Nails In The Coffin?

This story is a must-read from Yahoo News:

More than four dozen former Republican foreign policy officials have signed a letter declaring they are not voting for Donald Trump because it would put national security at risk.

“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” reads the letter, signed by 50 veterans of the George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush and Richard Nixon administrations and published Monday by the New York Times. “From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander in Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.

“Most fundamentally,” the letter states, “Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary.”

Those who signed the letter include former Homeland Security Secs. Thomas Ridge and Michael Chertoff; former NSA and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden; ex-Deputy Secretaries of State John D. Negroponte and Robert B. Zoellick; and Eric S. Edelman, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and was a top aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump, their letter continues, has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values.” What’s more, the real estate mogul and former “Celebrity Apprentice” host “has shown no interest in educating himself” on crucial foreign policy issues.”
Yahoo News Now: Former acting CIA director Morell calls Trump a threat to national security
On Friday, August 5, 2016, Yahoo News Deputy Editor Dan Klaidman and Yahoo News Chief Washington Correspondent Olivier Knox join Yahoo News Guest Anchor Alexis Christoforous on Yahoo News Now to discuss the recent op-ed piece in the New York Times former acting director of the CIA Mike Morell wrote. Endorsing Hillary Clinton, Morell called Donald Trump “a threat to our national security.”
“He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood,” the letter adds. “He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

The stinging assessment of Trump’s national security proposals came on the heels of several apparent foreign policy gaffes, most notably the GOP nominee’s vow that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not invade Ukraine, despite the fact that Putin seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand,” Trump said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”

“He’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos responded.

Trump later clarified to say he was talking about Russia’s future actions under a potential Trump administration.
Donald Trump tries to clarify his previous statements on Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin
On Aug. 1, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump took to Twitter in an attempt to clarify remarks he made on “This Week” about Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in the region.
The Times noted that absent from the list of signatories are former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Earlier this year, Trump met with both Kissinger and Baker, telling the paper he “came away with a lot of knowledge” from the pair.

In March, more than 100 national security advisers signed a similar letter blasting Trump as a “fundamentally dishonest” candidate who “would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe.”

Monday’s missive was even more blunt.

“We understand that many Americans are profoundly frustrated with the federal government and its inability to solve pressing domestic and international problems,” the letter concludes. “We also know that many have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us. But Donald Trump is not the answer to America’s daunting challenges and to this crucial election. We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.”

Cheap Trick

An ongoing story in Yahoo News has captivated the curious who peruse the internet. It begins as follows:

A man claiming to be a pastor apparently tried to stiff a waiter on a tip, explaining that his work for God absolved him of having to leave one.

A photo of the receipt, posted to Reddit.com, shows a bill for $34.93 with an automatic 18 percent gratuity (or $6.29) added above a blank space for an additional tip.

“I give God 10%,” the diner wrote on the receipt, scratching out the automatic tip. “Why do you get 18?” He then wrote “Pastor” above his signature, and an emphatic “0” where the additional tip would be. (The automatic gratuity, however, had already been added to the total.)

Photo from Yahoo News

Photo from Yahoo News

In a follow-up story it turns out the waiter was in fact a waitress who took a photo of the bill and posted it on her Facebook page. It went, as they say, “viral” and came to the attention of the pastor who is  a woman named Alois Bell a  minister for the Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries Church (I am NOT making this up. I couldn’t possibly), who became furious and complained to the manager of the restaurant who subsequently fired the waitress.

Apparently, as the initial story goes on to relate, the waitress was serving a table of 20, which is why the gratuity was figured into the total bill. Customers were encouraged to leave more if they thought the waitress’ good work deserved it. Instead this customer decided to leave a nasty note. This raises a number of interesting points.

To begin with, the waitress clearly lost her cool in putting a photograph “out there” on the internet with enough of the signature showing that it became an invasion of privacy. But why did this customer have to be nasty to someone who works hard for a living? She could have simply kept her opinion to herself and left the table and complained to her companions after she left the restaurant. But that’s a small thing. The second thing is that waiters work for a meager wage and if they do a good job they should be rewarded. I used to carry groceries out to cars when I worked in a grocery store while in high school for 80 cents an hour and the tip of a dollar here and there positively made my day. I suspect that is the norm: the waiters work for low wages and when they do a good job they hope that their work will be rewarded with a nice tip — certainly not a snide remark.

But this raises the third point: Could a so-called “woman of God” who brags of her 10% gift to God be so uncharitable as to rub this waitress’ nose in the fact that in this customer’s mind she doesn’t deserve the “huge” tip that she felt she had earned? Why the snide remark and the huge “0” to turn the knife in the wound? It is hard to fathom, but those of us who are gradually giving up on so many of their fellow humans who are increasingly wrapped up in their own little world where they are king or queen and the rest of the world is expected to wait on them (for free) point to examples like this one to make a case for total cynicism.

I keep reminding myself that this sort of thing is the exception, not the rule. But as it becomes more common it is hard to resist the temptation to draw the opposite conclusion. I realize that the media fasten on stories like this one because they know such stories will bring readers or viewers to them, but that in itself is grounds for complaint. There are good people out there (I will hang on to that thought) and they are doing good things. Their stories aren’t that interesting, perhaps, so they don’t get told.

I recall reading somewhere that Dante sailed through the writing of the “Inferno,” which was the first part of his Divine Comedy. But when he came to writing about Paradise the writing became more labored. He found that it is easier to write about sin and wickedness, and harder to write about bliss and beauty.  And I dare say more people read the “Inferno” than the “Paradiso.”  So, I suppose, we will continue to hear stories about snotty customers who claim to be religious persons totally lacking in Christian charity. And we won’t hear a thing about those customers who told the waiter “good job” and left an additional 5%.

Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

A recent story in Yahoo News about Heidi Heitkamp, a newly elected Democratic Senator from North Dakota, is worth pondering. The story quotes Heitkamp as follows:

“I think, you know the one thing that has gotten lost by everyone is one of the best ways that we can perform here is by getting people back to work, making sure that this economic recovery, slow as it is, gets amped up and moves forward,” Heitkamp tells Politics Confidential. “It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been such a big proponent of the Keystone Pipeline. There’s a shovel ready, private sector jobs program, good paying jobs.”

775001_10151348877397708_697098527_o

Heidi is disconcerted that President Obama seems to be concentrating on gun control and climate change and (she says) ignoring the economy. Good grief, how thick are some of the heads in Washington? Here’s a Democrat spelled with a capital “R,” talking about the necessity to pollute the earth some more in the name of profits while we ignore the health and well-being of our children and their children for generations to come.  But then she comes from North Dakota which is a very conservative state and where the bulk of the wealth (and it is very great deal indeed) comes from oil. Gee, do you think she’s pushing the Keystone Pipeline because of a debt she owes to Big Oil? I’m just askin’.

In any event, Heidi is dead wrong about climate change and I really do get tired of the conservative mantra that drones on and on about how a commitment to the environment and the pursuit of clean energy will invariably cost us jobs — and, by implication, if we want to help the economy recover and create more jobs we must go the route of fossil fuels.  It is a false dichotomy and yet we continue to hear it repeated as though it is beyond doubt. The facts belie the claim: we can have it both ways — clean energy and jobs. In fact we are already on our way.

Wind energy alone, as my blog buddy BTG recently pointed out, is currently employing 75,000 workers (more than the coal industry) and could employ 500,000 by 2030 if this Congress would get its collective head out of the sand (or wherever they have it at present) and commit the country to the pursuit of sustainable energy where we can be assured not only of more jobs, but also a cleaner environment, better health, and general economic recovery. Consider the fact that the solar industry also currently employs over 100,000 workers and could also take on more with a commitment from Washington. And we haven’t even begun to tap the potential energy from the ocean tides. Sustainable energy is the energy of the future in a world where we have become almost totally dependent on finite resources that pollute the air and raise the temperatures on the planet.

The old environment versus jobs argument simply won’t wash. It is a worn record and it flies in the face of every fact available to anyone who doesn’t happen to be in the pocket of the oil and gas industries. But that includes Senator Heitkamp, it would appear, who will continue to push for dirty energy while the rest of us wonder what it will take to wake up those closed-minded politicians in Washington who have lost sight of what really matters in this country — which is the health, well-being, and prosperity of ordinary citizens. What really matters is certainly not more obscene profits for Big Oil, though they play the tune and the politicians dance the dance.

Buck Up!

In the superb sit-com “The Big Bang Theory” when Leonard turns for help to his mother, a renown psychiatrist, she will tell him: “Buck Up!” If he asks for more, she will tell him to “Buck Up, Sissypants!” If that doesn’t work, she will tell him to read one of her books available on Amazon.

One of the basic rules of participatory democracy is that we get involved in elections, vote for the candidate of our choice and if that person doesn’t win we accept the consequences. One of the unwritten rules in Civics 101 is that participation necessitates acceptance of the results. The same rule applies in sports. We can’t agree to play and then get pissed off when we or our favorite get beaten and then crawl into a corner and sulk. It is obvious that this rule has not been explained to a great many voters in this country who are pissed off and sulking. Some have become downright nasty. We read about John Schnatter, millionaire owner of a pizza franchise, who threatens to raise the prices of his products and cut back his workers’ hours because of the election; we read about the owner of a coal mine who lays off 50 of his employees — taking his frustrations out on those who would work for him; we read about thousands of people who sign petitions to have their states secede from the Union. To all of these people, I say with Leonard’s Mom: “Buck Up, Sissypants!”

But the following story takes the cake. You can’t make this stuff up!

PHOENIX (Reuters) – An Arizona woman, in despair at the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama, ran down her husband with the family car in suburban Phoenix on Saturday because he failed to vote in the election, police said on Monday.

Holly Solomon, 28, was arrested after running over husband Daniel Solomon following a wild chase that left him pinned underneath the vehicle.

Daniel Solomon, 36, was in critical condition at a local hospital, but is expected to survive, Gilbert police spokesman Sergeant Jesse Sanger said.

Police said Daniel Solomon told them his wife became angry over his “lack of voter participation” in last Tuesday’s presidential election and believed her family would face hardship as a result of Obama winning another term.

Witnesses reported the argument broke out on Saturday morning in a parking lot and escalated. Mrs Solomon then chased her husband around the lot with the car, yelling at him as he tried to hide behind a light pole, police said. He was struck after attempting to flee to a nearby street.

Obama won the national election with 332 electoral votes compared with 206 for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Arizona’s 11 electoral votes were won by Romney.

To be sure, the Republican strategy during the campaigns was to keep hitting the “jobs and economy” button, trying to scare people into voting for their man who was said to be the only one on earth who could fix things that had gone wrong under the sitting President. After the election, one religious zealot actually said that Mitt Romney’s loss was a good thing because if he had won people would have thought him another Moses come to lead his people to the promised land!

To be sure there is some fear at work in Holly Solomon’s damaged mind along with rage and deep disappointment. But, let’s face it folks, there is also a good dose of racial hatred in this as well– along with some pent-up anger at her husband, no doubt. Combine these powerful emotions and you get aberrant behavior that starts at the low end of mere petulance and goes to the extreme of running over your partner with the family car. To these people I say: “Buck Up, Sissypants.”

Birds Of A Feather

A recent story on CNBC and picked up by Yahoo News about David Siegel, C.E.O. of Westgate Resorts, deserves a comment. The man wrote to his employees and told them that if Obama is reelected he may have to downsize and they might lose their jobs. He insists that this is not extortion, but let me quote him directly as this is a key issue:

Siegel stressed that he wasn’t out to intimidate his workers into voting for Romney. “I can’t tell anyone to vote,” he said. But he wants to make sure his workers made an informed choice. “I want my employees to be educated on what could happen to their future if the wrong person is elected.”

In a word: this is not a threat, but if you vote for the “wrong person” you may need to find another job. The man has obviously never heard about the law of contradiction. He simply wants to “educate” his employees. And apparently his weakened reasoning ability is only exceeded by his hypocrisy. He warns against wasteful government spending and yet this is the man who built “Versailles,” reportedly the largest house in America, at a cost that sent him into a financial tailspin resulting in personal sacrifices he now brags about. As the article puts it, “[Siegel and his wife] became symbols of outsized spending, debt and real estate in America. But when the company started buckling under $1 billion in debt during the crisis, the Siegels’ home went into foreclosure and was put up for sale. They cut back on the jet, took the kids out of private school and gave up some of their staff.”

He claims he has turned things around by getting “lean and mean”  (by cutting back on the jet and taking his kids out of private school?) and wants the country to do the same thing. Like so many very wealthy people in this country, this man prides himself on the fact that he made it “on his own.”  As he told his employees in his letter, “. . .people like me who made all the right decisions and invested in themselves are being forced to bail out all the people who didn’t. The people who overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed 42 years of my life for.”  So many of the very rich simply don’t get it: they really don’t know what it means to struggle and go without. This is becoming a familiar story; the stereotypes just keep tumbling out.

Siegel blames “Obamacare and increased taxes,” which he predicts will follow the president’s reelection, for the projected reduction of some of his 7000 employees. But he ignores the salient fact that among developed countries Americans pay the fewest taxes in the world. The proposed increase in taxes to be paid by the wealthy in this country under Obama would be about 39% — almost exactly what they were under Clinton when the country knew unprecedented economic growth. Additionally, this country is near the bottom of the developed nations in health care, one of the few “civilized” countries without some sort of national health care system — discounting the Affordable Care Act which is in its infancy. And the number of poor grows daily while “Obamacare” in its brief existence has welcomed thousands of the sick under its umbrella — people who had previously been uninsured. The system is not perfect, heaven knows, but it is assuredly a step in the right direction.

What is particularly disturbing about Siegel’s actions are the echoes of Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the 47% of the people in this country who, in his words, have become dependent on the government. Romney famously said it; Siegel simply stands in his shadow and nods his head. The man stoops to extortion and he has a dismissive attitude toward the poor in this country whom he lumps together as leeches and bums — ignoring the fact that many of his 5000 employees who lost their jobs during his “lean and mean” period are probably among their numbers. Shit happens, and it often happens to gifted and highly motivated people who just may happen to work for people like David Siegel.

At a time when the world needs compassion and understanding it is troubling to read about a man who brags about his own success while he threatens others as he denigrates those who struggle simply to keep their heads above water.

Enlightened Leadership

A brief story in Yahoo News tells us about a Georgia politician headed back to Washington who delivered a sermon to some of his fellow Georgians. The story has the following two paragraphs at the outset that pretty much tell the whole story:

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said in videotaped remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell” meant to convince people that they do not need a savior.

The Republican lawmaker made those comments during a speech Sept. 27 at a sportsman’s banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell. Broun, a medical doctor, is running for re-election in November unopposed by Democrats.

Setting aside for the moment how this man would know what lies are told in Hell, I must wonder if the founders of this nation ever imagined in their wildest nightmares that the people their descendents would be electing to the highest offices in the land could possibly say such outrageous things in public — or even think them in private? They were wary of “the people” and saw the Senate, which was to be much more carefully elected, as a balance to the House of Representatives (where this fellow holes up) because they were worried that the House alone would not be enlightened enough to keep its sight set on the public good. But I seriously doubt that they could have foreseen this development.

I am aware from reading “the old fart” that only 26% of the Republicans in Congress publicly accept the fact of global warming — which has been confirmed by 97% of the scientific community. The rest, we can infer, deny it. That in itself is deeply disturbing. But in this day and age for a public figure to stand up anywhere but in his own shower and make such outlandish comments as Mr. (excuse me, Dr.) Broun pretty much takes the cake — especially given that Dr. Broun is a high-ranking member of the House Science Committee of which Rep. Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame) is also a member. These men not only reject facts; they reject science itself.

There are things that are debatable. We call them opinions and they are often little more than gut feelings. The TV airwaves are filled with them. We argue about these things all the time in bars and in the stands at football games and it makes for lively times though there’s usually more smoke than fire. Then there are things called facts which we can only deny by looking stupid — such things as the earth goes around the sun (which 1 in 4 Americans deny); that humans came on the scene long after the dinosaurs died out (though 2 out of every 5 high school biology teachers in a recent poll taken in Texas insist they were on the earth at the same time); and that humans evolved from apes, though some humans seem not to be so very evolved. These are facts and denial of facts is a signal to the men in white coats to warm up the van and get the straight-jackets ready.

Science proceeds by a careful method based on empirical observation, the proposal of hypotheses, and the testing of those hypotheses using clinical methods. If the tests do not verify the hypothesis, it is rejected and the scientist starts over. When the scientist has arrived at what he or she regards as a sound theory they publish it in a peer-reviewed journal and it is carefully scrutinized by other scientists all over the world. Not until the procedure is repeated a number of times does the scientific community make the claim that we are now dealing with facts: claims that are true since they can be verified by independent observers anywhere and at any time.

Evolution is no longer debatable.  Global warming is no longer debatable. “Embryology” is simply the study of the development of embryos; it makes no outlandish claims, though it does shore up theories of evolution since ontogeny does seem to recapitulate phylogeny.  Science is not perfect and there have been glitches and false starts in the history of science — such as the phlogiston theory, cold-fusion, and the theories of Ptolemy. But it is the scientific community itself that has disproved these theories, not Georgia politicians:  the theories are no longer regarded as true.

Such is not the case with evolution and global warming. The evidence is overwhelming and even though we may not follow the elaborate procedures of the scientific community in verifying its claims, we are bound to accept them — or risk being called “stupid.”  The constant scrutiny of scientific claims by disinterested members of the scientific community all over the world raises certain claims to the level of accepted truth. This does not give science carte blanche to make any claims it wants: it simply means that when science no longer questions a claim it no longer makes sense to deny it publicly — though what we think in private is our own business.

What is it they say? Some times it is better to keep one’s mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. Especially when you are being videotaped!

Sitting On The Fence

I read a fascinating article on Yahoo News about a young woman in Ohio who was monitored while watching the presidential debates. Though she thought Obama “won” the debate, given his “confidence and better grasp of policies,” she wasn’t particularly impressed by either candidate. Her name is Maggie O’Toole and she is still on the fence trying to decide which candidate will get her vote. Maggie is part of the “Millennial generation,” so-called; a somewhat independent voter who leans toward the Republican camp though, like many others in her generational group, she is disenchanted with the Republican social proposals regarding such things as gay marriage and abortion.

At one point in the article, Ms O’Toole was asked what would get her off the fence and her reply included this rather interesting comment:

With two more debates to go, what will it take for O’Toole to make a decision?

“Maybe just [for] one of them to terribly screw up and have a Sarah Palin moment where one of them proves to be inept,” she says.

If anyone doubts what I have been saying about the TV debates and their value as entertainment (borrowing from Neil Postman), this comment should seal the deal. Clearly, this woman is more interested in seeing how the candidates perform on TV than she is in thinking about how they would perform in office. Where has she been for the past several months? Mitt Romney has had several “Palin moments” off-camera where he has proven himself to be “inept.” His comments to a group of well-healed Republicans about the poor in this country (which he is trying mightily to take back as I write this blog) and his foot-in-mouth gaffes in England during the Olympics and more recently after the killings in Libya would comprise “Palin moments” in most people’s minds I would think.

But Maggie O’Toole, like so many others, apparently does not follow the news or read excellent blogs like those of the “old fart.” She is waiting to see something happen in one of the three 90 minute debates that will decide the issue for her. And she is supposedly a well-educated person (as we loosely define “education” these days), a “20-something professional” who is a marketing coordinator for an accounting firm while currently working on her MBA. Needless to say, she wants to see which of these two men will turn the economy around. But one has to ask what she expects to see in 180 minutes of TV watching that will change her mind?

Neil Postman was absolutely right: we live in the age of entertainment. We have short attention spans and base our decisions largely on how we feel about things rather than what we think about things. There are a great many people like Maggie O’Toole who still sit on the fence waiting for a strong wind to blow them one way or the other. Her time would be better spent checking on the records of the two men and looking behind the words and the TV impressions to get a better grasp of what one or the other of these men will do in the coming years to help the country regain its footing, nationally and internationally.

The remarkable thing here is not that there are a great many undecided people like Maggie O’Toole, but that there are so many people who will weigh heavily in their deliberations the performance of a man on camera exchanging bromides, zingers, and slogans with his opponent  — voters who apparently wait to see how these men perform three times on TV before they begin to decide who is worthy of their vote. But then, perhaps that is better than those who vote without even watching the debates or bothering to think about what these men have done thus far in their respective political careers.