Monthly Archives: February 2018

Don’t Be Fooled by NRA Sweet Talk

If you watched the CNN Town Hall from Florida last night, I want to believe you were all deeply moved by the strength and courage of those young people, just one week after their lives were ripped apart, standing up to powerful people in a public televised forum and not backing down. They pummeled Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Dana Loesch, the spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, with hard questions and were met with the usual double-talk and deflection. I am a bit surprised Loesch didn’t bring up Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Loesch did her level best to portray herself personally as empathetic (“I am a mother too.” etc.) and maybe she is. But she is also paid by the NRA to rep their causes and she did her job in constantly deflecting the conversation back to her one major talking point: it’s all about the “system” and its failure to identify the crazy people who should have no access to any guns ever. Round them up. No problem for the NRA. The same was true, Loesch argued, regarding bump stocks. She implied the NRA was fine with restricting them but failed to mention that they tied their proposal to a “universal open carry” law covering all 50 states. The NRA wants to turn the country into a free-fire zone.

Unfortunately, as I wrote in a previous post [http://bit.ly/2GChj3U], Loesch was supported by the Broward County Sheriff who wants authority to round people up and taken them in for psychiatric evaluations. I understand why the sheriff would think that is a good idea, but in my opinion, it is as bad an idea as allowing the continued sale to and possession of semi-automatic weapons by civilians. I won’t repeat what I said earlier.

Loesch’s message, hammered repeatedly, was all about getting more data and then having authorities act on the data against the people identified as a danger to themselves and others. Right out of 1984. And utterly futile. There are a huge number of cases of murderers, small scale and large, who showed no signs of mental problems, no “red flags,” as Loesch liked to say, before killing. The idea that a society can police the mental state of tens or hundreds of thousands of people going through depression, divorce, job loss and other life disturbances is preposterous on its face.

In that reality, however, is a telling message about the NRA. The digital ink wasn’t dry on the CNN Town Hall when Loesch, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, had this to say: “

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it,” Dana Loesch said Thursday. “Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy. But I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many in the legacy media in the back (of the room).” [http://cnn.it/2EVLENL]

She then turned her attack into a racial and immigration issue, saying the media didn’t hold town halls for the grieving black mother in Chicago or the “sanctuary cities” where, by inference illegal aliens are massacring black kids every weekend.

These remarks perfectly capture the NRA game – deflection through race baiting.

They also reveal the darker truth about the NRA. It is in reality the group that loves the school massacres. Why? Because each new slaughter provides fresh ammunition for its claim that the problem is not guns but crazy people. So, from the NRA’s agenda perspective, the more dead kids the better. You think that’s harsh? Listen to the NRA president, Wayne LaPierre sometime.

As for the NRA’s reasoning, think about it as a mathematical problem. If one individual armed with an AR-15 and multiple high-capacity magazines can kill or wound, say, 20 people in a fixed amount of time without having to reload, how many people could that person kill if he had to reload after firing, say, three shots? Well, some no doubt, but the possibility of a successful challenge to such a person is obviously greater if he cannot simply stand there and rapid-fire as fast as he can pull the trigger for 30 rounds in a row, pop in a new magazine and continue firing at will. I suggest that this thought experiment is compelling proof that, while incomplete, it is the gun that matters. Take the gun out of the picture and everything about it changes. Nothing the NRA has to say about this can overcome that logic.

That is why the NRA resorts to race-baiting and other fear-mongering, similar to the President’s own approach when seeking and holding office.

Trump now appears to be saying he’s open to some changes in U.S. gun laws, though exactly what changes is very far from clear. He has, for example, proposed increasing the minimum age for owning a rifle. Yawn. Even if perfectly enforced, which is highly unlikely, this will do nothing to stop someone over 21 from buying and using AR-15s to massacre students and teachers.

Trump says maybe we should arm teachers, or some teachers. This is so stupid it defies comprehension. Think about the teachers you had in school. Imagine them armed to the teeth in from the class every day. What impression will that make on young children?

The answer is not to arm teachers, but to disarm those who would harm them and their students. We cannot claim to be a civilized society when we turn our educational institutions into fortified bunkers.

Of course, if history is any guide, and it usually is, Trump will change positions on these issues every day or every hour as it waits for the problem to blow over as it always has in the past. The NRA is not going away, that’s clear. Is Trump who is financially and ideologically aligned with the NRA going to go against it in any meaningful way? Don’t hold your breath. Trump tweeted this earlier today:

What many people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, is that Wayne [LaPierre], Chris and the folks who work so hard at the @NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our Country and will do the right thing. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Continuing to hew to the NRA line, Trump has also tweeted the following in the past 24 hours:

….If a potential “sicko shooter” knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there…problem solved. Must be offensive, defense alone won’t work!

….History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!

….immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A “gun free” school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!

Our deep thinker President has this all figured out. He sees no problem with calling the shooters “sickos” and simultaneously labelling them “cowards.” Name calling is a classic Trump solution to complex problems. Trump has clarified that he only proposes to arm 20 percent of teachers, the “gun adept teachers with military or special training experience.”

This moron of a president has not apparently thought about the scenario in which swat teams arrive at a chaotic school shooting that they believe is still going on and confront teachers holding weapons. Nor has he considered that some of the “sickos” have no intention of surviving their attacks and thus would not be deterred by fear of meeting armed teachers. Indeed, it is not implausible to believe that the prospect of a gun battle with armed teachers would actually be an attraction for such people.

In any case, while the President is trying to act like an intelligent and empathetic person, the sale of semi-automatic weapons continues apace. See this: http://bit.ly/2F0TBRJ, where 793 semi-automatic weapons are currently for sale.

Back to the CNN Town Hall, pardon me if I am unmoved by Sen. Rubio’s new-found “willingness to reconsider” his positions on guns. Rubio choose his words very carefully as he usually does. “Open to reconsidering” is a far cry from “I am with you — let’s ban semi-automatic weapons.” That phrase rolls of the tongue as smooth as silk, but Rubio couldn’t say it.

At critical moments, Rubio faltered like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, especially when pressed to say he would stop taking NRA money. In a fraught phrase, he kept saying “they buy into my agenda, I don’t buy into theirs.” Great choice of words: buy in.

But, it’s not really about taking or not taking NRA’s money. It’s about what the money represents. It’s a political signifier of great importance and his refusal to reject NRA money speaks volumes.

I have a proposal to test Sen. Rubio’s authenticity on this issue:  announce, Senator, that you are going to take all contributions to you from NRA sources and give them to Everytown for Gun Safety or another similar organization. See how long the NRA keeps giving you money in the wake of that announcement. Then we’ll know who is buying what from whom.

The kids and their grieving parents and friends were having none of the Republican blather. They want definitive action now and there is no reason to think they will just wander back to school and carry on life as usual. They are leading a movement now, comparable potentially to the Women’s March. The students were refused access to many state legislators when they visited Tallahassee and it will be interesting to see how they are received on Capitol Hill by the federal legislators who hold the key to getting a nationwide assault-weapons ban in place.

By the way, Senator Rubio placed his name down behind the argument that assault-weapons bans are ineffective because it’s too easy to evade them, citing some stuff about replacing stocks with plastic to escape the definitions. Sen. Nelson claims his legislation solves that problem by naming the precise weapons covered. I’m no expert on this but that seems to invite precisely the type of evasion Rubio was describing.

So, here’s an offer they can’t refuse:  I will personally come to Washington, without asking the NRA or anyone else for a dime, to help those seemingly inept legislators draft an ironclad ban on semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. I do not believe this is a particularly complicated challenge of legislative drafting. I also believe that the failure to do it before was the likely product of NRA lobbying that produced language calculated to be ineffective and full of loopholes. So, there’s my offer. I and a small band of exceptional attorneys I happen to know could fix the drafting problems in a day, two at the most. Standing by for your call.

Remove Security for US Capitol & White House

I am going to venture into sensitive territory here so if anyone is offended, you have my advance apology. But after watching the Broward County Sheriff and the usual collection of dignitaries (Governor, School Board members, etc.) at a press briefing after the Parkland school massacre, I have to say this.

The common theme now is “it’s those mentally unstable people who are the real problem.” So, “If you see someone whose behavior has changed or is acting peculiarly, call the police so they can take that person in for questioning and a mental health evaluation.” At the same time the gun crowd recites and repeats their mantra: “if you can’t fix everything, don’t fix anything.” And “I got my rights so if you want my guns, come and take them.”

So, the new theme is that we are to turn ourselves into a totalitarian country of spies, a dystopian nightmare of reporting our neighbors and anyone else whose behavior does not fit our personal norms.  Let’s have everyone report somebody they don’t like and then let the authorities take care of them. Round up the usual suspects, while we cover for those who are really guilty. Yes, you see, if we can just get those mentally unstable people under control, everything will be fine and we can all keep our semi-automatic military grade weapons in case the government comes after us.

This is the usual playbook for post-catastrophe posturing while actually doing nothing of substance. The President added this gem in purporting to speak “directly to America’s children:”

“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. Answer hate with love; answer cruelty with kindness. We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Changing culture isn’t something that can be willed; it takes decades and even centuries. This is just another deflection. Meanwhile, the putative leader of the Free World ordered flags to half-mast. Wow. That took real guts. The NRA was ok with it because it adds to the impression that someone actually cares about these kids, and the ones who will be killed next, while actually doing nothing at all to help them.

The “round up the usual suspects” approach to the gun problem has the same facile attractiveness of the other pro-gun arguments. But if you want to see a real-life example of how this might play out in practice, have a look at the story reported in Bloomberg News: “This Short Seller Pressed ‘Tweet.’ Then the FBI Showed Up” https://bloom.bg/2GnX5uL

In a war of words between two businessmen on Twitter, threatening statements were made. The FBI showed up and warned the author of those statements to stop sending such messages. There were intimations of political influence, as the target of the threatening messages was apparently a “top Republican fundraiser in Georgia” and “Georgia finance chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” The request to send agents was issued from the FBI’s Atlanta office which, along with the Justice Department is, of course, not talking.

True enough, no one was taken in for questioning and mental evaluation, but you surely get the picture. In this case it was a well-placed corporate executive apparently using his influence to induce the government to act against a rival. Under the “see something, report something” approach to stopping mass murders of children, you can just imagine how the complaints will fly as conflicted neighbors, romantic rivals, resentful former employees, etc. decide to get even by reporting the sources of their angst to the police who will be under new expectancies to act. “My neighbor has been bringing home long packages at night; I think he’s stocking up guns.”

And, of course, even when the report is legitimate, as it sometimes may be, it won’t necessarily resolve the threat. The FBI botched the reports it had on the Florida shooter. The Republicans, of course, jumped on this new excuse to undermine the FBI while continuing to whine about politicizing the Florida murders.

In my view, the FBI mistakes in this case, while tragic, simply illustrate that we cannot rely on a government agency, not matter how dedicated, to get everything right.

We are also faced with the usual argument that if you can’t solve everything, you don’t solve anything. That is just plain stupid. The inability to fix the entirety of a problem should not stand in the way of partial solutions that could save lives, such as removing semi-automatic military style weapons from circulation. There is no other area of life in which such a moronic idea would be accepted.

So how do we get semi-automatic military style weapons off the streets and out of the hands of those who would use them for slaughtering children? Right now, the Republican Party, complicit as it is in the Russian fixing of the 2016 election and fully committed to doing whatever is necessary to keep Donald Trump in power, is not going to move without an additional incentive. I propose to give them one. Two actually.

First, remove all the security from the Capitol, the White House and the Cabinet. Crazy, right? It would, of course, expose the legislators and the elite members of the Cabinet, etc. to the same risk that our children face every day at school, or at the mall or at a concert, the risk that some “mentally unstable” individual or group of individuals would attack them with a legally-acquired weapon. Well, of course, it would. That is precisely the point. If the legislators and administration officials who, after every mass shooting, say “it is too soon to talk about controlling weapons of rapid destruction,” were exposed to the same vulnerabilities as school children, they might soon change their tune.

Of course, this approach would also endanger the staff and administrative people who do most of the actual work in these places.  Some of them support reasonable restraints on ownership of semi-automatic weapons. They are the good guys. As the Republicans, funded to the hilt with NRA money, would say: necessary losses. It would not, in any case, take too long for the Republicans to come around. Set a deadline: enact a weapons control system within 30 days or lose your security. Faced with the choice of losing NRA cash or losing their lives, I’m betting they quickly come to their senses.

That proposal is, of course, just a fantasy. The same complicit individuals that control the government control the security for themselves.

So, here’s another, perhaps more realistic, solution. The Resistance must now engage in all-out mass movement of the same nature as occurred during the Vietnam War by making it difficult or impossible for pro-NRA and pro-gun politicians to conduct business as usual. Protesters will have to show up every day with bullhorns and noisemakers and make it difficult or impossible for the Congress to function. Do sit-ins. Even if they couldn’t get close enough to stop the government from operating, the Resistance could disrupt the local offices of the recalcitrant politicians. And they can turn these politicians’ rallies and other public appearances into spectacles of resistance centered around their support for the NRA and the gun lobby. Make their support for the merchants of death a constant topic on all social media. Name the names. Fill their inboxes, mail boxes, comment sites and phone mail with protest messages.

The same treatment should be meted out to the NRA at its offices and anywhere else it appears at conferences and meetings. For the unspeakable misery they have caused, their lives should be made miserable in return.

To be clear, I am not advocating violence against the government or anyone else. I am suggesting that if the American people truly want to stop the killing of children and others with semi-automatic weapons, they are going to have to resort to extraordinary measures. The NRA has the money, the politician enablers can’t get enough of it, and so it’s time to simply stop them from doing business as usual. A non-violent mass movement consistently and relentlessly applied is the only apparent way to force the hand of those supporting, and financed by, the gun lobby.

There will be no quick outcome to this struggle. Many “responsible” people will say this goes too far, that what we need is responsible advocacy, more “honest debate,” etc. Let’s not rush into this. It’s complicated. Let’s take a few years to study it and then, after more children have died at the hands of unhappy people with semi-automatic weapons and multiple high-capacity magazines, maybe we can come up with a solution.

To quote the kids speaking out at Parkland, I call BS. Enough is enough. Read this: https://agingmillennialengineer.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/fuck-you-i-like-guns-2/ The gun people will never yield until they are forced, so they should be forced. Starting now. The will of the majority of Americans on this issue must be presented to the lawmakers in a way they cannot ignore as they have for so long. Enough.

Cox Farms Stands Up For Social Tolerance

I am posting, with permission, the entirety of a Facebook blog post by Cox Farms, a roadside fresh foods market of the type that used to dot the rural landscape but are now a rarity. Cox Farms is set up on Route 620 (Braddock Road) in what was once rural Virginia, between Flat Lick Stream Valley Park and Gilbert’s Corner. Details here: www.coxfarms.com.

I report, with profound sadness, that some people chose to attack the owners for their actions and words in favor of an inclusive society. This led to the usual rancorous exchanges on Facebook as the hate-mongers were drawn, like moths to the flame, by a public statement encouraging people to treat each other  with respect. There is nothing meaningful I can add to what Cox Farms had said and done, so I will just leave their statement here. I urge you to read it, all of it, and share it with someone you care about:

“Our little roadside signs have power. Most of the time, they let folks know that our hanging baskets are on sale, that today’s sweet corn is the best ever, that Santa will be at the market this weekend, or that the Fall Festival will be closed due to rain. During the off-season, sometimes we utilize them differently. Sometimes, we try to offer a smile on a daily commute. Sometimes, a message of support and inclusion to a community that is struggling makes someone’s day. Sometimes the messages on our signs make people think… and sometimes, they make some people angry.

Last week, some of our customers and neighbors asked us to clarify the sentiment behind our sign that said “Rise & Resist.” So, we changed it to read “Rise Up Against Injustice” and “Resist White Supremacy.” We sincerely believe that fighting injustice and white supremacy is a responsibility that can- and should- unite us all. We struggle to see how anyone other than self-identified white supremacists would take this as a personal attack.

Some have asked why we feel called to have such a message on our signs at all. Here is why:

Cox Farms is a small family-owned and family-operated business. The five of us are not just business-owners; we are human beings, members of the community, and concerned citizens of this country. We are also a family, and our shared values and principles are central to our business.

We’re not seeking to alienate folks who have different perspectives on tax reform or infrastructure spending. But when it comes to speaking out against systems of oppression and injustice, we see it as our moral responsibility to use our position of privilege and power, along with the tools of our trade and the platforms available to us, to engage visibly and actively in the fight for justice. Our roadside sign messages are one small way we do this.

Some folks have expressed that they would prefer not to know where we stand. We appreciate that being an informed consumer can sometimes be exhausting, disappointing, and frustrating. It can involve making hard choices about values and priorities. We respect that some have decided to no longer patronize our business as a result. We also know that there are some who may see our signs, roll their eyes, and still choose to come back for the kettle corn. We get it.

Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We consider the present state of our country to be far beyond partisan bickering or politics as usual. We see our nation in crisis, and peoples’ lives and safety and humanity are hanging in the balance. We are gravely concerned about the hateful words, destructive actions, and detrimental policies coming from this administration. We are not neutral, and we will not feign neutrality to appease our customers. We are committed to speaking out for love and justice, even if it costs us some business.

Almost twenty years ago, some visitors started a boycott because we fly rainbow flags over our hay tunnel, and they were concerned that Cox Farms was “promoting the homosexual agenda.” A few years ago, some folks got very angry about the Black Lives Matter sign hanging in a window of an owner’s home on the farm. Last year, some locals took offense at our “We love our Muslim neighbors” and “Immigrants make America great!” sign messages. What do all of the messages have in common? They are statements of inclusion. They attempt to tell members of our community, people that might feel discriminated against or alienated in a particular moment, “Hey, you are welcome here, too.” To our customers and neighbors that feel that this is somehow a divisive stance, we ask you to reflect on the possibility that your lived experience may be one that hasn’t necessitated a message of inclusion to make you feel welcome.

We’re not strangers to controversy or hard conversations. When we take a stand, we do so knowing that it could hurt our bottom line, and we are comfortable taking that risk. As a family, we know that when you’re on the right side of history, love wins. Right now, it means that some people in our community no longer feel comfortable supporting our business, and we respect that. While our intention was not to make anyone feel unwelcome, we certainly respect every consumer’s right to decide which businesses to support in our community.”

Shilling for Trump

Well, well, well. As the rumors of more indictments of Trump acolytes circulate in the winter winds of Washington, the Trump enablers in Congress appear to have been overcome with a bad case of nerves. They are pulling out the stops in an overt effort to derail the investigation by Special Prosecutor Mueller before it makes another public move against the Trump team. Trump himself approved the release of classified information in the now infamous “Nunes memo,” and promptly tweeted that the memo completely exonerated him of any charge of collusion or obstruction of justice. In case you don’t do Twitter, here is what he said:

This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!

Au contraire, I suggest that his personal involvement in the release of the memo and attempt to use it to thwart the Mueller investigation represents, by itself, hard evidence of a direct attempt by Trump to obstruct justice by interfering in the investigation regarding his and his allies conduct. Bad move.

Today I want to turn to Alan Dershowitz who, not long ago, was a “regular” on CNN, first as a seemingly independent “legal expert” and then, increasingly, making partisan arguments in support of Trump’s position that “because I am President, I can do no wrong.” Dershowitz, a highly educated and aggressive advocate, is now a “regular” on Fox News.

Dershowitz has now argued that the Nunes Memo is a credible document entitled to respect andfurther validation. See http://fxn.ws/2DYLWDO While acknowledging that the memo is a “second hand, hearsay, account,” Dershowitz nevertheless says the memo establishes “probable cause” (the legal standard for making an arrest), for further investigation. His use of the term “probable cause” is an unsubtle way of suggesting, without saying it, that the Nunes document is evidence that a crime was committed by the FBI and/or Justice Department in applying for legal permission to surveil Carter Page, a Trump promoter and campaign worker. Dershowitz repeats his earlier call for a “nonpartisan commission of objective experts to investigate the entire issue of Russian involvement in the election and other claims made by either party about any unfairness surrounding it.” [my emphasis]

Putting aside where on this planet and this country, such “objective experts” might be found, Dershowitz, to his credit, adds that the Democratic version of the Nunes claims, also “secondhand and hearsay,” should also be released (not happening while Republicans are running things) and that this will “help to level the playing field.” Then, subject to “real needs of national security,” whatever that means and whoever would decide, the public should get the entire “redacted version” of the FISA application for surveillance of Carter Page and be able to judge for themselves whether the FBI and Department of Justice engaged in a flam-flam, not once, but at least four times, with the FISA judges (different ones for each renewal of the FISA warrant).

So what we have here, according to Dershowitz, is a situation where secondhand, highly partisan hearsay “information” from Republicans like Nunes with a history of secret dealings with the White House about the Russia election interference raises sufficient issues that we should stop the Mueller investigation and start all over again with a “nonpartisan commission” of “objective experts” to consider the issues raised by Russian interference, all because of a partisan contention that one person was surveilled inappropriately supported only  by “secondhand hearsay” information.

If this weren’t so serious. it would be laughable. Whether or not it’s true that Congress should have proceeded by nonpartisan commission rather than a special prosecutor, it is too late to change trains. The Mueller investigation is way down the tracks. The desperate maneuver of releasing only the Republican version of the Nunes memo indicates pretty clearly that the heat is being felt in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Whether deliberate or not, Dershowitz’s argument would lead to a massive slowdown, perhaps a complete shutdown, of the entire investigation, which is, of course, exactly what Trump and the Republicans in Congress wanted when they released the memo.

Dershowitz disagrees, of course, arguing that the “American public has lost faith in the objectivity of congressional committees.” No doubt, they have. Why would it be otherwise? The secret maneuvering of the Republican leadership, Nunes’s dark-of-night visits to the White House and all the other nonsense would give the Pope a headache. The notion that the public can effectively act as a jury viewing a heavily redacted document while Republicans and Democrats hurl invectives at each other about its meaning is a bridge way too far, a prescription for delay and ultimate failure. Imperfect as the process may be, the Special Prosecutor has the intelligence, independence and proper tools to do the job that needs doing.

If the President would just shut up, the entire process, and the American people in the bargain, would be well served. The fact that he keeps proclaiming his innocence when he hasn’t been charged with anything is quite telling. His behavior is that of a guilty person flailing in panic at the realization that his conduct is about to be laid bare for the world to see.

As a final word on this, do not fall prey to the facile word play of skilled advocates like Dershowitz. His legal credentials and carefully crafted arguments may seem reasonable on the surface. Before making a judgment about this, read the piece in Politico by Paul Rosenzweig at http://politi.co/2DW2fkG entitled “Even If You Take the Nunes Memo Seriously, It Makes No Sense.” The conservative R Institute, with which Rosenzweig is a Senior Fellow, sits quite far from the left wing of the Democratic Party. He is clearly not a partisan for the anti-Trump side of this fight.

The article addresses this: “let’s take the Nunes memorandum on its merits and assume that it is what it purports to be—an accurate summary of a purported problem with the FISA application process. What then should we make of it?” Rosenzweig, in my opinion, eviscerates the Nunes/Dershowitz/Trump position on the FISA application.  Read it – it’s short and accessible — and then judge for yourself.

March of the Tin Billionaires

[Warning: this post is long, but so was the speech]

I am not going to spend a lot of time or energy dissecting the State of the Union speech because that will be done elsewhere by persons more knowledgeable about the issues and more skilled in, well, dissecting political speeches. For that purpose, I recommend http://n.pr/2DSyH7G   which, in its typically matter-of-fact way, shows that nothing of substance about President Trump has changed. The outright lies, gross distortions, claiming credit for events he did not cause — it’s all there.

I must digress briefly, and I swear I am not making this up, but when the Cabinet entered the House chamber to much huzzahing from “Republican lawmakers,” the tune from the March of the Tin Soldiers entered unbidden into my head — except that the title was the March of the Tin Billionaires. It was quite a moment seeing deep thinkers like Rick Perry pretending he knows what his job is.

We should, however, admit that the President did a decent, if not great, job of delivering the lines written for him. Thus, we have confirmation that the President of the United States can read and speak the written word. Indications are that Trump loyalists loved it. Of course they did. He read his last speech to Congress without stepping on his … foot. While reading is not mentioned in the Constitution as a prerequisite to being elected president, it’s reassuring that under pressure the President can read.

He is also accomplished at narrowing his eyes and jutting out his chin to look … determined and, well, smug. I suspect those side shots with his head titled back were the way he sees his image engraved on a U.S. coin someday, commemorating the greatest president in the history of the world. Kind of like the Roman emperors. Before the Fall, of course.

Most prominently, Trump was really strong in leading applause. I may be mis-remembering but I don’t recall past presidents applauding so many of their own lines. He even motioned for groups of the audience to rise from their seats when, apparently, they were not responding to his remarks sufficient verve. None of that comes as a big surprise but it was more than a little strange to watch the putative leader of the Free World applauding himself repeatedly. This is, I think, what authoritarian personalities do – “watch me, I’m applauding, so you had better applaud too – I’ve got my eye on you.”

The speaker took care of his little “Puerto Rico problem” by promptly noting that some people were still recovering from the storms there and elsewhere but, don’t worry “we are with you, we love you, and we always will pull through together, always.”

I guess that’s what they mean about “tough love.” You say ”we love you” while withdrawing aid. It’s right out of the magician’s bag — distract attention with the left hand while …. It is reliably reported that four months after Hurricane Maria (the speaker didn’t name the hurricane because, most likely, the name is, well, Spanish sounding) almost a third of the residents have no electricity. FEMA apparently does not consider this an “emergency” any more. Tough love, baby.

The speaker quickly moved to a message, repeated throughout the speech, about what has come to be called “American exceptionalism:”

Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew – that no people on Earth are so fearless or daring or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it. So let’s begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our union is strong, because our people are strong.

The concept is that Americans are better than everyone else which is why they are entitled to act superior and treat “others” as lesser beings, not equal, “not up to it.” This view of the nature of the country informs virtually all of the administration’s policies. This may be what enables it to cynically espouse practices that threaten to despoil the landscape (level those mountains and you won’t have to climb so much), and poison the air and water in the name of economic growth — American’s are especially tough and they can take it. This is perhaps what enables Trump and his enablers in Congress to act like they are human beings while deporting harmless heads of families to countries they have never known in the interest of “protecting Americans from criminal elements.”

There is, however, some indisputably good news and we do want to be fair here. To quote the speaker: “The great news for Americans – 401k, retirement, pension and college savings accounts have gone through the roof.” Of course, the family in Puerto Rico is saying: “Hey, we have no roof but, yeah, there’s a lot of sunshine coming in.” And today, well, let’s just say that the stock market tanked and leave it at that. Tomorrow is, as the famous saying goes, another day.

Now I’m going to depart from the popular acceptance of what has become a tradition in the SOTU speeches.  I really really wish that presidents, all of them, would stop the practice of bringing various individuals into the House chamber to bleed all over the place or to be held out, to their apparent discomfort, as “American heroes,” exemplars of American virtue to which other humans may aspire but never measure up.

There can be no doubt that people whose daughters were killed by gang members deserve our sympathy but why do presidents believe it is helpful to parade their misery in front of the nation? In

Trump’s case, it is totally cynical — to support his message that those lousy people from south of the Texas border are evil and should be deported or worse. Let’s hope that his comments don’t lead o claims of “unfair trial” and prejudice by the defendants who were singled out for criticism and presumed guilty by no less than the President of the United States. If that happens, Trump will, of course, just blame it on some Mexican judge. And, certainly, the bravery of the helicopter pilot and the firefighter cannot be questioned, but, at least to these eyes, they did not look very comfortable being used as exhibits in support of the president’s agenda.

In one of the most disturbing statements, Trump said “So tonight I call on Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust, or fail the American people.”

Phrased that way, few would object. However, what this likely represents is a further effort to undermine the civil service protections that have largely kept politics out of federal hiring/firing practices. Remove those protections and the way is clear for the administration to populate the civil service with political loyalists and unqualified hacks.

Speaking of which, I must, simply must, note that the day after the speech, Trump’s appointee to head the Center for Disease Control, who had just moved into position in July, resigned in the wake of reports, not denied, that she had been trading in … tobacco stocks. And stocks of major pharmaceutical companies.  And in stock of at least one health insurance giant. http://read.bi/2nyiVEQ

In case you missed it, a spokesperson for the CDC said this:

Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC director….”Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.

That is Washington horsepucky for “she couldn’t do her job due to conflicts of interest; resolving those would have cost her too much money so she quit.”

Are we to understand that the vetting process of this administration did not detect that this person was a stock investor; did they not discuss the self-evident concept of “conflict of interest” with her?  Oh, yes, I almost forgot: Japan Tobacco, the irresistible lure for Dr. Fitzgerald’s money, is one-third owned by the Government of Japan! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Tobacco. If you want to make yourself sick without smoking, take a look at this: https://www.jti.com/node/181. This is the same administration that has complained bitterly and falsely about the alleged failure of the prior administration to adequately vet incoming foreigners.

And while you’re at it, if you want to see another stellar example of an administration appointee to high federal office, feast your eyes on this video, if you dare: http://bit.ly/2E8sRy7 View only on an empty stomach.

But I digress again. I was writing about Trump’s SOTU speech.

He proudly declared that “we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.” Truly, no one knows what the hell he’s talking about. See the NPR critique cited above. Maybe he believes that there is a new kind of coal that is white or translucent, so breathing the dust can kill you but you won’t be able to see it, so what’s the problem?

Regarding energy, jobs and many other topics, my best analogy is to someone who walks to bank of a great river. The river is rising rapidly because of glacial melting and higher-than-normal rainfall hundreds of miles to the north. Noting the increased flow, Trump claims credit — “look at all that water; there has never been so much water until my administration came to power; now the river is rising like never before in history!”

Enough nitpicking the details.  The real issue here is, I think, Trump’s belief that the United States is under attack from every side. Immigrants cruising freely across the southern border to rape, pillage and murder. Foreigners coming here with no intention to work and no useable skills. Bad deals with foreign countries intent on plundering our wealth. And so on.

This is the Fortress American Deja vu all over again. Whether the President actually believes this or is simply playing to his political base that believes it is an open question. Many knowledgeable commentators have suggested that the President has no political philosophy or core set of beliefs at all, other than being a self-promoter and all that is implied by that term.

In any case, among other things, the President has translated the Fortress America concept into a new version of Us versus Them:

Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, just months before. I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this decision. In 2016, American taxpayers generously sent those same countries more than $20 billion in aid. That is why, tonight, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.” [emphasis mine]

The President has thus gone from “America First” to “America Alone” and in the process branded multiple former strong allies as enemies of America. While international diplomacy has a way of overlooking even the most heinous of hostile stupidities, it is clear enough why, since Trump was elected, the standing of the United States in the international community is at an all-time low, similar to the President’s approval ratings among Americans.

Isolationism has a long history in the United States (see http://bit.ly/1j8FAlI) but was often practiced in the breach as the U.S. extended its commercial hegemony wherever it thought its interests justified it. It has never been an effective foreign policy and was dashed on the rocks of reality when the United States was caught flat-footed by Japan at Pearl Harbor. That attack ended, among other things, the influence of the America First Committee. See http://bit.ly/2GENz7r. The current President did not invent the term ‘America First;’ he resurrected it from the garbage dump of history.

The United States was again surprised by the North Korean invasion of South Korea just five years after the end of World War II.  In the current world of highly interconnected digital communications, jet travel and the rest, it seems the height of folly to pursue a foreign policy based on the idea that the United States can “go it alone.” That nevertheless is the essence of the current President’s “policies” which, ironically appeals to his political base who will likely be among the first call-ups if we end up in a larger war.

And, so, my fellow Americans, we have a situation here where, as one of Trump’s followers said on Facebook the other day, “Obama destroyed America” and yet “the state of the union is strong.” Where we are under assault on every front, yet we are the greatest of all people on the earth and our economy is flourishing.

And, oh yes, where our President is under investigation for obstruction of justice and conspiring with actual historical and current adversaries of our country to fix the last election.

Undeterred by all the self-interested and self-contradictory blather from our disgrace of a national leader, I choose to end on the optimistic note: the American people are sufficiently exceptional that they will survive this blot on their integrity, the republic will survive, bruises and all, and in the end, Martin Luther King Jr. will have been proved right again — we shall overcome.