Category Archives: Politics

He Made Me Hit Him!

When I was a kid I had a terrible habit of slugging my younger brother. Granted it usually followed him tormenting me and me warning him that if he didn’t stop I was going to hit him. Despite my warnings he would continue to needle and annoy me until I passed the boiling point and slugged him; then he’d crumble to the ground in agony and scream for my mother. Sometimes I knew I’d truly hurt him, but many times he definitely hit the emote button to maximize the punishment he knew I was going to get.

When my Mom arrived on the scene a couple of things happened. First she’d ask, “What happened.” Then, as soon as I started explaining with, “I hit him, but he started it…” she’d cut me off and say something to the effect of, “I don’t care what he said or did, there’s no excuse for hitting him. You’re older and bigger than he is, so there’s just no excuse.” Later, after doling out my punishment, she’d ask me why I continued to let him sucker me in like that and why I couldn’t learn to just ignore him? I didn’t have an easy answer, but deep down I knew she was right.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, I was reading about the NC’s republican leadership saying they’d entertain the idea of repealing HB2 if Charlotte would repeal it’s bathroom ordinance, and it reminded me of me and my brother. They’re claiming that Charlotte passing its bathroom ordinance forced them to pass a law that not only negated the ordinance, but also removed the ability for municipalities to enact employment bias protections more stringent than the state’s, or for employees to sue employers in state court for wrongful termination. In other words the legislature, and governor, did the equivalent of beating the snot out of Charlotte because the city council stuck its tongue out at them.

Here’s what’s being floated by the republicans:

North Carolina’s two top legislative leaders put their weight behind a proposed repeal of House Bill 2 Sunday night, but only if the Charlotte City Council repeals its own transgender nondiscrimination ordinance first…

The joint statement issued on behalf of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is both the clearest sign yet that the General Assembly could backtrack on the controversial law and an effort to pressure the Charlotte City Council in accepting at least some of the responsibility for a months-long fracas over the measure…

“If the Charlotte City Council had not passed its ordinance in the first place, the North Carolina General Assembly would not have called itself back into session to pass HB 2 in response,” the legislative leaders’ statement reads. “Consequently, although our respective caucuses have not met or taken an official position, we believe that, if the Charlotte City Council rescinds its ordinance, there would be support in our caucuses to return state law to where it was pre-HB 2.”

Simply put I think the Charlotte city council would be nuts to cave on this. First, because they don’t gain anything by conceding and second, because the legislature has yet to explain why they can’t repeal the parts of the bill that had nothing to do with the bathroom ordinance.

What the republicans don’t want anyone to pay attention to is Part IV of HB2. Here’s what it says:

PART IV. SEVERABILITY 31 SECTION 4. If any provision of this act or its application is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of this act that can be given effect without the invalid provisions or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable. If any provision of this act is temporarily or permanently restrained or enjoined by judicial order, this act shall be enforced as though such restrained or enjoined provisions had not been adopted, provided that whenever such temporary or permanent restraining order or injunction is stayed, dissolved, or otherwise ceases to have effect, such provisions shall have full force and effect.

So, if I’m Charlotte my reply is that at a minimum the legislature needs to repeal parts II and III of HB2 before we’ll discuss anything. Even then I think Charlotte’s city council would be dumb to even entertain the idea of repealing the ordinance – after all it’s the legislature and governor who are over a barrel right now – but at least the conversation would be about the specific bathroom bill and not the constraints on local municipalities to provide added employment protections for the LGBT community if they so desired.

How do the legislators and governor not get that to everyone else in the world who isn’t from their camp they look like how I did to my Mom way back when. Even if Charlotte passed the ordinance with the specific intention of provoking them, how could they be so stupid as to get suckered into overreacting and getting themselves sent into economic timeout?

My excuse is that I was 12, but what’s theirs?

Did Anyone Notice or Care?

A couple of noteworthy and related things happened this weekend:

  1. The Winston-Salem Journal endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for President.
  2. No one really gave a s&*%.

Now the Winston-Salem Journal isn’t what you’d call a widely read newspaper, but it is the major daily for a city of about 230,000 and in the past this decision would have been notable. The muted reaction could be because the Richmond Times-Dispatch did it first, but honestly I don’t think anyone cares what the editorial boards of any of the papers think. If that’s not a sign of how little influence local dailies have these days I don’t know what is.

 

You Can’t Find the Truth

Remember Jack Nicholson’s infamous dialogue from A Few Good Men? You know when Tom Cruise is grilling him on the witness stand and says, “I want the truth” and Nicholson’s reply is, “You can’t handle the truth!” That’s what pops to mind when reading this article titled The rise of the American conspiracy theory at The Week, expect instead of “You can’t handle the truth” it’s “You can’t find the truth.”

The article is basically about modern politics and how over the past generation there’s been a concerted effort by political conservatives to destroy the credibility of liberal institutions that were the gatekeepers of what we can call capital-t “Truth.” You know, institutions like the liberal media, the liberal government, the liberal faculty at fill-in-the-blank university, etc. Unfortunately instead of acting as a counterbalance to the liberal biases of those institutions – and yes they often were biased – or insisting on more objectivity, they simply cut them off at the knees. In essence they threw the objective baby out with the liberal bathwater.  Let’s let the article’s author describe what’s resulted:

Now how about this: We know that greenhouse gases are producing destabilizing changes in the Earth’s climate. And that human beings evolved from other species over millions of years. And that Barack Obama is a Christian. And that Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with the death of Vince Foster.

Large numbers of Americans deny those and many other assertions. Why? Because the trustworthiness of the authorities that make the claims has been under direct and continuous attack for the past several decades — and because the internet has given a voice to every kook who makes a contrary assertion. What we’re left with is a chaos of competing claims, none of which has the authority to dispel the others as untrue.

That sounds like a recipe for relativism — and it is, but only (metaphorically speaking) for a moment, as a preparatory stage toward a new form of absolutism. Confronted by the destabilizing swirl of contradictory assertions, many people end up latching onto whichever source of information confirms the beliefs they held before opening their web browser. Instead of relativistic skepticism they’re left with some of the most impenetrable dogmas ever affirmed.

One of the reasons it’s been so troubling to see traditional media implode the way it has is that we’ve lost the whole concept of the Fourth Estate. Of course there was always bias in the media, but there was also a great deal of effort put into trying to be as objective as possible. There was pride taken in holding the powers-that-be accountable no matter which party they belonged to. Unfortunately in order for a media outlet to be successful these days it has to pick a side, to be affiliated with one of the teams, and thus lose any chance of being considered an objective source of information.

And that’s just the media. When all institutions are undermined, when facts are successfully slain by articles of faith, we lose a most critical element of a functioning society – the belief that our institutions, as flawed as they might be, are in place to promote the common good. That in general our institutions can be trusted to eventually do what is right and best for our society.  Unfortunately our current political environment has killed that belief. As the author says:

This is what happens when the principle of democratic egalitarianism is applied to questions of knowledge and truth — when instead of working to reform institutions devoted to upholding norms of objectivity and verifiable evidence, critics turn them into a target for destruction altogether, transforming public life into an epistemological free-for-all in the process.

That things have degraded so badly is troubling. But it’s nowhere near as troubling as the realization that we haven’t got the foggiest clue how to reverse the damage.

 

 

The Today Show President

If Donald Trump becomes POTUS you can give The Today Show a lot of credit, or blame, for it. If you turned on the show on any given week over the last year, roughly the amount of time since Trump announced his candidacy, you almost certainly saw a segment with him being interviewed, discussed or profiled. Of course he’s gotten a lot of play from other networks as well, but The Today Show has ridden him like the ratings pony he is and as a result he’s gotten enough free media attention to negate any fundraising or operational advantage that the more traditional candidates enjoyed.

Interestingly, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal points out that a tactic Trump employed in the 90s to save his businesses has morphed into a winning campaign strategy. From the article:

His success at creating a luxury brand stemmed from building his own celebrity as much as Trump Tower’s fine marble. With Ivana, a former model, by his side, he flaunted his flashy lifestyle and surrounded himself with the rich and famous…

Mr. Trump acknowledged his business was “overleveraged” but blamed falling property values for his financial woes. By then, the U.S. economy was in a tailspin and Mr. Trump couldn’t make debt payments…

Mr. Trump didn’t repay his personal debts to the bank group until 1995. But he proclaimed his comeback as early as 1992 to the media. That year, he told New Jersey gaming regulators his net worth was $437 million to $1.6 billion.

His new business model: He could do deals without taking on more debt by selling his brand and marketing skills.

It was a more conservative strategy that foreshadowed a bare-bones primary campaign relying more on free publicity than fundraising and staff. “Having built a great name and a great reputation and a great brand I guess was good,” Mr. Trump said. “And I get very high ratings…That’s a tremendous advantage. No politician ever had that.”

So there you have it. Trump may seem to be a blustering buffoon, but if nothing else he’s proven the value of a brand and he’s literally taking it to the bank. And to TV, which is where The Today Show comes in.

This morning (July 21, 2016) the show ran a segment about how many times Trump has appeared on the show since the early 80s. It was meant as a lighthearted affair, with comments about how much Matt Lauer’s hair had changed while Trump’s hadn’t, but it inadvertently drove home the point that, to date, the show has had as much to do with Trump’s campaign success as anything else. It also can’t be a coincidence that it’s the flagship show of the network that aired Trump’s greatest branding coup, aka The Apprentice.

While it’s not The Today Show’s job to play gatekeeper of the presidency – after all, this is a show that will transition from a serious news story directly to a segment about celebrity hairstyles – it is one of the most watched shows in the country on a daily basis so it provides a seriously influential platform to anyone who appears. You take away Trump’s appearances on the show over the last year and I’m willing to bet his vote count would have been cut by 10% or more. That’s a BHAG (big hairy as guess) on my part, but I’m sure the number would be significant.

What does this mean for the country? In the short term, it means we have the weirdest race for POTUS in modern history. In the long term, not much. There just aren’t the many orange-haired narcissists who have a personal brand they can utilize at a unique point in history when an angry electorate has on the kind of beer goggles that make that kinda guy look attractive.

SMH

Now that we’re entering the height of the election-year silly season here in the old USofA I find myself shaking my head quite a bit, but not at the candidates. They are politicians, after all, so I expect them to amaze and disappoint me with their character flaws, slips of tongue, dissembling, hyperbolic ranting and all the rest of the unpleasant things that politicians do. No, my head shaking is prompted mostly by other citizens and their reasoning, or lack thereof, when it comes to evaluating the candidates.

The easiest case to point to is what’s going on with the presidential election. Almost everyone is unhappy that they have to pick between Trump and Clinton, and if you ask them many will explain why they’re picking their candidate by detailing why the other candidate is a bigger POS than the one they’re voting for. That’s their right, but I have to tell you that the one argument I have a hard time swallowing is the one I hear from many of my more conservative friends. It goes something like this:

“I really don’t like Trump or Clinton, but I’m gonna vote for Trump because at least he tells it like it is. Clinton’s a criminal – she should be in jail after all that crap with her classified emails – and she’s a liar. And Trump’s a successful deal maker and we need someone like that in the White House at a time like this.”

Believe me, I get not liking Clinton. She’s a truly unlikable candidate for any variety of reasons, not the least of which is her propensity to make everyone think that she thinks she’s better and smarter than everyone else. But what I can’t understand is how these folks think that Trump isn’t a liar or how his business dealings haven’t been as shady as Clinton’s past ventures. The answer is probably that the vast majority of people just haven’t done much research and are accepting talking points being tossed out there by the GOP spin masters or Trump himself.

That’s why I’m hoping this article about the guy who was the ghost writer for Trump’s Art of the Deal gets some serious attention. It’s truly frightening in many ways, and should cause anyone who thinks Trump is somehow a more moral/ethical choice than Clinton to question their own judgment. Here’s just a few samples:

When Schwartz began writing “The Art of the Deal,” he realized that he needed to put an acceptable face on Trump’s loose relationship with the truth. So he concocted an artful euphemism. Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader, “I play to people’s fantasies. . . . People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.” Schwartz now disavows the passage. “Deceit,” he told me, is never “innocent.” He added, “ ‘Truthful hyperbole’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s a way of saying, ‘It’s a lie, but who cares?’ ” Trump, he said, loved the phrase…

But Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment…

In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump portrays himself as a warm family man with endless admirers. He praises Ivana’s taste and business skill—“I said you can’t bet against Ivana, and she proved me right.” But Schwartz noticed little warmth or communication between Trump and Ivana, and he later learned that while “The Art of the Deal” was being written Trump began an affair with Marla Maples, who became his second wife. (He divorced Ivana in 1992.) As far as Schwartz could tell, Trump spent very little time with his family and had no close friends. In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump describes Roy Cohn, his personal lawyer, in the warmest terms, calling him “the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed . . . literally standing by you to the death.” Cohn, who in the fifties assisted Senator Joseph McCarthy in his vicious crusade against Communism, was closeted. He felt abandoned by Trump when he became fatally ill from aids, and said, “Donald pisses ice water.” Schwartz says of Trump, “He’d like people when they were helpful, and turn on them when they weren’t. It wasn’t personal. He’s a transactional man—it was all about what you could do for him.”

You should read the full article – it’s truly stunning.

And I’ll leave you with this thought: If we have to vote for an asshole, shouldn’t we at least vote for the most competent asshole? If that’s the case then I truly don’t understand how you can vote for Trump. And if you just can’t stomach Clinton then maybe it’s time to check out Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, or start a write-in campaign. Either of those propositions are better than going with His Hairness.

Proactivism

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last couple of months you’ve heard about a small issue we’ve had here in North Carolina. It’s a piece of state legislation called HB2, aka “The Bathroom Bill”, and it has actually grown into a national issue thanks to the combination of national media attention, acts of protest by well known companies and entertainers and the recognition by many politicians that it is a perfect “wedge issue” for this monumental election year. From amidst the increasingly nasty din that surrounds the issue has emerged a fleetingly rare voice of sanity, and it came to my attention from, of all places, an issue of a trade newsletter I receive called Associations Now, that has a piece about a group that is encouraging musicians to use their shows to protest HB2 instead of cancelling their shows outright in protest:

As an alternative, a pair of activists launched North Carolina Needs You, which encourages musicians to hold shows in the state and use them as platforms to speak out against the measure, known as HB2.

The initiative was born when Grayson Haver Currin, a prominent North Carolina music journalist and onetime codirector of the state’s Hopscotch Music Festival, came up with the strategy after Springsteen canceled. Currin and his wife, Tina, created the campaign out of concern that, in the long run, artist boycotts would do more harm than good.

Almost immediately, the band Duran Duran, which had struggled with whether to cancel its show, collaborated on Currin’s initiative and decided to perform, using the show to draw attention to the cause by bringing critics of the law onstage and by donating money to political nonprofits working to fight the law.

The website also found quick support from those nonprofits, including Equality NC, Progress NC Action, and the state chapters of the NAACP and the ACLU…

The artists choosing to stay have received positive notices from music-industry peers who are directly affected by the law.

The band Against Me!—whose lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, publicly came out as transgender in 2012—announced that it would keep its May 15 show in Durham on the schedule specifically to protest the law. The band is encouraging attendees to use gender-neutral bathrooms at the concert venue.

While it’s easy to understand where acts like Bruce Springsteen are coming from when they cancel shows, this approach seems much more productive. Hopefully more voices like the Currins’ will emerge here in North Carolina and we can get back to some level of sanity.

Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

North Carolina’s legislature has made the national news again, and once again it seems to have been motivated by the misguided belief that theocratic governing is a good idea. You can read all about what the legislature did simply by Googling “North Carolina LGBT law“, so instead of talking about what they did I’d like to talk about how they did it.

The Atlantic Monthly has a piece about why North Carolina’s legislature was able to pass the bill while other states’ legislatures were not and in that piece we find a good description of how they pulled it off:

 

…the decision was only made public on Monday, two days before the session. (As a result, some members of the assembly were unable to travel to Raleigh in time.) The legislative language of the bill wasn’t released until minutes before the session actually began Wednesday morning. There was minimal time for public comment built into the session. And by 9 p.m., less than 12 hours after the session began, McCrory signed the bill into law…

In North Carolina, by contrast, there was little warning for opposition forces to rally against the preemption law, no time for them to try to meet with the governor, and little time for the business community to speak out. Dow Chemical, the medical company Biogen, and Raleigh-based software company Red Hat all publicly announced they opposed the law. But major corporations like Charlotte-based Bank of America—which has in the past outspokenly criticizedanti-gay-marriage laws and touted its record on LGBT rights—did not make a public statement. (I asked B of A for comment about the law but haven’t heard back yet.) There’s a strong grassroots-activist base in North Carolina too, centered around the “Moral Mondays” movement, but there was little time for that bloc to organize either…

The law’s framers may also have made a strategically wise decision in bundling several issues together. Laws barring discrimination against gay people are politically contentious. But there’s still much more public stigma against transgender people. For example, campaigners against an LGBT non-discrimination referendum in Houston last year focused heavily on the transgender-bathroom question to the exclusion of broader non-discrimination, and won a resounding victory…

Of course, the general assembly could have passed a narrowly scoped bill that only overturned the transgender accommodation, but legislators instead chose a broader approach. (The minimum-wage provision, meanwhile, was resurrected from a failed preemption effort in September.)

This perfectly describes the m.o. for the Republican-led legislature over the past half-dozen years: for any piece of legislation that might have even a hint of opposition, or might be considered controversial in any way, work on the language behind closed doors, bum-rush it through committee with limited time for serious study by members, get it to the floor for rushed/limited debate and then send it to the governor. Even if he disagrees with it he ends up not acting because he knows his veto is essentially worthless and so it becomes law without his signature.

Bundling multiple items into a contentious bill is nothing new, but hitching the minimum wage piece to a bill that’s got everyone all heated up due to potty rights is a good example of how the Republicans in this legislature have perfected the art.

Before you think I’m picking on the Republicans let me state right here that they are continuing in the tradition of the Democrats who ran the legislature immediately before them. Some of those clowns went to jail, so it’s safe to say that we citizens of North Carolina have been victims of bipartisan malgovernance (that’s not a word, but it feels like a good description).

So what’s wrong with this form of legislating? It short-circuits the inherent strength of an elected body by not allowing a full vetting of the bill in committee and by not allowing time for in-depth study of the bills particulars. By not providing a venue for an extended and honest debate, or for substantive feedback from the public, the majority is pushing through flawed and poorly constructed legislation. If the true goal is good governance then the House and Senate leadership would push for more transparency and debate, not less, and by using these legislative tricks what they are telling us is that the aim is not good governance but to score points with their political base.

Does that shock you? Probably not. Should it piss you off? Most definitely.

By the way, I totally understand if you support the results of the bill – if it fits your belief system then so be it. But please remember how this went down because at some point in the future you’re NOT going to like the resulting law and you’re going to feel truly screwed over when you learn that the powers-that-be snuck one by you. That, my friend, is called karma and it’s a bitch.