins, a showman more comfortable in an arena than in an oval office.

He finally gets it: That, while the power and the glory of the presidency could be his, it won't come without four long years of compromise and crushing responsibility.  He won't always get his way.  He'll be required to work hard and give much.  His every action will be answerable to millions of people who aren't among his gushing followers.  The Megyn Kellys of the world will dog his every step.

He won't be able to stand it.

I want to help him.  I really do.  I want to make sure he's never president.  Oh, I know he won't be grateful. He won't thank me.  But sometimes it's those thankless jobs that are the most rewarding.  So, how about it?  Care to join me?  Can we put this poor guy out of his misery already?


Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dear Detroit Free Press: That Water Situation in Flint is Partly Your Doing

Dear Freep: I'll get right to it. I used to be such a fan. Remember how you used to be the blue-collar paper in Detroit and the News--that rag!--was the paper of the Republicans?  Good times.

You were the morning paper and the News--that rag!--came out in the afternoon.  We started our day with you and you never let us down.  On those mornings when we got ready to slog to our jobs or to march in the picket lines or to scan the want ads for employment opportunities, you let us know you were with us.  You were on our side.  You dogged the Big Three and kept them honest, especially during labor negotiations, but you didn't kowtow to the union leaders, either.  We trusted you.

Am I getting this right?  It's the way I remember it.  I loved your paper, from page one through the editorials and Op-Eds, through the style section, through the sports pages (I admit I rushed through those, but I've heard they were very good), through those whopping Want Ad sections (remember those?), and on to the back, where the cartoons lived.  On Sundays your paper was as heavy as a catalog.

Then Reagan came along and brought the hated trickle-down with him. Almost overnight the unions became pariahs--selfish bastards!--and Michigan jobs raced as if on luge sleds to the south and overseas. The days of the high-wage blue-collar worker were over.  Over time you lost your advertising base. Your formerly robust want-ad section dwindled down to a precious few pages, and you partnered with--it's hard to even say it--the dreaded Detroit News.

But you held on to your character, to your ethics, to your championing of the labor class.  For a while.

I repeat all this so you'll understand how hard it is for me to say what I'm about to say:

When you endorsed Rick Snyder for governor the first time, you bought into an image of him that was phony from the start.  You had to know he was not the innocuous "one tough nerd" he and his adorable kids made him out to be.  You knew he was an untested businessman with no political background ("a Republican venture capitalist and former Gateway executive", you wrote), with nothing but promises for a bright Michigan future. 

You knew his opponent, Virg Bernero, was better for us and far more qualified to get us out of the recession sweeping the entire country.  His successes as mayor of Lansing were public knowledge; his vociferous and loyal support for labor, voiced so often and so eloquently on Ed Schultz's show on MSNBC, was necessary in a climate where jobs were being sucked away by the tens of thousands every week, every day.

But you endorsed Snyder because you believed--all evidence to the contrary--he was a true independent.

Photo source: AP

When you endorsed him the second time, in 2014, you did it knowing--even admitting--you were twisting the screws.  You had already written a scathing editorial in 2012, when Snyder went against the voters and declared Michigan (Michigan!) a right-to-work state, yet your endorsement barely scratched the surface on his "failure of leadership", as you called it then:  
Snyder, the Republican incumbent, promised a pragmatic approach to the state's problems and delivered — except when he was caving to radical elements of the GOP-led Legislature or going back on his word about transparency.

You wrote this about his Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer:
 Schauer says he'll shape state government according to the progressive values the Free Press Editorial Board believes are embedded in Michigan's DNA — expansion of civil rights, protections for workers, environmental stewardship, plus investment in schools, roads and the social safety net.
Mark Schauer would have been a fine choice and just what we needed as an antidote. An honest, hard-working pragmatist, he might have been just the person to help us calm down a raging Tea Party legislature.  But we'll never know.

Now you want us to believe you're outraged by Governor Snyder's actions over the water poisoning in Flint--as if you couldn't have seen it coming.  As if you couldn't have known that your endorsement, along with other equally powerful but misguided back-slaps, would be enough to give him permission to do whatever he and his handlers wanted.

You knew in 2014 that Snyder was aligned with ALEC, the Koch brothers, and the Mackinac Center--all well known Right Wing anti-government activists. You knew of the misery Snyder's hand-picked emergency managers were causing all across our state.  And you had to know it was only a matter of time, with Snyder and the Republicans in control, before our Great Lakes state would face an environmental disaster.

Your bizarre editorial, dated October 8, 2015 and titled, "Flint Water Crisis: An Obscene Failure Of Government", only served to highlight your obscene failure in judgment.  In it, you wrote:
This newspaper twice endorsed Snyder for governor, albeit with grave reservations. But because of the relative weakness of his opponents, the leadership he displayed in resolving Detroit’s protracted financial crisis and our hope that he would use his business acumen to ensure that government better served people, he narrowly won our endorsement.
Last year, in a detailed analysis of Snyder's record, this editorial board expressed our dissatisfaction about Snyder's first term: "The governor balanced the budget at the expense of cities and school districts. His disdain for politics is inappropriate in the state's chief politician; his deficiencies as a deal-maker have sometimes resulted in terrible consequences for Michiganders."
This, we wrote, was Snyder's most profound flaw: "He has got to see people, not sums, as the bottom line of the state balance sheet."
We wrote that he rarely exhibited strong, decisive leadership, that he must "grow into a more sure-footed, principled leader." That we were fearful of what Snyder's second term could hold.
To which I call bullshit.  You endorsed a monster.  Twice. And now you're busy trying to undo a tragedy that never had to happen. You want to be heroes? It's too late. The children of Flint have already been poisoned. You can't undo that. You can't undo your endorsements. You had your chance before the elections in 2010 and 2014 and you blew it.

You blew it.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

There's a Poison In Michigan And It's Not Just In The Water

You've probably heard that the water supply in Flint, Michigan is loaded with lead and has been poisoning the city's children, along with everyone else.  So far, there are 200 confirmed cases of lead poisoning among children under six, with some 9000 more believed to be at risk.  That's just the kids.

The water crisis began way back in April of 2014, when Flint's governor-appointed emergency manager (The sole dictator of municipal affairs after removing all duly elected officials from their bounden duties.) fired their water supplier, the city of Detroit, for charging too much.  He then decreed, despite numerous warnings from experts, that the water in the Flint River was good enough, and ordered the water department to begin running it through the old, lead-lined pipes.

It turned out that those old pipes were okay when Detroit water flowed through them but once the more corrosive Flint River water began running, it ate into the lead and leached it into the water supply going to the city's poorest neighborhoods.  (Something the folks at Flint's General Motors plant warned them would happen, since they had long ago discovered how hard that water was on their equipment and stopped using it.)

The water was murky and smelled bad but the water department assured the residents it was okay to bathe in, and, more importantly, to drink.  So the residents bathed in it and cooked with it and drank it, wanting to believe their government officials wouldn't be allowing them to use that nasty water if it wasn't safe.

Photo source:  Sam Owens/AP
But it wasn't safe.  It isn't safe. Not by a long shot. So after almost two years of going back and forth about this awful water and the dangers it held, Governor Rick Snyder was real sorry for how it turned out, and said so publicly.  "I apologize for the state's part in this," he said.  And says.  And no doubt will go on saying.  Because, words, you know, mean something.

To his credit, he shut down the Emergency Manager operation in Flint (that same emergency manager he put in place even after Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum against emergency managers) and he fired a few people in high offices.  So now--now something would be done!  Well, okay, not now as in NOW.  It's more like "Now that national attention is on us, we're going to be thinking seriously about doing something about this!"

You would think, after all the hoo-haw, the governor would at last have put in that all-important call to the Feds--to FEMA--asking for an issuance of a Federal state of emergency.  You would think.

Well, he's getting to it.  It's not time yet, he says.  First he had to put out a state state of emergency, the necessary precursor to getting the Feds involved, not to mention an almost magical procrastination tool for someone who wants desperately to go on believing there's no way, no how he'll EVER need the services of those folks in Washington.

To Snyder's mind, just issuing the SOM is going above and beyond the call of gubernatorial duty.  He held a press conference the other day to brag about this big step he took, seeming not to recognize, until members of the press started asking him about it, that the next step, calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency (which, for some, might have been the first step), would be a good thing, too.  His solution, instead, was to ask churches and charities to dig in and deliver truckloads of little water bottles.  (Please!  Don't make me go to them! Give!  Give!)

Update:  Gov. Snyder, in order to stall the Feds, is bringing in the National Guard.  They'll be delivering cases of little water bottles, filters, and testing kits.  State troopers will be delivering water door-to-door where needed.  No mention of the water buffaloes, the big military tank trucks carrying potable water, even though Rachel Maddow suggested it the other night.  Too bad they don't watch her.  It's hard to rinse shampooed hair with little water bottles, not to mention cleansing tushies.)

You might wonder how all of this could happen, given the government resources available to the Snyder administration, just in our state alone. You, my friends, are not alone.  But let me remind you that Michigan has been under a supreme, GOP-enforced dictatorship since New Year's Day, 2011.  There is a long, dirty laundry list of the slow takeover of an entire state, much of it outlined in this June, 2015 Mother Jones article.  Rachel Maddow has been resolute in her reporting of Michigan's plight since the early days of the takeover, when Chris Savage at Eclectablog, Michigan's foremost progressive blog, brought it to her attention.  It's not as if this is anything different from business as usual.  Except now people are being physically injured instead of just losing jobs or homes or going broke or hungry.

This is not a takeover in the truest sense, since two elections had to take place in order to get Snyder and his GOP-majority cohorts where they are today.  That means there were enough people willing to allow this to happen without regard to the rest of us--or even to themselves.  These "leaders" were elected mainly on the strength of their anti-Fed, pro-state's-rights promises.  Their campaigns were built on hatred, fear and mistrust of anyone in Washington or beyond.  Now they're in a fix:  How do they ask for federal assistance without looking like they actually (Oh, ew, gross!) need it?

So here might be a good place to remind voters that when a candidate for a publicly held taxpayer-paid office says he or she is "anti-government" what they really mean is they're anti-any-other-government-except-their-very-own.

Let Michigan be a lesson for you.

(One more thing in the "Adding Insult to Injury, Michigan Style" department:  Those people who were fooled into believing their poisoned water was safe?  They're still getting water bills.  No.  I'm not kidding.)

 For more on the water poisoning in Flint, see The Atlantic's What Did the Governor Know About Flint's Water and When Did He Know It?

For Michigan progressive resources, see my Michigan Under Siege page.

(Also posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Oregon Stand-Off That Wasn't. Isn't. Ain't.

Ammon Bundy, Oregon Standoff - Keith Ridler/AP

You should know I'm writing today not to inform or enlighten but simply to make fun.  Those militia guys in Oregon holding the Malheur Wildlife Refuge building hostage are like big-footed rodeo clowns in cowboy hats and their pratfalls are just too good to pass up.

The backstory in brief:  The Hammond family, ranchers leasing federal land in Oregon, near where the "stand-off" is taking place, were accused of deliberately setting fires on government property. The alleged violations vary from covering up an illegal deer hunt to burning down forests, either to create firebreaks or to create more grazing land.  They've been embroiled in court battles for years, trying to make the case that even though the Feds (that's us) own the land, the fact that they pay good money to lease it should give them the right to lay waste to it if they so choose.  They see themselves as homesteaders, with the ultimate goal complete ownership.  The Feds keep saying "uh-uh".

Enter Ammon and Ryan, the sons of Cliven Bundy (remember him?), who live in Nevada but got wind of the Hammond's plight in Oregon and decided it was time to resurrect an armed insurrection against the gov'mint.  And, since they and their cohorts are apparently between jobs with plenty of time on their hands, now was as good a time as any.

They went on up there on their own, without so much as an invite from the Hammonds and found to their surprise that. . .OMG. . .they weren't even welcome!  In fact, the Hammonds and their neighbors got downright hostile, putting up signs that read, "Bundy Militia go home"  and "No Bundy caliphate".  So the Bundy Bunch took it on themselves to occupy a vacant Fish and Wildlife building instead.  For God and country and something, something.

Someone said they just happened to find a ring of keys near the building, which kind of takes away from the whole potential shoot-em-up, bust-in-there-by-god scenario, but the point is, they took over a government building.  Armed to the teeth.  With guns and everything.

Everything except warm socks and toilet paper and snacks, which can be a problem in the Oregon boonies in winter. So this motley handful of brave men took to Facebook to rally the troops, sending out requests for supplies, releasing a (irony alert!) United States Post Office box number so that shipments can arrive safely.

At first the Bundy bunch said they were willing to stay there forever, if necessary.  They said they might have to kill or be killed.  They have guns.  They have ammunition.  They have an old guy sitting under a blue tarp who appears to be their PR person.  He talks to the press, who seem to have no problem coming and going.

In fact nobody seems to have a problem coming or going, including the Bundy bunch:
Their supplies look to be dwindling and militia men who overtook the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon have pleaded with sympathizers to send food, but law enforcement tell TPM that the men are free to resupply on their own.  
"Right now, they are allowed to come and go as they want," says Bill Fugate, a spokesman for the Oregon State police. 
This is not turning out the way the Bundy boys wanted it.  Even their father, the notorious Cliven, is confused by it:
“I don’t quite understand how much they’re going to accomplish,” Bundy said. “I think of it this way: what business does the Bundy family have in Harney County, Oregon?”
To add to the insurrectionists' embarrassment, County residents at a town hall meeting yesterday gave nearly unanimous approval for the "siege" to end:
Multiple residents volunteered to travel with Ward to the refuge Thursday morning and ask the militants to go. “Someone from Harney County, or a group of us, needs to tell them we recognize what you’ve done, but it’s time for you to go home to your families,” said county resident Rob Frank.
Frank said he sympathizes with the group’s anti-federalist views, but believes their tactics will fail to accomplish anything. “They’re welcome to leave, and I’ll escort them out of the county,” said Ward, who added that he didn’t want to see the situation end in bloodshed.
Earlier in the day, Bundy said he and the other people at the refuge did plan to leave eventually. “There is a time to go home. We recognize that,” he said. “We don’t feel it’s quite time yet.”
I'll be honest: I'm hoping it's not over before I finish this.  I sincerely want to make fun and I have a feeling the ending won't be nearly as flat-out wacky as what's happening right now.  A big fat nothing is my guess.

So let's go on with the show.

I'm begging you.

(Posted, too, at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Resolved: To Make 2016 A Year I Manage To Get Through


Here it is, 2016, a fresh new start.  Things will be different this year, and not just different but better.  Way better!  So much better, next year at this time we won't even have to do a New Year's resolution.  Everything we resolved will have come true.  

Perfect!  Can't wait!

I'm lying! Not true!  

But you knew that. 

Let me say once again that New Year’s Resolutions are a fun way to pass the time but are meaningless in the real world.  Not wishing to burst your feel-good bubble on the very first day of the new year;  just telling you, in case you woke up this morning actually believing that all it takes to do some serious life-changing before the next year is out is to sincerely resolve to do it on New Year’s Day.

Some people believe a resolution is not legit unless you say it out loud to someone who might actually remember–and care–later on.  I’ve done it myself in the days when I couldn’t have started the year without a list of resolutions.  It was a good luck gesture I almost really believed in.  Sort of like not stepping on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back.

But over time I realized the surest way to disappoint myself in the worst way possible was to promise myself (most sincerely, because no other way would do) that I wouldn’t be a complete failure again.  This year I would finally do what I’ve been meaning to do, and this time I mean it.
Sometimes I would even make a list–actually write things down:
Lose 20 pounds.
Make a lot of money with my writing.
Travel to that place I’ve always wanted to go. 
Okay, lose 10 pounds.
Okay, make any money with my writing.
Okay, at least get out of the state.
Then, thankfully, I would lose the list, and any remnants of any long ago resolution would drift away, never to be heard from again until next New Year’s Eve, when those long-ago resolutions would come back and hit me like a ton of bricks.  I promised!  I resolved!  I said them out loud!  I didn’t do any of them!  (Except to get out of the state.  I did manage to do that.  But who couldn’t when you live 20 miles from the border?)

So this year you could follow my lead, save yourself a lot of headaches, and just bypass that tradition.  The world won’t come to an end.  The year will start, the days will go by, one by one, and nobody will notice that you didn’t make a resolution.

I didn’t know that when I was young.  I went along, sheep-like, because everyone else did.  I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t keep her resolutions.  I know better now.  It’s the most freeing thing in the world to know my promises to myself are meaningless and therefore totally unnecessary.
You too can be free.  Just say no.  No resolutions!  (If you think you can’t do it, write me.  I’ll talk you down.  I’ve been there.  I know.)

So Happy New Year!  Health! Prosperity!  Love!  Joy!

Carry on. . .

(Did some of you notice a similarity to last year's January 1st post?  It's because I stole it and altered it slightly.  Next year I'm hoping to be better at writing something original on the first day of the year.  Hoping, but not promising.) 

(Did you notice I didn't whisper a word about politics? Way up at the top I resolved not to, just to see if I could do it.  I did it!  Not sure I can keep on doing it, so I'll stop now.  Happy New Year!)