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Category: Politics

The Wrong Arm of the Law
Maybe I’ve been watching too many of those British mysteries on the telly. In those stories, the slightly dotty sleuth is always able to sort through a haystack of clues and false leads to find, at last, the needle of proof that sends the wrongdoer to the nick for keeps.

Real life, as I have recently been reminded, is not like that. Robert Mueller, though he seems to be quite thorough when it comes to haystacks, does not appear to have come up with that elusive needle. Not for a conspiracy with the Rooskis, anyway. It may in fact may be there, but if it is, he couldn’t find it. That he didn’t find it does not establish Trump’s innocence or exonerate him or prove it was all a hoax. The guilty, in real life anyway, sometimes go free.

Collusion, on the other hand, was abundantly established long ago. Don Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting with the Russians and the President’s subsequent efforts to cover up the purpose of that meeting have long ago proved that wrongdoing. But collusion is not a crime. It is simply “plotting, intrigue, or connivance.” That, we have here in spades.

But that’s not what Inspector Morse would be looking for. Conspiracy, with its very particular (and difficult to prove) legal definition, is the crime we’re talking about, and conspiracy is what Mueller could not find proof of in the haystack. Not enough to convict, anyway. We might suspect, as I do, that there was a conspiracy, but we haven’t got the proof. All we have is suspicion, and that doesn’t count for much — unless you’re into conspiracies, which I am not. I have no reason to believe that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, for instance, are running a child prostitution ring out of Comet Pizza in D.C., or that the Deep State is in league with them. I’ll leave such theories to the fevered psyches of the right.

Still, the Miss Marple in us is left to puzzle over some alarming behavior by Trump when it comes to Russia. How do we explain that he apparently continues to accept the word of Putin over the findings of our highly trained, and demonstrably patriotic intelligence professionals? What was that fawning, beta male behavior in Helsinki all about? Why has he done nothing — nothing! —about the Russian corruption of our elections that is so thoroughly detailed in the Mueller probe? Why does everyone in Trump’s orbit have one lie in common, and that lie is about talking to Russians? I have no real proof that Bad Vlad has something on our President, but it still remains the most viable hypothesis in answering these questions.

Hercule Poirot might be very happy, however, with the trove of evidence for our President’s felonious obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, however, we may never get to that satisfying ending we’ve come to expect from TV whodunits. Mueller’s report lays out the crime with sleaze to spare, but we are denied our outcome by DOJ policy. He done it, alright, and we’ve got the needles to prove it, but it seems we are not permitted to indict a sitting President.

And then there’s Attorney General William Barr. As much as I try, I can’t imagine what motivation he has for misleading the American public. An abiding love for DT? I don’t think so. Material gain? Maybe. A character with such an unclear rationale for his own wrongdoing wouldn’t be much use to DCI Banks. In any mystery I’ve ever seen, an Attorney General might be drawn as a detective’s pain-in-the-ass boss, but in the end he would at least side with the rule of law. Barr, though, is trying to undermine the rule of law by declaring that the needle we found was not a needle at all, but just another piece of hay. That could easily bring our inquiry —and our plot — to a screeching halt.

So, to be clear: there’s a real-life crook in the White House — a felon, in fact. If there ever was a mystery about that, it was solved long ago. But since our crook lives where he does, not even Sherlock Holmes himself can put the cuffs on him. And with the Trump-appointed Attorney General now derelict in his duties, the power to make Trump answer to the law rests with the U.S. Congress. Are they the Hetty Wainthropps and George Gentlys I’ve been waiting for?

I hope so, because otherwise it’s up to me and my fellow citizens…and many of them, it seems, haven’t got a clue.
Poor Tax
Tax breaks for the rich. The concept seems just plain wrong on its face. And yet, they keep passing both houses of Congress and getting signed into law by (Republican) presidents. It’s just so stupid.

In fact this whole tax thing in general, where money is amassed in huge quantities, then taken away, then given back — it’s an enormous drain on our economy. Wouldn’t it be better just to let the rich keep all their money?

I mean, really. If it weren’t for rich people — and those other great people our, country’s great corporations — where would we all be? Jobless, hopeless, utterly screwed.

And so, here is my modest proposal: Forget tax breaks! Forget taxes! Instead, eliminate the middleman and simply have the poor make direct payments to the rich. Like a tribute, sort of, or a special “thank you” for all those jobs? It would be voluntary, of course, because we live in a free society. Or, if not voluntary, then at least withheld from wages so we’d hardly miss it.

Everyone would benefit…eventually. Or their next of kin, if it came to that.
Both Sides
Both sides do it, they say. That’s not always the case, but when it comes to practicing the low art of denial, it is certainly true.

In fact, you might say that denial is the default position of anyone whose beliefs are questioned. When some wise guy offers evidence, even proof, that we are misinformed or illogical or just plain wrong, our first impulse — admit it — is to reject that testimony out-of-hand. And just for good measure, we might toss in some personal animus and a few dark suspicions about the character of the messenger. Except for those of us who are truly evolved (please don’t bother raising your hand), it is simple human nature to respond this way.

It’s not the prettiest room in the rambling estate of human nature that I’m talking about here, but it is there — a dark chamber cluttered with defensiveness, laziness, and self-doubt. What is important, however, is what we do after this initial gut response subsides. Our actions at that point are what will divide us up into different subspecies of humans. I can’t speak for others (or for any particular subspecies), but I really do try to circle back and check the assertions of the person who had the gall to disagree with me. You know, just in case he might be right.

An image I once saw in a nature documentary comes to mind here. It showed a coyote in the wild taking a much-needed meal. This coyote is not the kind we see in my neighborhood, well-fed on the pets of my neighbors and on all the other foodstuffs that are so readily available in proximity to human beings. This creature, by the looks of him, was living on the edge of starvation. When he finally got the square meal he was looking for, however, his desperation had led him to the worst possible solution: skunkmeat. He was tearing into that carcass with ravenous gusto, but the expression on his face clearly showed how he felt about the situation: utter revulsion.

I know how he felt. Whenever I watch Fox News — or even when I read some thoughtful conservative thinkpiece — I experience the same gag reflex. Still, I have to do it or I am giving into my own lowbrow instinct for denial. If I truly believe that we all need to exercise our own independent judgment about the world, then I have to eat the skunk, too — like it or not. If I don’t, my claims to intellectual honesty will wither and die.

I confess that I have been only partially successful in this quest. I can only take Fox for five minutes at a time. I forsake full readings in favor of light skimming. I take shortcuts to judgment based, not on the arguments and evidence presented by the writers, but on what I see as their self-righteousness or faux outrage or willful ignorance. I should really be more faithful in my search for truth, but sometimes the taste of the skunk is just too much.

I can’t feel too proud about my efforts at intellectual honesty, but I do sort of try…and, when I’m at my best, I try to try harder. But I am imperfect. In fairness, then, the most I can ask from others is the same level of imperfection. When I look at the Trumpers, though, I don’t see any effort at all. Not only are they not trying, but they seem to be quite content with their denial. That’s a full third of my fellow voters who are completely impervious to any truth or logic outside their chosen belief system.

This is the thing that has perplexed me from the beginning about these folks. I am not asking for even my own modest effort at self-examination, but I would like to see something. Some evidence of independent thought, some sign of participation in meaningful dialogue, some indication that we could find common ground in an agreed-on set of facts. But no. I’m willing to investigate the possibility that they are right, but they will not reciprocate, not even a little bit.

It’s been suggested that the Trumpers are examples of the authoritarian mindset. They want a strong leader who will tell them what is true and what to do. Okay, but how does this analysis help me? I don’t want anybody telling me what to do, and I would have thought that all the Libertarians in Trump’s camp might share that attitude. But they don’t, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out why. Two years into this phenomenon, and I am still no closer to understanding how it works and how it can possibly persist.

I don’t know, maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Maybe it’s not about facts and logic at all. To be intellectually honest about the views of Trumpers, perhaps I need to submerge myself in their mindset. Who knows? I might be missing something profound and meaningful. Maybe Donald Trump is a great man, and I am too hung up on “truth” to see it.

And maybe skunk butt is a rare delicacy.
Believe It or Not
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Green New Deal. It’s getting a lot of play in the media these days. Among the stories: Mitch McConnell says he wants to bring it up for a vote in the U.S. Senate, presumably so he can poke fun at its radical approach to global warming.

Indeed, there has already been some of this kind of sneering. Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, got up on the floor to accuse the proposal of seeking to put an end to cheeseburgers and milkshakes. (Barrasso, it should be pointed out, is one of several doctor-senators who has repeatedly voted to take health care away from poor people.) I’ve seen some political cartoons that made similar fun by suggesting that the proposal was little more than an attack on cow flatulence (farts are funny, but shame on you, Mike Lester). It may not be Mike’s job to solve the problem of climate change and prevent the ending of civilization, but it most certainly is the responsibility of McConnell and Barrasso. To date, they have not offered any suggestions of their own.

There are even some otherwise sympathetic voices who warn against the world-changing nature of the Green New Deal (GND). They say it only hands a cudgel to the G.O.P. to use against those of us who want a planet that supports life. Shame on these turkeys, too (I’m talking to you, Michael Tomasky). I took the opportunity to read the GND, so you don’t have to (but you may, right here). I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. And let me tell you — it is radical. 100% green renewable energy by 2030. That won’t be easy. But neither is living in a furnace.

I guess it depends on whether you believe the science or not. If you don’t believe the science (despite having witnessed everything science has delivered for our civilization in technology, medicine, wealth, and human understanding), then it’s perfectly okay to make fun. You might even suggest that it’s all a hoax, that the world’s scientists — in every pertinent discipline, from every culture, and speaking dozens of languages — are all part of a titanic conspiracy to fool the rest of us. And not a single one of these scientists (not one!) has ever come forward to expose this monstrous plot…much less explain why a profession founded on discovering the truth would so drastically forsake its core mission.

If you do believe the science, however, I think you might have a different response to the GND. “Finally!” might be one reaction. Or, “Great, but I want more details.” Or even, “Thanks, but it’s already too late.” The GND is short on granular specifics, but it is clear on the big stuff: no carbon-based energy, and go all-out (including the money to pay for it) for every other source, especially solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal.

The plan does mention support for sustainable organic agriculture, but I saw nothing overtly anti-cow. There was no mention of burgers or cheese or shakes or farts. The dairy and meat industries, it is true, would not get the same kind of government help as the producers of more healthy food. They’ll just have to make it on their own. That aspect of the plan goes more to protecting our health generally. To me, the most pressing issue here is global warming.

In that respect, it all makes sense…if you believe the science. And you either do or you don’t, right? Let me repeat, in case you missed it: YOU EITHER BELIEVE THE SCIENCE OR YOU DON’T. And why wouldn’t you believe? Everything you see in the news — rising temperatures, rising sea levels, shrinking icecaps, extreme weather, and the comparative abruptness of these changes — confirms it. Meanwhile, nothing substantiates the claims of the deniers.

There is no doubt that Republicans’ mockery will not help. It will piss you off, but just because they say that the GND is silly and naive does not win the argument. Science does…if you believe the science. And (one more time) you either believe the science or you don’t. So screw them, and screw the political calculus that says we need to go slow. Bring on a vote in the Senate! Let’s get started by hearing the evidence of this unfolding calamity and having it fully debated.

“Radical” may be right, but what are the alternatives? At this point, “radical” and “sensible” are the same thing.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon