Friday, June 30, 2017

We Should Have Known.

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." - Maya Angelou

One of the truly remarkable things that the Trump administration will likely be remembered for is President Trump's ability to step on his own toes & shift the focus from getting substantial work done to his inability to not be a petty, 71 year old narcissist with a Twitter account.

I suppose it could be said that what was supposed to be a week focused on technology was not an entire failure. After all, Trump used his favorite piece of technology to help him achieve the role of schoolyard bully as he took aim at talk show co-host, Mika Brzezinski, this week for simply doing her job.

So, here we are again, unable to talk about policy, health care, the fact that the White House literally just asked all the states to hand over their voter rolls to a guy who is infamous for wanting to enact huge vote-suppression tactics, or major world events, because our president is behaving like a child...again.

I'm honestly not sure why anyone is surprised at Trump's behavior. We know this is who he is. This is the way he has always been. He's done this so many times before. I don't understand why people thought the office of President would change him for the better, since he's given us every indication that he's only interested in the position for the fame and to further promote the Trump brand. I can't believe that people are more outraged at this behavior than from the Access Hollywood tape where Trump brags about how he can't control himself around women and just grabs them.

The thing that should have disqualified Trump from being president still exists and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. It's his temperament. Who he is as a person turns out to be exactly who he is, and it's a rich, privileged, ridiculous old white guy, with a penchant for all things tacky, who thinks he can do whatever he wants because of his money and name, can dish out insults, but can't take them (especially if they come from women).

You guys, if a shitty person runs for president and wins, it should be no surprise when we're stuck with a shitty president.

It's no surprise when our collective intelligence and standing in the world drops like a rotten floor under the weight of a man with such a fragile sense of self.

It's not that we should be shocked that is Donald Trump. We should be shocked that there is a portion of our population that believed that he would make a good president.

For people of faith who voted for Trump, or for Trump supporters who are women, or have daughters or any women at all in their in the world do you excuse yourself for picking this man? How is this the leader that you look up to, or expect to lead us in the world? How are you ok with this? How did you not see that this is the man you picked, when he has shown you who he truly is the whole time?

People were outraged at Kathy Griffin for her photo stunt of posing with a decapitated head that resembled Trump. People thought it crossed a line, were concerned about Trump's children, particularly his young son, that could have seen the photo, and Griffin was fired from a New Year's Eve hosting gig with CNN and has had performances cancelled across the country. When she did something that crossed the line, there were immediate consequences. And she's just a comedian. She's not the mayor of a town, she doesn't hold public office, or is someone who is seen as a leader of our country. Trump even used his young son as a sort of human shield when this happened, expressing concern for what his 11 year old son might have seen, though, instead of spending time with his son after this horrible thing happened, Trump spent the following weekend golfing.

I wonder what Trump's son thinks about the way his dad cyber-bullies people who criticize him? What does this young man believe is the best way to respond to people who disagree with his dad? I wonder what he thinks is okay to say or do to a woman? I mean, if we're worried about what he is exposed to, the kid is exposed to his dad, and that is worrisome enough, given that his dad admitted he has no control of himself around beautiful women.

What about Mika's daughters? What about the children of every person Trump has called names, insulted, or just flat out lied about? When Trump spent the first few years of the Obama presidency proclaiming that our then-president wasn't even an American, did he spare any thought at all for Sasha & Malia, who were actually younger at the time than Barron Trump is now? When Trump cracked assassination jokes about Hilary Clinton, did he think at all about her grandchildren?

I almost can't even with women like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and KellyAnne Conway going on television to defend what the president did. Conway now works for a guy she knows lacks the mental capacity to be president...she said as much in an interview on CNN when she worked for Ted Cruz, whose wife was another victim of Trump's childish insults during the campaign.

And Sarah Huckabee Sanders?!? The daughter of Mike Huckabee, the Christian minister-turned politician, defended Trump's insults by saying that America chose a man who will fight back when he is attacked.
So, we should just forget all about that time that Jesus said that we should turn the other cheek?
We should forget that every single president had to endure being attacked every day, because it comes with the territory.

We hold female comedians to a higher standard than we hold the current President of the United States to.
That is so messed up.

We are heading towards a 4th of July week where I am so ashamed of our country and this president, that I don't feel much like celebrating us.

I think we all need to think about the wisdom of Maya Angelou and realize that we know who our president is...and we need to rethink why we are here and how we can get out of this hole we've dug ourselves into.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why Resources Matter.

I'm still trying to make sense of my experience in Bible college. There are days when I'm overwhelmed and angry with myself for paying so much money and spending so much of my time to get an education that will literally get me no where...unless you hear of a progressive church willing to hire a gay lady for a pastor, then please send me the deets.

But there are days when I feel really proud of the knowledge I gained during that time, and I feel grateful to the few professors who took academia very seriously, even to the point that the passing of their knowledge could have been misconstrued by the university as heresy or subversive.

If I had to pick one lesson, one idea that has been the most valuable during my collegiate studies and now, in the post-college world, it would be the simple, two-word lesson I learned during a class called Bible Study Methods:

Resources matter.

I know that from our earliest experiences in school, we're taught to go to the school library, look for all of the books that pertain to whatever subject we're writing a paper for, create a bibliography, and gather all of the information possible in our tiny little world. This was before the internet. And just to highlight how far technology has come over just in the past ten years, I'll tell you that when I was finishing up my undergrad degree in 2007, most of my professors still felt hesitant in letting students use Internet sources...I almost guarantee they cannot do that now.

When I was young and did a science project on the genetic disease neurofibromatosis, all I had to do was find any resource with any amount of information on the subject. Gathering information was the easy part of doing the report. I never had to worry that someone who knew very little about the disease or that someone who had some strange idea that the disease was fake, would have published a book about the disease in an attempt to mislead the public or push their own crazy ideas about the disease. I didn't have to consider the source.

Years later, in those 100 level classes that were designed to teach me about how to effectively study the Bible and do the hard work of exegesis and theological study, my professor made it clear that not every source was valid, and that some sources, though they might still be considered academic in nature, would potentially have a slanted view not suited for objective, fact-based study. This has always been an issue when it comes to Biblical study and the interpretation of religious sources. Now, throw in the Internet and people who could self-publish their works, who managed to later sell their work to publishing companies who were owned by people with a particular worldview and may or may not be high level donors in the political world, and it became necessary to look at every source critically.

We have a President who has actively called the press the enemy and calls every news outlet, save for one that resembles a propaganda machine, "Fake News." We've seen the fallout in recent days as three CNN reporters resigned after the news corporation had to pull a story about a Trump associate, after it was discovered that the published story did not meet CNN's usual standards of reporting. Within days of Trump taking office, we saw Sean Spicer perform his first of what has now been become hundreds of lies, as he peddled the whopper of a lie that the crowd at the inauguration of President Trump was the largest crowd for any presidential inauguration, ever. When that lie was obviously questioned and proven to be untrue, KellyAnne Conway coined the now-famous term for lie: Alternative Facts.

In fact, just yesterday, Sara Huckabee Sanders went on a tangent about how unfair the media is to Mr. Trump and went on a Sean Spicer-inspired tirade about fake news and false reporting...then encouraged everyone to watch a video in which she could not verify the footage to be real. Spoiler: the video she asked everyone to watch was a video made by James O'Keefe, the guy who appears to record secret "gotcha" videos, then heavily edits them to fit a particular political narrative. He's been arrested for trespassing, has had to issue multiple public apologies for purposefully misleading the public through doctoring "undercover" videos, and has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements where he secretly recorded people, edited the footage to promote a false narrative, then publicly release such videos. I mean, he is the personification of Fake News, and the White House press office just peddled his newest video while calling other news outlets fake. Probably doesn't hurt that the Trump Foundation donated $10,000 towards the project that Sanders promoted from the podium, yesterday.

These are just a few instances where the lesson we need to walk away with is that resources matter. There are literally hundreds of other lies being told from the White House daily, from the President, from his surrogates, and from media outlets with a vested interest in representing the administration in a certain light.

This can be no more apparent than the interview that Trump gave to Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt, when she asked about President Trump revealing that he had no tapes of his conversation with Jim Comey. On camera, Trump goes into his usual word salad response that Earhardt interprets as that by implying that he might have had tapes of his conversation with Comey, that forced the ousted FBI Director to suddenly change his story and tell the truth. When Trump finishes rambling, she says, "That was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings."

Wow. No wonder Fox News recently dropped their slogan "Fair & Balanced."

This is not journalism. This is not even someone pretending to be a journalist. This is propaganda from an outlet that is barely covering the news of the day, because the news of the day is that our President and his team lie, get caught about lying, and may have broken some laws and committed treason. If you can stomach watching Fox News for any amount of time, you'll find that you'll get very little news or information. Perhaps this is why Fox is losing viewers and has lost their place of dominance in the ratings. 

I'm not being totally naive here, either. I know that all of the news channels are slanted a bit in one way or another, politically speaking. I get that. But other news channels pale in comparison to Fox's blatant attempt to worship Trump, just so they might get mentioned in one of his tweets or get an exclusive interview so Trump can talk about himself and get softballs lobbed at him.

There is one journalist doing truly incredible work right now, and she has been for some time...and it's good to see her finally getting the viewership and accolades she deserves. Yes, my friends, I know some of you have been trained to hate anyone or anything that comes from the MSNBC machine, or have been exposed to too much Rush, Glenn Beck, InfoWars, and Fox News to know what real journalism looks like, but you need to just be a grown up now and accept that there is only one journalist right now that makes everyone else look like hacks. Rachel Maddow, who graduated from Stanford University with a degree in public policy and received a doctorate degree in political science from Oxford University, where she attended as a Rhodes Scholar. Her education background alone gives her far more credibility than other journalists. The fact that she's never lost a job due to sexual harassment helps, or has never been arrested for prescription drug fraud, and actually made it through college (Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity both dropped out, as well as Rush Limbaugh) should make you wonder why she is just now getting the accolades she deserves, and why these other guys have gotten away with pretending to know what in the world they are talking about for so long. 

Some time ago, the very conservative mother of one of my dearest friends, asked me why education was so important in journalism. She said that sometimes the most educated are the least open minded people. And maybe she has personal experiences to back up that claim. But here's what I can tell you (and it's how I felt when Trump promoted himself as a political outsider): I don't want someone who dropped out of medical school to perform appendectomies, I don't want a pilot who didn't complete hours of flight training to fly planes, and I don't trust that someone who couldn't even make it through college to be able to accurately report the news and give the public the nuanced details of policy and government operation. I certainly don't trust a guy who has used bankruptcy and shady financial dealings for his own benefit to run our economy. I want leadership and integrity in journalism...and in my president, for that matter. 

Resources matter. And that's why I will shamelessly promote Rachel Maddow. She is killing it right now and you would do yourself a great favor to tune in to her every night to see what she is reporting on. You have to pay attention and care about the details, just as my professors in Bible college instructed me to do. And you don't have to agree with every single thing and viewpoint she might have, but you will get details, resources, and history you will not get any where else. 

Tune in, for the love of all that matters!

Please visit my Resources page to see what books, blogs, podcasts, & other media I regularly reference and recommend. And please feel free to share your recommendations that you've discovered, as well!

And one more thing...big shout out and all caps THANK YOU to Brian Karem, who courageously stood up to the White House Press Office, yesterday. We need more like, you, Mr. Karem. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Make America Bamboozled Again.

Yesterday, the Republicans in the Senate unveiled the highly secretive details of their new health care proposal. For weeks, the public has experienced the most terrifying way that our legislators have changed the way that laws now get passed. A small group of 13 Republican men spent days upon days behind closed doors, deciding the fate of how health care will operate in the daily lives of 320 million American people.

In a manner that could only be described as "Trump-esque," Congress has been working on a plan to revive the health care plan they proposed earlier this year, to such dismal approval ratings that many of our lawmakers were terrified to face their own constituents during their last recess.

The idea of Trumpcare didn't even make it off the ground before it crashed. Paul Ryan was not very pleased when he had to admit that "We're gonna be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future," as the Republicans couldn't even manage to repeal the health care law they've spent over 7 years symbolically repealing and campaigning on. Though they now have majority rule in both the House and the Senate, plus a newly minted Republican president, they still couldn't manage to put together a solid plan to replace Obamacare. The public hated it, giving it a staggering 17% approval rating. But, leave it up to a man who has bankrupted several of his own businesses...even a casino (how in the world do you bankrupt a casino?!) and 2 failed marriages to take that as a license to keep going, and here we are with a mutated version of the House bill that is best described as a "shit burger."

The funny thing is that I truly think that Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell sincerely thought that people would just forget about how much they hated the plan they created back in March, and they could make it even worse, and somehow, everyone would love it by the time Congress goes home for the 4th of July recess. That is literally the only reason this bill is being decided on right now; members of the Congress and Senators do not want to go home to the flurry of angry constituents they faced at town halls the last time they went home. They are so afraid of the people they represent, they have to shove this bill through as fast as they can so they can shrug and say "what's done is done," when they are faced with questions about health care.

So, I think it's really important to show the difference between how the ACA was passed and how this new zombie version of the AHCA, "Trumpcare," or "Wealthcare" is being handled by the folks who are supposed to be representing the people. Why is this important? First, Republicans have spent the last several years lying through their teeth about how the ACA was passed, saying the bill was shoved down their throats in the dead of night, so we need to just debunk that pile of burning garbage right now and bring the truth to light. Second, think about it...the more transparent legislators are with the passage of a law, the more accountable they are to the public they represent. Instead of asking for public discourse and permission to vastly re-organize an institution that makes up 1/6th of our economy, 13 Republican men are essentially taking the great risk of "better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission." Hardly seems like the vision our Founders set forth for our democracy, right?

Public Hearings

  • ACA or "Obamacare": went through 3 committees in the House - Energy & Commerce, Ways & Means, and Education & Labor, with open hearings over a course of many months.
    • Including 79 bipartisan hearings with markups over the course of an entire year.
    • 100 hours in these hearings, 181 witnesses from both parties, 239 proposed amendments, with a final tally of 121amendments finalized.
    • The Senate held dozens of hearings, including 14 bipartisan discussions, 13 bipartisan hearings, and 20 bipartisan walkthroughs on the reform process.
    • The Senate considered nearly 300 amendments, accepted more than 160 Republican proposed amendments.
    • The Senate Finance Committee held 53 meetings on health reform.
    • There was a seven day markup of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, ending in a 14-9 vote to approve the bill.
    • Senate Finance markups included 41 amendments, 18 of which were voted on unanimously.
    • The Senate spent 25 consecutive days in session on the topic of health reform.
  • AHCA or "Trumpcare": Zero House hearings in relevant committees.
    • Debated for 3 hours in the Rules Committee, which governs floor debate processes.
CBO Scoring

  • ACA or "Obamacare": Due to the multiple months of hearings and debates, the CBO was able to issue multiple reports on the details of the financing of the bill, showing revenue would rise as a direct result of the individual mandate provision. 
    • Was only voted on in the Democratic-led House after the report was issued.
  • AHCA or "Trumpcare": Due to lack of debate and hearings, the CBO was rushed to submit a report in time to indicate how Americans would be affected by the first version of the AHCA. 
    • Republican-led House voted on the new version of the bill before a revised CBO score could be released.
    • Since the Senate Republicans didn't even release the details of their plan before yesterday, and plan to hold a vote in time for the July 4th recess, the CBO hasn't been able to release a new report for the new version of the bill, because that will take at least 2 weeks.
Bipartisanship vs. Closed Door Sessions

  • ACA or "Obamacare": In January of 2010, President Obama traveled to the Republican retreat for House members, and spent one hour and 22 minutes in an open debate with Republicans about the ACA. He answered questions, appeared informed and knowledgable (probably helpful that he is a constitutional scholar) on the bill that would bear his name, and even acknowledged mistakes made along the way.
    • Again, it should be noted that the Senate debated the ACA for 25 straight days before passing it in December of 2009.
    • There were some closed door meetings with insurance industry folks when the ACA was being proposed.
  • AHCA or "Trumpcare": Since President Trump rarely talks about anything other than himself, and can only declare that "Obamacare is dead," (because he & Republicans in the House & Senate are deliberately sabotaging it), we literally do not know if he has any idea what is in the law. In fact, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that he does not even know if the President has seen a draft of the bill.
    • Senate Republicans have openly stated that they have no intention of working with Democrats on their replacement bill. In fact, the gang of 13 have been so secretive that most Republicans in the Senate did not know what was in the bill until yesterday.
It should be abundantly clear by now that there can be no equivalency between how the ACA was passed and how the current version of the AHCA pales in comparison to transparency, public knowledge, and open debate. Mitch McConnell knows that if he limits the debate time of the new AHCA, he and fellow Republicans will not be forced to defend a bill that even Trump at one point called "Mean." There is no way they can adequately defend this bill. A part of me is so shocked that McConnell has the balls to assume that he will never be voted out of office or be held accountable for policy he put in place, because if he had any sense of accountability, he would surely know that people are going to be livid when over 487,000 Kentuckians are going to lose their health coverage if this shit burger bill passes. It is as if he is a madman, grasping on to any win he can get, since he didn't live up to his promise to make President Obama a one-term president. This is literally all he can do now...using his hatred for the first black president to obliterate Obama's trademark piece of legislation, simply because it is called Obamacare. He clearly doesn't care about the 20 million-plus folks who will lose their healthcare. He doesn't care about how this will change the way laws get passed, he doesn't care about leaving a legacy to be proud of.

Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Donald Trump are pulling the fastest bait-and-switch they can possibly come up with, out of sheer partisan politics...facts and public disapproval of their job performance be damned. 

I'm sorry, America. You've been bamboozled.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bluffer In Chief

Well, we've received the answer that so many of us have been looking for over the past several weeks. On May 12, President Trump (is it weird that I still get a little sick typing that?) tweeted that "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Since then, we've all been on pins and needles, wondering when those "tapes" might be released. We assumed that tapes must exist, because who on Earth would say something like that if there weren't tapes? Who would bluff about such a thing, or lie about something that could be so easily discovered to be untrue?

That's right, folks. Only one man could do such a thing, and he is our President.

Mr. Trump revealed today, on Twitter, that he, in fact, did not make or possess any such recordings of his conversations with the ousted FBI director.

He lied. Reporters and the White House press office can call it bluffing or whatever they'd like, but the bottom line is that the President of the United States lied to the public when he threatened Comey via a social media platform (how's that anti cyber bullying campaign coming along, Melania? Oh, right...she hasn't even tried to create one, yet)

Right now, Americans are worried about what is going to happen to their health care. An American family is dealing with the death of their son, who was imprisoned in North Korea. Several Navy families are mourning the deaths of their loved ones who were killed in a collision with a merchant vessel off the coast of Japan. Tropical Storm Cindy has made landfall and we don't even have a FEMA director, because Trump has filled less than 5% of the positions needed to ensure that our government agencies are functioning on the most basic level. We're not talking about how easily the mentally disturbed can get guns (thanks, Republicans!), when a shooting nearly took the life of Congressman Steve Scalise at the Congressional Baseball game last week.

Instead, Mr. Trump spends his days keeping up on his TiVo, tweeting nonsense about himself, and likes to ask his cabinet members to go around the room and say nice things about him.

He cares nothing about the American people. He is only drawn to issues when it gives him a political advantage or makes him look good. He's so obsessed with himself that he can't do anything other than tweet about the "witch hunt" of the Russia investigation. He spends one minute talking about how we need to get to the bottom of what took place when Russia hacked our 2016 election, then spends the next minute talking about how the whole thing is a hoax. He is the highest representation of what is wrong with America - the cartoon version incarnate of why we are no longer the Leaders of the Free World.

We are dealing with a man so insecure and so bad at his job that Paul Ryan has to make excuses for him by saying "He's new at this," as if Mr. Trump had no idea what job he was applying for when he decided to run for office. Isn't every president new to the job? Isn't this why the final two presidential candidates receive intelligence briefings, or why presidential transition teams are put in place - to ensure the peaceful and smooth transition of power from one administration to the next? When the public voiced concerns that Trump neither had the knowledge or temperament suitable to the role of Chief Executive, why didn't Paul Ryan speak up? I mean, Trump himself boasted of having more knowledge than our generals - that didn't raise any red flags to the Republican establishment?

I wasn't sure that Trump could top the offensiveness of essentially not apologizing for comments about how and where he likes to grab women, but I have to say that I am now more repulsed that this is our new normal - a "dotty old racist in decline" (thank you, Jon Lovett & Pod Save America) that can't be bothered to run the country because his handlers allow him too much screen time when he's not busy golfing. I'm repulsed & you should be, too, that the White House press office regularly lies or provides no answers to the public, and is now restricting audio and video recordings of press briefings. We are now on the slippery slope we've been warned of for years.

This is not okay, my friends. We cannot let our most cherished institution be bankrupted by a man who loves bankruptcy. We cannot sit idly by while Republicans in the House and Senate seek to undermine our oldest social safety nets so that they can please their big name donors.

We cannot let the worst bluffer in history sabotage our most basic rights.

Stand up. For the first time in your life, make that phone call to your representatives, whether they are Republican or Democrat. Pay attention to the news. Go to a town hall. Use your right to peaceably assemble and protest when you need your voice to be heard. Participation is the heart and soul of democracy.

Let's call his bluff.