Friday, March 4, 2016

Word to GOP candidates: you don’t need a penis to be President

By Marc Jampole

At a certain point in last night’s debate between the remaining four Republican candidates I thought Donald Trump was going to whip out a ruler and then whip out something else and start measuring.

I imagine that Republican demi-god Ronald Reagan, stealing from an old Russian proverb, would respond to Trump’s claim that “I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee,” by saying, “Trust but verify.”

Doth the lady protest too much? (This time it’s Shakespeare providing the one-liner.)

Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich could have settled the question of male dominance the old Cub Scout way: Line up, unzip, aim and see who can piss farther.

All jokes aside, that the question of the size of anyone’s penis should be a topic of discussion at a presidential debate of a major political party demonstrates how debased the American election process has become. Rubio sank into a slime pit of vulgarity in his speech that brought up the topic and Trump sank further down by responding specifically to Rubio’s crude remark during a nationally televised debate.

Of course, the Fox News troika of inquisitors were more interested in finding out about how the candidates felt about the accusations of other candidates than they were in issues and experience. That played right into the hands of the Donald, who preferred to insult other candidates than to answer questions about his past business dealings, his contracts with foreign manufacturers and his fuzzy math. In a series of charts at the beginning of the debate, Chris Wallace revealed that Trump’s tax plan could never succeed.

Every candidate lied last night, at least once and sometimes multiple times. Kasich lied when he took credit for the balanced budgets of the 1990s, which were a result of the Bush I and Clinton tax increases. Cruz lied when he said he could get rid of the Internal Revenue Service. Rubio lied when he said that stricter gun laws don’t make people safer. Trump—he lied about everything that we can verify and remain within the boundaries of good taste.

Word to the Republicans: Not only does size not matter when it comes to running the country, you don’t even have to have a penis. Yes, Donald, Marco and Ted, even women can serve in the nation’s highest office.

The hidden message in the talk between “Little Boy” Rubio and The Hands of the Donald was the retrograde idea that a president must be a man.  Size serves as a stand-in for a wide range of related leadership qualities often seen as positive in men and negative in women: firm, resolute, action-oriented, aggressive, dominance-seeking. This subtle swipe at Hillary Clinton attempts to disqualify her on the basis of her sex.

That only a man can be a president is an obsolete idea that never had an iota of validity, but it is definitely part of the subtext of the current election. 

Still unanswered is whether or not Rubio, Trump and the other GOP candidates believe the old wives tale that the size of hands predicts the size of the male member. We know that none of them can do math and we know that they have reading comprehension problems, at least as it relates to 18th century documents such as the Constitution. We also know they subscribe to a duffel bag of myths and folklore related to the free market, climate change, evolution, LGTBQ individuals and women’s health.

For those more interested in the real world and real issues, I recommend that you tune into the upcoming debates between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Or better yet, listen to either perform at a town hall meeting, where they have time to detail their positions. Both Hillary and Bernie demonstrate the presidential qualities sadly lacking in the Republican clown car.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Take time out from presidential politics to urge elected officials to vote for Genocide & Atrocities Prevention Act

By Marc Jampole

Strange as it might seem, we can predict genocides and other atrocities committed against groups of our fellow humans with a certain degree of accuracy. Those who pursue genocides—be it a totalitarian ruler, army, political party, tribe or nation—give off a lot of signs ahead of time. Harbingers include past ethnic tensions, persistent conflict, lawlessness, sporadic outbreaks, threats against groups, mass property confiscation, mass media campaigns and displaced populations.

By intervening early, the nations of the world can prevent atrocities from occurring by using diplomatic, political, financial, and intelligence resources. The biggest impediment to precluding a mass murder or rape rampage before the shooting and herding begin is the difficulty in coordinating the various sources of information and aid needed to identify and then address the situations that could develop into genocides or other atrocities. As the world’s largest economy, second largest democracy (after India) and most powerful military machine, the United States could play a large role in preventing future atrocities.

That’s why we should all take time from wallowing in the presidential election follies to get behind the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2016, recently introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and co-sponsored by 13 other Democratic Senators.

As Senator’s Cardin’s news release announcing the bill details, if passed the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act would:
  • Authorize the establishment of a transparent and accountable Atrocity Prevention Board to advance an interagency effort to prevent mass atrocities and ensure a coordinated and effective response to emerging and ongoing atrocities.
  • Make permanent the Complex Crises Fund to support emergency efforts to prevent or respond to emerging or unforeseen complex crises overseas, including potential mass atrocities and conflict.
  • Mandate training in how to recognize patterns of escalation and early warning signs of potential atrocities or violence for Department of State and USAID Foreign Service officers at high risk posts.
  • Encourage the Director of National Intelligence to include a review of countries or regions at risk of mass atrocities or genocide in her-his annual testimony to Congress on threats to US national security

Besides the 15 Senators, more than 60 organizations support the legislation, including groups representing Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Africans, immigrants, refugees, Armenians, peaceniks and students. A petition that these groups have signed makes the case for the new law better than I ever could: Preventing genocide and mass atrocities is…a core national security interest of the United States. Right now, over 60 million people have been displaced by conflict worldwide - the highest number since World War II. This has required growing expenditures to support life-saving humanitarian assistance and has led to other cost-intensive interventions. These crises have also resulted in increased instability with long-term consequences for countries and regions around the world, feeding into the possibility for repeated and expanded cycles of violence. These threats to U.S. security and interests can be mitigated with robust investments in early prevention.”

The world sat by and watched Armenia, the Holocaust, Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda and other atrocities occur, to its shame. Early intervention might have stopped at least a few of these outbreaks of savagery. 

What are you waiting for, dear readers! Email or contact your Senators and Congressional Representatives and tell them to actively support the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.

While you’re at it, let Bernie and Hillary know that you want their active support of the bill. I would also ask readers to contact the Republican candidates, but the fact that they all support torture and conflict escalation suggests that none of the GOP candidates will make a bill that could forestall atrocities a very high priority.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Rightwing columnist Douthat blaming Obama for the rise of Trump is like blaming Pres for Iraq War.

By Marc Jampole

A premise is something we take for granted. Premises are usually at the basis of arguments or theories, and sometimes of substantial bodies of knowledge, such as the premise that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which serves as the foundation of linear geometry.

An inaccurate premise will get a writer or thinker into trouble in a hurry. Hewing to a wrong-headed premise leads to complicated and generally fuzzy arguments, often based on semantics, logical flaws and the distortion of facts. 

Take (please) the premise that everything that goes wrong in the United States is the fault of government, or Democrats or both. This premise has led to some truly bizarre arguments, such as:
  • Blaming federal agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the great recession of 2008 because they made too much money available for low-interest mortgages. This explanation ignores the fact that these federal agencies did not approve mortgages with little or no documentation for people with insufficient funds, nor did they sell bundles of these faulty loans knowing the securities were much riskier than advertised, nor did they rate these securities without sufficient due diligence.
  • Blaming the Clinton Administration for 9/11, even though we have plenty of proof that our security services were receiving lots of warnings of 9/11 in the summer before it happened, which the Bush II administration chose to ignore.
  • Blaming Obama for the rise of ISIS, even though it was the Bush II administration that destabilized the region by invading Iraq, without cause as it turns out.
One of the New York Times resident conservatives, Ross Douthat, joins in the false blame game in his article titled “From Obama to Trump”. His contention is that Obama is largely to blame for the rise of Donald Trump, for two reasons:
  1. Obama created the “celebrity presidency”
  2. Obama has exercised an imperial presidency, which has accustomed voters to Trump’s strong man declarations
Republicans started comparing Obama to a celebrity during the 2008 election. Somehow the endorsement of Obama by Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Silverman and other actors and celebrities was different from past celebrity endorsements of presidential candidates. Douthat ignores the fact that an actor served as president for eight year or that John F. Kennedy was considered close to a group of celebrities called “The Rat Pack,” famous for their womanizing, boozing, sexism and boorish behavior. He neglects the many histories of the Goldwater campaign, which mark a speech by a celebrity—Ronald Reagan—as its high point. He forgets that Lauren Bacall, Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Burt Lancaster, Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor were all active supporters of George McGovern. What is it about Obama’s celebrity supporters that creates such a difference? Why were McGovern, Reagan, Kennedy and others not celebrity candidates or celebrity officer holders and Obama is one? Could it be because he and a few of those celebrity supporters are black? 

Beyond the facts of the various celebrity endorsements that have litter presidential campaigns since World War II, is the change in focus in the coverage of elections that has occurred. Since the 1960 election of John Kennedy with fewer than 50% of the vote, the news media have gradually taken the focus of their election coverage away from issues and placed it on the same concerns that dominate celebrity news: Gotcha’s and mistakes. Personality clashes. What others think. Family life. Hobbies. Speaking style. Charisma. Skeletons in the closet. Long-time grievances and jealousies. Insulting other candidates. The latest popularity contest. The race for money. In every election, ever more time and space is devoted to “celebrity issues” and ever less time to economic, social, international and environmental issues. Moreover, since the turn of century, at the same time the media has been celebritizing our news, reality TV in all of its formats has grown to dominate broadcast and cable television. 

Douthat ignores all of these facts to conclude that the rise of a boorish celebrity who has never run for office could not have occurred without Obama’s so-called celebrity presidency. 

The accusation that Obama has created an imperial presidency is equally ludicrous, but it’s one we are hearing with ever greater frequency by Republicans. The contention is that Obama has made a number of power grabs by using expanded executive authority to launch wars without congressional approval and make domestic policy without congressional support. The right never complained about Republican imperial presidencies, and in fact, spent a lot of energy defending the imperial disasters of Republican presidents, such as Iran-Contra, Bush II’s Iraq War and the global American torture gulag. For their part, Democrats tend to complain about Republican presidential overreach.

The concern that the president has amassed too much power goes back at least to Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson. No president ever received more criticism for acting as if he owned the country than FDR did. In general, the presidency has had too much power since at least the end of World War II. To blame Obama for presidential overreach and then say that’s why we seem willing to accept a narcissistic proto-fascist is absurd. The American people are quite used to a president who acts on his own. 

I have no idea why Trump is so popular, just as I have no idea why people watch reality shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” why people prefer Las Vegas to New York City, why so many people found Bush II likeable or why everyone said the notecard-reading Ronald Reagan beat the encyclopedically knowledgeable and analytically brilliant Jimmy Carter in their debate. In my mind, Trump was always a garish and womanizing buffoon who defined the term celebrity: someone who is famous for nothing more than being famous. 

We should keep in mind that Trump is the favorite candidate of somewhere between 35-40% of all Republican voters, who represent a mere 26% of the electorate. At most the informal party of Trump comprises about 10 % of all voters. In other words, an ignorant and angry fringe is hijacking a divided Republican Party, but that party has spent eight years fomenting anger at government, society and our president. For years Republicans have fanned the fires of racism, sexism and resentment of the other. The rightwing media has promoted a series of lies about science, health issues, the environment and economic theory to its millions of viewers. If Douthat is really interested in assessing the conditions that have created the probability that a vulgar, name-calling liar like Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president, he should look to the Grand Old Party itself.