Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Civil Forfeiture and Donald Trump

Civil forfeiture is a legal process by which local government can confiscate the property of criminals. As this Wikipedia entry explains, the practice has a long history, but in the 1980s, it became a popular way for law enforcement to confiscate drug money and to fill their coffers: "In some counties in Texas, 40% of police revenue comes from forfeitures." There is often little oversight in how police confiscate property. Because of that, innocent people have been caught up in civil forfeiture cases in which they have lost livelihoods, homes, cars, and money.

Here are just a couple of articles that describe some of the experiences of innocent people who were bullied by local police in civil forfeiture cases: 

Both Democrats and Republicans recognize that increasing abuses in civil forfeiture require changes in the law and more oversight on seizures. Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Michigan)  introduced a bill "to strengthen personal property rights under the 5th Amendment and ensure due process of law by reforming civil asset forfeiture laws."  The bill had 20 co-sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans, but as far as I can tell, it never got out of the House Judiciary Committee. Some states have passed civil forfeiture reform bills, while others have resisted, despite popular support for that reform.

It is an outrage that a person's property can be seized and liquidated by police without due process of law. In many cases, it's up to the person, not the state or law agency, to prove innocence. 

However, in a recent meeting with sheriffs, President Trump "joked" about destroying the career of a Texas state senator who was supporting such reforms. I put "joking" in quotes because although folks laughed, Trump's face suggests the authoritarian that he is: If he doesn't like what you do, he threatens you. And now he has the most powerful seat in the nation--perhaps the world. 

Just look at his face as he turns away after making his "joke."



Monday, January 30, 2017

An Open Letter to My Arizona Senators

Dear Senators McCain and Flake,

We are just over a week into the new administration, and if it weren’t clear before it is certainly clear now that President Trump, with the counsel of his White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is trolling the American people, to the detriment of the United States and its place in the world as a strong ethical leader. The first hint of the trolling was in the nominations to his cabinet—all people who are either underqualified for the agencies they have been selected to lead or who have a history of being opposed to the work of the agencies they are expected to direct. The second hint was in his dark and partisan inaugural address. The third hint was his representatives’ calling what are clearly lies “alternative facts.”

The fourth hint was the President’s refusing to refer to Jews in his statement commemorating the Holocaust, a pogrom which was specifically directed at Jews and by which two-thirds of European Jews were murdered. That others suffered, as President Trump’s sycophantic representatives smirked on national television, is certainly true, but the Nazis' “Final Solution” was primarily directed at Jews, and to elide that fact comes dangerously close to anti-Semitism. The fifth hint was in his hasty and ill-judged ban on immigrants, which caused unnecessary turmoil at major airports and unconscionable anxiety and harm to the people caught up in that net of callous capriciousness.

Perhaps this trolling is not a conscious tactic of President Trump but a combination of his desire to follow through immediately with ill-conceived campaign promises (and damn the consequences) and the provocative advice of his chief strategist Stephen Bannon. What is clear is that Mr. Bannon is on record as stating that he wants to “bitch-slap” the Republican Party, that his goal is to bring down the entire establishment. As founding member and later head of Breitbart News, he openly declared that the website was “the platform for the alt-right,” a loosely related group of anti-Semitics, white nationalists, white supremacists, and misogynists. That a man with this background, with these goals, is now President Trump’s most trusted adviser is worrying. That he is now a member of the National Security Council is absolutely irresponsible.

Members of the Republican Party, of Congress, of the Senate, need to do their duty to push back against the kind of capriciousness that is already hurting our standing in the world. I applaud the criticisms you have already voiced about some decisions of the new administration, such as its too-close ties to Russia and its immigrant ban that seems to target Muslims, but more needs to be done. We need cabinet members who will stand up to the kind of trolling that seems to be a characteristic of the new administration. While I have concerns about all the nominations, I am most concerned about those that deal with education (Betsy DeVos is very unqualified to be Secretary of Education; we need a well-educated citizenry, a well-funded and professionally directed public education system), with science (Mr. Pruitt, being considered as director of the EPA, has a history of outright hostility toward the work of that agency and toward the science of climate change, science that the U.S. military accepts and includes in its assessments of threats in the world), and with civil rights (Senator Jeff Sessions has a history of lack of concern, to be generous, toward civil rights).

Please use your considerably positive and admired public image to help put into place leaders of these agencies who will help those agencies perform their duties diligently and who will resist capitulating to any ill-prepared demands of this administration. When Mr. Bannon, the man who most has the President’s ear, publicly admonishes the media to “shut up,” to fail in its duty to speak truth to power, especially to the power which he has accrued to himself in the first week of the new administration, we are on very dangerous ground.

That many Americans are marching— many of whom probably never joined a public march or rally before—to voice their unease in the first days of the new administration sends the message that we continue to hope that democracy works and that our voices will be heard.
Most sincerely,

Anita G. Dugat-Greene

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Managing the Outrage

My "Haiku Garden," in Belton, Texas (2004-2007)
On the first day of 2017, Tom and I measured an area near our house here in Arizona in which I am planning an herb garden. A previous owner had covered the area with black plastic and then gravel. Years ago at our house in Belton, Texas, I had created a small garden area that had been compacted by parked cars. Tom helped me put in raised beds, and then I covered parts of the garden area with plastic and white gravel. Each year I removed the accumulated leaves and dirt from the gravel with a leaf blower in order to prevent debris build-up. Gravel-covered areas, which are meant to be as maintenance free as possible, still require some maintenance. I was reminded of this as I began removing the gravel from the area in which I want to create an herb garden here: the gravel was heavily infiltrated with dirt which had accumulated over the years. Weeds, ornery survivalists, had begun to poke through the plastic, too.
snowy earlyJanuary morning--dreaming of an herb garden here
It was quite a job to remove that gravel and dirt; I still have some gravel removal to complete, and Tom is going to build me a box with a screen so that I can screen the dirt from the gravel.


Gardening and writing have been my ways of dealing with troubling times, depression or emotionally-intense experiences--the writing since I was in 6th grade, when my parents gave me a five-year diary as a Christmas gift, and the gardening since I was a young adult in my twenties when Tom and I created our first shared summer gardens as students at Texas A&M University. Now I am 59-years-old, and I need the hard work and joy of gardening more than ever as we face at least four years of a Donald Trump presidency.

Every day as I read the headlines that worry me, I try to imagine the people who MUST read them with satisfaction, as they voted for Donald Trump for President of the United States--headlines such as these:

Who are these people, I wonder, who hate that 20+ million Americans now have access to health insurance or who think it's a good idea to turn over federal lands to states that are too often cash-strapped and therefore probably more willing to sell those lands to developers or oil and mining corporations? 

I worry about friends my age who do not have employer-based health insurance, who depend upon the Affordable Care Act and the marketplace exchanges it created, for their insurance. I worry about a president who praises a foreign power and its authoritarian leader whose opponents have met with mysterious deaths or not-so-mysterious jail sentences. I worry about leaders who not only dispute but who mock and disparage hard science. 

I worry about an authoritarian populist president who tweets his own outrage every day, for all the world to see, outrage which is sometimes even directed toward private individuals, and which encourages threatening behavior of some of his supporters.

But when the worry and outrage seem to overwhelm me, my well-tested methods of handling stress come to my aid: gardening, making things, and writing. I have also made my usual New Year's resolution to read more books rather than spending too much time online getting all worked up over Donald Trump's latest tweet. And I've made a recent pact with a neighbor to exercise together two or three times a week. 

I worry about our country's being led by a narcissistic, revengeful, policy-ignorant authoritarian, but I plan to channel my outrage constructively. Yes, I will be resisting; I will be daily monitoring the news; I will refuse to normalize the bizarre and aberrant behavior of our new president; I will be writing letters and calling my senators and representatives to express my views. But I plan to remain sane while doing so. And gardening will certainly help me to do that!

tentative plan for an herb garden


Friday, November 18, 2016

Making Sense of it All #2: What Are We Letting into the White House?

For the past week, I've been immersed in commentary on why Hillary Clinton lost the election: some pointed out that millennials didn't have the love for Clinton that they had for President Obama; others blamed Democrats who stayed home; still others blamed the Democratic Party for losing the votes of an alienated working class whose rage was inflamed by Trump's trumpeting racism. Or perhaps it was FBI director James Comey's two letters about the Clinton e-mails that tipped the balance in the election. Day after day I consulted Twitter for the latest commentary, the latest analysis. Then, yesterday I decided I didn't care why Clinton lost the election. What I care about the most--and what was bothering me throughout this presidential campaign--is the moral crisis the 2016 election seems to represent. Enough of the American voters (not a majority, but enough for Trump to win the Electoral College)--and 81% of white evangelical Christians--gave their support:

  • to a man who proved over and over again that he is ungovernable (see his Twitter account); 
  • is a pathological liar (as Politico and other fact-checking sites demonstrated over and over again); 
  • is not only a sexual harasser but brags about it
  • has made money mainly by selling the Trump name to enterprises he doesn't own and didn't build;
  • who has failed to pay federal taxes probably for two decades;
  • whose rich daddy helped him out of tough financial spots, and then banks that loaned him money helped him out to protect their own interests;
  • who stiffed his contractors--often small business owners;
  • who is exceedingly ignorant about government policies (just listen to those three presidential debates) and of the requirements of the presidency;
  • who appeared in a soft-porn film;
  • who has been married three times, whose first wife accused him of rape, whose second wife was his mistress before he left his first wife...blah, blah, blah.
If that list isn't enough to make people think twice about a Trump presidency, perhaps the choices that Trump and his transition team are making now will cause some to sit up and take notice. 
  • Donald Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon as his chief White House strategist. Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which is known as an "alt-right" news source, a safe haven for misogynists and white nationalists. Here is what a former editor-at-large at Breitbart News has to say of Bannon:
"Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, [Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers....
Many former employees of Breitbart News are afraid of Steve Bannon. He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies....[H]e's an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination." (Ben Shapiro, "I Know Trump's New Campaign Chair, Steve Bannon. Here's What You Need to Know," The Daily Wire, updated 13 November 2016.)
  • The word is out (though not confirmed as of this writing) that Trump has nominated Jeff Sessions, Senator from Alabama, as Attorney General. Sessions is a hard-liner on immigration, even on legal immigration. He has maintained a "tough on crime" attitude in opposition to the recent movement to reduce mandatory minimums and to institute other criminal justice reforms. Years ago, he was denied a judgeship because of racist comments. We can expect him to support voting suppression laws. So, this: Of course: Another reminder of just how far right Jeff Sessions is:
  • Rudy Giuliani is being considered for the position of Secretary of State. What is so ironic about this possibility is that Giuliani's conflicts of interest are so much worse than what critics accused of Hillary Clinton. In one year alone he made $11.4 million in giving 124 speeches. In addition, his firm, Giuliani Partners, has had business dealings with: the government of Qatar, the energy company TransCanada (Keystone XL Pipeline), Bear Stearns, Uber, and CB Richard Ellis (real estate giant), Purdue Pharma, TriGlobal Strategic ventures (company that helps their clients in ventures in former Soviet Union states and that has provided PR for Russian oligarchs and others with Kremlin ties):
"James A. Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said Mr. Giuliana's consulting work over the last 15 years should disqualify him from taking the secretary of state job.
'It creates an immediate conflict of interest with leaders of nations that he has worked with,' Mr. Thurber said. 'People asked about Hillary Clinton and donations to Clinton Foundation. It is very different than being paid directly by foreign countries to represent them.'" (Mark Landler, Eric Lipton, Jo Becker. "Rudolph Giuliani's Business Ties Viewed as Red Flag for Secretary of State Job." 15 November 2016. The New York Times)
Here's what ties all these guys together: male, of course--all middle-aged or older--white, and very, very troubling, the racist views they have either expressed themselves or supported when expressed by others. New Yorkers of the right age will remember Rudy Giuliani's support of a demonstration in 1992, in which off-duty New York City police officers led 10,000 demonstrators through New York city, screaming racist slogans, trapping people in traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and terrifying them by jumping on their cars. Many of the people in the demonstration were carrying guns and drinking alcohol, and there "[i]n the center of the mayhem, standing on top of a car while cursing Mayor Dinkins through a bullhorn, was mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani," leading the crowd in chants. And all of this because Mayor Dinkins was calling for a Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate police misconduct.

So, yeah, it's hard not to feel very, very worried about the incoming Trump administration and to wonder why Democrats in the Senate are trying to find ways to work with Donald Trump's presidency.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The President we might have had

For the first time since her concession speech, Hillary Clinton spoke in public at the Children's Defense Fund's 26th annual Beat the Odds Celebration in Washington, D.C.. As I write this, Clinton has won the popular vote at 1, 125, 855 more votes than Donald Trump. She talks movingly of the need to lift American children out of poverty: 
When I talk about children in or near poverty, this isn't someone else's problem. These aren't someone else's children. This is America's problems because they are America's children.
 Later in the speech, she says:
I know this isn't easy. I know that over the past week a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was. The divisions laid bare by this election run deep. But please listen to me when I say this: America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country. Fight for our values and never, ever give up.
And at 17:30, she speaks very movingly of her mother.

 [Here is a link if the video doesn't play: https://youtu.be/WQgE_jzIlBY ] --

Preparing for Winter....when it comes


honeybee on California poppy flower 
This past weekend and into this week, Tom and I have been cleaning up our place, preparing for winter. Winter seems to be tarrying elsewhere, though. Yesterday I stopped by a local antique shop and while paying for my purchases, asked the owner if it seemed unseasonably warm here. She told me yes, that the area usually gets its first snow in October. However, last winter, our first here, we didn't get snow until December, if I remember correctly.  The U.S. climate data website supports my memory. In November of last year, the highest temperature in November was on the second of the month, with a high near 74°F, while highs the rest of the month varied between 66°F and 42°F, with lows between 45°F and 7°F. Well, we've had a balmy fall, with highs in the 60s and 70s almost every day, giving us a great opportunity to work outside.

Tom cleaned out the greenhouse this past weekend, pulling out tomato and pepper plants and replacing them with onion plants. We have a lot of onions in the outside garden, so we'll see how well the onions outside survive the winter as compared to those inside the greenhouse. 
Tomato plants stacked up in front of the greenhouse, Tom and Cassie on the right
greenhouse cleared of tomatoes and peppers
onions, radishes, greens, cabbage still growing in the garden
Tom also affixed a rain gutter to the greenhouse and used plastic gutter material to direct precipitation into the greenhouse.
gutter added to the greenhouse, with downspout for directing precipitation inside
drainage gutters for directing precipitation in the greenhouse
I finally turned to a project that I had procrastinated on because it was a little overwhelming, repairing the gravel walkway in our backyard which the previous owners' dogs had torn up. To do this, I would be tackling two projects at once, adding to the walkway the gravel I'm removing from an area where we plan to put in an herb garden. Photos might describe these projects best.
The area where we plan an herb garden: I am removing gravel and the underlying plastic.
I'm recyling the plastic ground cover and gravel to cover bare areas in this gravel walkway.
Here is the area repaired, with gravel covering the plastic.
When I get all the plastic ground cover and gravel removed from the area where we are planning an herb garden, Tom will dig up the ground (I've asked for his assistance in this), and then we will put in walkways and separate raised beds. I hope we can get this done in time for spring planting. 

Another project I'm working on this week is repairing the rock "creek" that was part of the original landscaping of a previous owner. The "creek" was neglected and filled with debris.
The rock "creek" that had been neglected (photo taken in March)
Dirt, gravel, and other debris had filled in the rock "creek" bed.
This week, I cleared out the debris and uncovered buried rocks in the "rock creek."
Tom said yesterday that I was going to get the yard all in order in time for us to move again. "Well," I replied, "that would be par for the course." The 2016 presidential election has already impacted some of our hopes for the future. I just hope that the fallout will not be as bad as we imagine.
scrub jay at my makeshift bird feeder--some flowers still blooming in mid-November

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Making sense of it all #1: Election Night 2016

Tom and I voted early, stuffing our ballots in the early ballot box at our county courthouse on October 21st. I missed going to a polling place for early voting. The lines were long but the people happy and festive in Dekalb County, Georgia, when we voted for Barack Obama in 2008. The lines short but the courthouse workers pleasant when we voted early for Barack Obama the second time in 2012 at the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse in Louisiana. We got a sticker for our trouble each time.

So watching the election night coverage here in Arizona was our way of joining the great throng of citizens as the final votes were tallied. We prepared tacos with meat from a rooster Tom had butchered months ago; I made salsa from tomatoes from our garden that Tom had canned and from peppers and onions we had grown. Tom mixed us up some margaritas. I was planning to make a Nasty Woman cocktail from a recipe that my son's girlfriend posted for me on Facebook, but Tom forgot the cherry juice when we went to the grocery store. The item was written "below the fold" on the grocery list, and, pulling the list out of his pocket, Tom didn't think to unfold the paper or flip it to check for additional requests.

I guess pollsters also forgot to look "below the fold" when totting up their numbers for the winner and loser of the 2016 Presidential election. There was a surprise there that none of us were prepared for--not the Clinton campaign, not the Trump campaign, not the Senate or the Congress or any of the voting citizens. Clinton was projected to win by a comfortable margin, but as the votes came in, it became apparent that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States.

Tom and I were stunned, as were so many people around the world. It's not that we didn't entertain the idea that Clinton could lose; we had talked about how Donald Trump's winning could very well be possible. It's just that the experts had seemed so sure, their numbers seemingly supported by this percentage and that percentage, that we had come to think that maybe the election was a given. Even when the spread seemed low, the conclusion was still that Clinton was the likely winner.

For us, that such a bigoted, incurious, authoritarian, impulsive, "pussy-grabbing" blowhard would become the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, was not unthinkable, just seemingly very, very unlikely. I had watched videos and read in-depth articles that dissected the man's business practices, that described how he lost other people's money and stiffed contractors while making a bundle for himself. I had watched documentaries that described his history, speeches that revealed his psychology. I read to add to what I already knew of Hillary Clinton's public service and policies, and watched a documentary or two on her, as well, but not with such obsessiveness. Hillary Clinton has been on the public scene as long as I have been a voter; I have read plenty about her over the years and had at first supported her in the 2008 election before choosing to vote for Barack Obama.

Donald Trump was, at the beginning, an unknown to me when it came to judging him as presidential material. I hadn't taken seriously his earlier run for president in 2000. He was someone whose name I had seen in the headlines of tabloid magazines at the grocery check-out counter. I had seen his ads on television but never bought his products. I had never watched his reality-TV shows except for a minute or two while flipping channels. His support of the birther conspiracy movement indicated his taste for racist propaganda.

As it became clear that Clinton was likely to lose to an immoral, incurious, narcissistic born-with-money billionaire, I called up my best friend in another state for comfort. I texted my children and called my daughter. I finished up the margaritas and started in on the wine.

Later, I tried to make sense of it all, to become philosophical, to take the long view. Maybe a Trump presidency wouldn't be as bad as I thought it would be, but then I remembered the people around Trump, the sycophants, the CEO of the alt-right Breitbart media, the creepy-eyed Rudolph Guiliani, the smug and self-righteous hypocrite Newt Gingrich, the vindictive Chris Christie. 

Vindictiveness seems to be a particularly abhorrent characteristic of Donald Trump, too, as over the years he has carried out feuds with--and publicly demeaned--people who have dared to criticize him, from journalists to talk show hosts to ordinary people. That vindictiveness comes out in the people around him, too: "Omarosa Manigault, a surrogate of Donald Trump and former contestant on the reality television show The Apprentice,  said the GOP presidential nominee will keep a list of Republicans who vote against him." She called those who didn't support Trump his "enemies" and that Trump had "a long memory," suggesting vindictive retribution against anyone with whom he disagrees or decides hadn't shown sufficient support of his candidacy. Months earlier, in an interview for the Frontline documentary, The Choice, Omarosa had said: "Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump."

So, yeah, it's difficult to take the long view when confronted with vindictiveness couched in such authoritarian--even monarchical--language. But as the day after the election wore on, as I listened to Hillary Clinton's gracious and thoughtful concession speech, I did attempt to hold on to that long view. I replied to a friend's concern on Facebook:
It disturbs me, too, that President Obama will be handing over the Oval Office to a man who rode the tide of birther conspiracy crap while kicking up the wind that propelled it. However, I do take some comfort from President Obama's words today. And I think the people who vilified Barack Obama will, in the long run, be judged very negatively by history. Meanwhile, I look to Donald Trump, his administration, and all the people who voted for him, to prove their promises of MAGA (this I say with a great deal of disdain for the slogan, which I think is wrong-headed in so many ways). Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have asked of us to hope for the best, essentially, and I am working on that attitude. If it all goes south, I will be out the door campaigning  for the next Democratic prez with better DNC leadership. Meanwhile, I will be vigilant for the freedoms and support all Americans should enjoy...and do what I can to promote the ideas I think are important. Well, that's the attitude I'm working on, anyway.
And so I maintained a sort of equanimity until the evening, when I chanced to see a headline when I was scrolling through my Facebook feed on my cell phone. It was about how Hillary Clinton was handling the pain of disappointment and defeat with the kind of grace that women do--and I started bawling. Mixed up in with my disappointment over the election--that half of my fellow voting citizens had chosen the dark version of America that Donald Trump's campaign clearly promoted--were my own experiences as a woman over the years: the career choice that meant I was always underpaid for my work, no matter how hard or how long I worked; the ways in which men in my field tended to be judged less harshly than women--by students as well as colleagues; the ageism one encountered over fifty; and just the weariness of bearing up in circumstances not of one's particular choosing.

But the tears, like everything, came to an end. And now I'm reading in my Twitter feed of increased racial attacks on individuals and of the possible choices in a Trump administration. Reality is sinking in, and I am working on a way to face it head-on.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The End is Near...Thank God? (two views of Americans and their country)

Early in this campaign season, someone signed me up for a Facebook group that consisted of women for Hillary. At that point, I supported Hillary Clinton (after first leaning toward Bernie Sanders at the beginning of the primary), but every day, as I opened up FB, post after post from members in that group greeted me with complaints about Bernie Sanders or about "Bernie Bros." Some Bernie Bros certainly deserved criticism, but to see this criticism day after day, described in excrutiating detail, became wearing. And then women started criticizing Bernie's wife (and her appearance). That's it, I thought, and uninvited myself from the group. 

Then, this past week, someone else signed me up for another Facebook group of people for Hillary Clinton--Pantsuit Nation. Here the posts have been mostly positive, with people posting why they are voting for Hillary Clinton. Several claim to be life-long Republican voters. Others are people who live in places where Hillary supporters are so few and far between--or so criticized for their political views--that they feel isolated. Pantsuit Nation has become a support group for them. The posts are much more positive than the ones of the earlier group, and I find myself smiling at the encouraging comments.

I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton, but I happily voted for her, and I think she has the potential to be a good president. As David Frum, Republican, neoconservative and former speechwriter for George W. Bush says, Hillary Clinton "above all...can govern herself; the first indispensable quality for governing others." I saw that in her 11 hours of testimony before the Republican-led Benghazi investigation. I saw that in the three presidential debates in which she came prepared and loaded for bear. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has throughout this campaign demonstrated how ungovernable he is. His campaign advisers couldn't get him to focus sufficiently to prepare for the presidential debates. He is easily goaded, he lashes out, he holds grudges very publicly and very long, he has encouraged violence at his rallies, and he has campaigned on xenophobia, racism, and fear.

Here at the end of the presidential campaign, the last ads that these presidential candidates are running compel us to draw some final conclusions about the character of these two people as well as their view of the country they wish to lead.   Sure, ads are the work of commercial teams that have researched their target audiences and have at their disposal film, music, actors that help kindle emotions in their viewers. But the presidential candidates "approve" those ads--the content, the tone, the message.  Their choice for the closing ad has special significance as a "wrap"--the final message they hope will propel their followers to the voting booth.

Here are the last ads of the two candidates, the ads with which they are wrapping up their campaigns. 


Hillary Clinton's ad is accompanied by Katy Perry's pop song "Roar," which is upbeat but also defiant in the repeated phrases: "you held me down, but I got up" and "You're gonna hear me roar."  The defiance in those phrases IS Hillary Clinton. She has been in the public eye for thirty years, criticized, praised, endlessly investigated (with no conclusions of wrongdoing, despite the conspiracy theories), hated, admired. The theme of the song, as well as the image of a woman roaring her strength and defiance, also harkens back to Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar," a song from 1972, when Hillary Clinton was a young woman and first getting involved in politics. And in the ad, viewers get glimpses of this younger, dedicated Hillary, with her law books and her speeches, as well as the older Hillary on the campaign trail. Thus, the ad connects Hillary Clinton and her young idealism to young women of today....to the woman's movement. 

The ad celebrates diversity, too, as the people who appear in the ad represent different races, different social classes, different ages. The words that scroll across the screen focus on the reasons these people are voting: for respect, courage, equality, community, fairness, higher wages, the planet, our future--and against hate. The ad begins with an image of solar-powered windmills, suggesting a commitment to a clean energy future. The ad ends with the image of Hillary Clinton standing in front of smiling supporters. The upbeat music, smiling faces, and focus on policy voting create a very positive message.

Here is Donald Trump's last ad for the presidential campaign: 

Donald Trump speaks throughout the ad, accompanied by somber piano music and occasional clashes of cymbals and drums. The overall message is one of a nation controlled by a powerful cabal of politicians who are totally unsympathetic to the American people. The nouns describing this cabal are grim, cold, inhuman: establishment (mentioned four times), interests, leverscorporations, entities, structuremachine. The adjectives and verbs are dark and foreboding: failed, corrupt, disastrous, controlled, bled, robbed, stripped. In the entire ad, there are only about three or four minority faces. When Donald Trump says "the only force strong enough to save our country," he appears in the ad, speaking the words, and the camera pans over a sea of white faces at a Trump rally. At the end of the ad, Donald Trump looms up, larger than life, in front of a background of dark, ominous clouds.

This ad appeals to fears, and not just to the fear of helplessness in the face of dark, powerful forces. It appeals to xenophobia (the jobs "flee" to other countries while "foreign policies" and "massive" numbers of immigrants enter our country) and...anti-Semitism. As Josh Marshall points out, the ad is "packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes, and anti-Semitic vocabulary." And that vocabulary is subtly connected to recognizable Jewish people who appear in the ad: "The four readily identifiable American bad guys in the ad are Hillary Clinton, George Soros (Jewish financier), Janet Yellen (Jewish Federal Reserve Chair), and Lloyd Blankfein (Jewish Goldman Sachs CEO)."

The anti-Semitic message is clear: A corrupt political establishment" control[s] the levers of power in Washington" and advances "global special interests." And the faces that are highlighted in the ad connected to this establishment are well-known American Jews. As Marshall concludes: 

This is an anti-Semitic ad every bit as much as the infamous Jesse Helms 'white hands' ad or the Willie Horton ad were anti-African-American racist ads. Which is to say, really anti-Semitic. You could even argue that it's more so, given certain linguistic similarities with anti-Semitic propaganda from the 1930s. But it's not a contest. This is an ad intended to appeal to anti-Semites and spread anti-Semitic ideas . That's the only standard that really matters. 
This is intentional and by design. It is no accident. 
(Josh Marshall, "Trump Rolls Out Anti-Semitic Closing Ad," TPM, 5 November 2016)
The contrasts are stark between the closing argument for her presidency that Hillary Clinton makes in her ad and the closing argument for his presidency that Donald Trump makes in his ad: the first message is uplifting, with individuals highlighted as voting for well-defined, positive improvements while cheering, diverse crowds act as encouraging backup; the second message is dark and foreboding, suggesting that only Donald Trump and crowds of white people can wrest control of the government from a corrupt political establishment represented by well-known American Jews. 

I know which argument I find inviting.

------------------
Josh Marshall first discussed the normalization of anti-Semitism in the political discourse of the presidential campaign in early October:
"Storm and Menace," TPM, 7 October 2016.


Note: I wrote this post late last night and into the early morning and later this morning made a few word changes and corrected some errors. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Statesman and a Demagogue Got on Stage

Updated: Also, see below

President Obama had some difficulties quieting a crowd in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when a protester for Trump interrupted the rally. Folks just wouldn't "hold up!" But Obama's response to the protester stands in sharp contrast to Donald Trump's response to protests. I am so going to miss our 44th President.


And here is Donald Trump:



See how Donald Trump described to his followers Obama's reaction to the protester:  http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/a-damaged-stupid-man



See another report of Donald Trump's unbelievable description here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/trump-bashes-obama-screaming-protester-wasnt/story?id=43317681

The more I see of Trump (http://www.vox.com/2016/11/5/13533468/trump-obama-protester), the more I wonder, "What is WRONG with that man?!"


RedState contributor Ben Howe produces a Trump film

Fun watching to get in the mood for November 8th--What has happened to the world when a RedState contributor and I agree on something (and, no, it's not policy or his view of Barack Obama):


The Conspiratorial World: I choose not to live there and neither do those Republicans refusing to vote for Trump

I realize that a lot of otherwise fairly nice people prefer listening to Rush Limbaugh to NPR. I realize that otherwise fairly nice people prefer watching Fox News or reading alt-right Breitbart.com to reading The New York Times or The Washington Post or The LA Times or even locally-run, independent newspapers such as Last Best News or their local and state newspapers, such as The Arizona Republic or online media such as Slate or Vox or online/print media such as The Atlantic. That preference, though, to rely on the voice of hate and innuendo (Rush Limbaugh) and a news outlet that promotes one political party's far-right agenda (Fox News) turns otherwise fairly nice people into uninformed, rather not-nice people. 

No, it's not nice to call the person one thinks should not be president "evil" and "demonic." No, it's not nice to claim that the first black president, with a perfectly legitimate birth certificate from Hawaii, is not "American." No, it's not nice to claim that a man who has been attending a Christian church with his family for years is a secret Muslim--because he's black and has a Muslim name. (I'm white, and I have a Spanish first name and a French maiden name. What does that make me?) No, it's not nice to take a report of perfectly legitimate military maneuvers and turn it into a conspiracy of government takeover (ahem, Jade Helm).

And sources such as Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Breitbart.com trigger and ignite latent fears and inflate conspiratorial leanings.

I choose not to live in the conspiratorial worlds that such sources help create. And I'm careful to sort through the left-leaning sources, too, as some of those sources nudge one toward conspiratorial thinking, as well. Or they are so partisan as to raise my blood pressure even though I might be sympathetic to some of the ideas expressed.

What is crazy about this election, though, is that many of the people on the right with whom I have little in common when it comes to politics are either voting for the Democratic candidate or protest-voting for a third party instead of the Republican candidate they would usually support.

Such decisions indicate to me that those voting for Trump are in a special kind of conspiratorial bubble, one that others of their political persuasion are very loathe to enter. 

Even Charles Krauthammer recognizes the threat of a Trump presidency: 
"At a time of such tectonic instability, even the most experienced head of state requires wisdom and delicacy to maintain equilibrium. Trump has neither. His joining of supreme ignorance to supreme arrogance, combined with a pathological sensitivity to any perceived slight, is a standing invitation to calamitous miscalculation." ("Final days, awful choice," in The Washington Post, 3 November 2016.)

Michael Gerson, George W. Bush's chief speech writer and senior policy advisor in the Bush administration, pleads, yes, pleads, with the Republican electorate, not to vote for Donald Trump: 
The GOP has largely accommodated itself to a candidate with no respect for, or knowledge of, the constitutional order. Every constitutional conservative should be revolted. Those who are complicit have adopted a particularly dangerous form of power-loving hypocrisy. 
But now, with polls tightening, it may not only be Republicans who abandon central tenets of their democratic faith. It is almost beyond belief that Americans should bless and normalize Trump's appeal. Normalize vindictiveness and prejudice. Normalize bragging about sexual assault and the objectification of women. Normalize conspiracy theories and the abandonment of reason. Normalize contempt for the vulnerable, including disabled people and refugees fleeing oppression. Normalize a political tone that dehumanizes opponents and excuses violence. Normalize an appeal to white identity in a nation where racial discord and conflict are always close to the surface. Normalize every shouted epithet, every cruel ethnic and religious stereotype, every act of bullying in the cause of American "greatness."
In the end, a Trump victory would normalize the belief that the structures of self-government are unequal to the crisis of our time. And this would not merely replace the presidential portrait above the fireplace. It would deface it. ("One final election plea, on the behalf of U.S. ideals," in The Washington Post, 3 November 2016) 
 David Frum, neoconservative political commentator and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, pleads with all voters:
To vote for Trump as a protest against Clinton's faults would be like amputating a leg because of a sliver in a toe; cutting one's throat to lower one's blood pressure. ("The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton," in The Atlantic, 2 November 2016)
And he pleads especially with other Republicans not to let their support for a particular issue get in the way of their realizing the damage that a President Trump would do to democracy:
That Donald Trump has approached so near the White House is a bitter reproach to everybody who had the power to stop him. I include myself in this reproach. Early on, I welcomed Trump's up-ending of some outdated Republican party dogmas--taking it for granted that of course such a ridiculous and obnoxious fraud could never win a major party's nomination. But Trump did win. Now, he stands within a percentage point or two or at most four of the presidency of the United States.
Having failed to act promptly at the outset, it's all the more important to act decisively before it's too late. The lesson Trump has taught is not only that certain Republican dogmas have passed out of date, but that American democracy itself is much more vulnerable than anyone would have believed only 24 months ago. Incredibly, a country that--through wars and depression--so magnificently resisted the authoritarian temptations of the mid-20th century has half-yielded to a more farcical version of that same threat without any of the same excuse. The hungry and houseless Americans of the Great Depression sustained a constitutional republic. How shameful that the Americans of today --so vastly better off in so many ways, despite their undoubted problems--have done so much less well. 
I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton.....[here he states some differences]...
But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. She may bend some rules for her own and her supporters' advantage. She will not outright defy legality altogether. Above all, she can govern herself; the first indispensable qualification for governing others. 
So I will vote for the candidate who rejects my preferences and offends my opinions. (In fact, I have already voted for her.) Previous generations accepted infinitely heavier sacrifices and more dangerous duties to defend democracy. ("The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton" 
In these times, it gives me no pleasure to agree with David Frum that he is partly at fault--and the GOP even more so--in letting a dangerous man come close to becoming the most powerful man in the world. (And 4 days out from the election, we don't know whether or not Trump will actually succeed.) It gives me no pleasure to remind Frum and others like him that their letting Fox News carry their political torch did--and does--no favors for democracy. These men, and others, have woken up to the fact that we're all--reasonable Democrats and reality-based Republicans--being pulled into a conspiratorial world in which none of us wants to live.
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Some fun political reading by a man who served in two Republican administrations:


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Donald Trump Attacks the Press as "Dishonest"-- hints of 'L├╝genpresse'?



See Rick Noack's "The ugly history of 'L├╝egenpresse,' A Nazi slur shouted at a Trump Rally," The Washington Post, 24 October 2016.

Also, see Katy Tur's response here: Kristen Bellstrom, "What is Donald Trump's Beef with NBC Reporter Katy Tur? Here's the Backstory," Fortune, 3 November 2016.