Wednesday, September 21, 2016

We Got "Bushed" for Eight Years, Let's Not Get "Trumped"

At the beginning of the 21st century, the American people got snookered by a Republican president who talked a good game and seemed tough and strong, but was incompetent. By the end of his two terms, we were “Bushed.” Now, we are being "Trumped" by a con man who wants to be the next Republican president.

George W. Bush did not know much about foreign policy, but people thought he was successful in business and Texas politics, very personable and persuasive so people trusted him. While he was born to a wealthy family, his father had been President, and he’d attended Yale, he had adopted a good old boy manner, and people perceived him as a man they’d like to have a beer with. He would be the "decider," who would listen to wiser, more knowledgeable advisors and make the best decisions based on his "gut." He seemed to be compassionate and was thought to be "centrist" on economic and immigration issues. Unfortunately, once elected, he surrounded himself with neoconservatives who believed they could remake the world by creating democracy in the Middle East by force. It turned out he was very much into trickle down economics, breaks for the rich. And Iraq War, formation of ISIS, Iranian nuclear program development, North Korea developing nukes, big deficits, and the Great Recession.

Trump doesn't know much about foreign policy, but he is a successful businessman, despite several missteps resulting in bankruptcies, and he is a master salesman of a certain kind (the kind who usually sells products on 30 minute infomercials). He won't need advisors and wouldn't listen to them, because he has a "very good brain," and knows "more than the generals,” he assures us. 

Jake Novak, a producer and columnist at CNBC, identified one of Trump's main tactics as puffing, a legal term that allows salesmen and businesses to make boastful claims about their products and services without fear of lawsuits. 

Trump, with a ghostwriter's help to make it coherent, acknowledged this in his book, Art of the Deal, "The final key to the way I promote is bravado...I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. 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 a very effective form of promotion."

So his language is full of "the most amazing," "fantastic," "unbelievable," which he might follow with, "believe me." The innocence of this may be true in a legal sense, except when he's made guarantees he can't keep and wanders into the territory of outright lies and fraud, witness Trump University and not paying contractors, fleecing investors, etc. He's had to settle hundreds of lawsuits, which means he went beyond "puffing" many times.

Because politicians have even more speech protection than salesmen, he has moved far beyond puffery to world class lying. When has a politician ever been sued or prosecuted for making unfulfillable promises or claims? After toying around with the birther issue and finding out that he could tell a big lie and convince 20% of Americans to believe it back in 2011, he decided he could up the ante, boost his brand, maybe get a Fox News gig, and who knows, maybe even win the presidency. As he said after a debate, "I am not a debater, but I am a winner. If I am elected I will make this country a total winner." He will do almost anything to win.

So he picked his issue, immigration, and started talking about the great big beautiful wall he would build to keep out all the drug runners, rapists, and terrorists. He uses playground bully's skills at humiliating his opponents and using what psychologists call "projection," accusing others of those things that actually apply to him (I know you are, but what am I? I'm rubber, you're glue) to paint his opponents as liars, corrupt, weak, ignorant, and on and on. He is also adept at manipulating the media, making outrageous statements and tweets that have kept him the lead story almost every day for over a year. He may succeed in winning the election.

So, the media and almost half the American people have been the victims of a masterful con man who seems to be unable to tell the truth at times. When he finally disavowed the birther lie, he found it necessary to add a new lie, that Hillary Clinton started it. 

What can we do? We are used to lobbying politicians, now we have to lobby the media. We need fair coverage. First, while we know Hillary can defend herself, we should demand the debate moderators are prepared. They shouldn't debate Trump, but if the curtains are red and Trump says they are blue, when Hillary responds red to which Trump repeats blue, the moderator should say, "For the record, these curtains have been independently verified as red curtains," and move on. It would be helpful if the networks would run a fact checking scroll during debates or at least show a fact checking website where connected viewers can see real time fact checks. 

News outlets should be using the words lie, untrue, false, falsehood, fabrication, deception instead of softer words like misstatement, inaccuracy, hyperbole. Hopefully, in the few weeks left until the election, those Americans who are being fooled by this man or, perhaps worse, are not fooled but plan to vote for him, will see him for what he is and understand the dangers of a Trump presidency. But we can't count on that. It may be a very close election. The best way to beat this man will be to show up at the polls and get everyone who has not been "Trumped" there, too.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Apple or Bomb? Your Choice on November 8

It’s easier to compare apples to apples. One apple is green, crisp, tart; the other red, juicy, sweet. It’s harder to compare apples to oranges. But how do you compare an apple to a bomb? 

In this election, how will you compare a politician who has spent her career working to improve the lives of children and families with a wealthy businessman and reality TV star.

Donald Trump is a self-proclaimed multi-billionaire who grew his inheritance by making deals that he acknowledges have benefited him while often fleecing others. Trump University, being sued in three class action suits, is described as “a straight up fraud” by the Attorney General of NY. 

Trump refuses to release his tax returns, so we assume he is hiding something. Is it that he pays little or no income tax? Are many of his businesses supported by foreign investors with questionable integrity? Many have speculated that it is his business interests in Russia that drive his admiration for their authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. Newsweek recently reported after extensive research that “If Donald Trump wins this election and his company is not immediately shut down or forever severed from the Trump family, the foreign policy of the United States of America could well be for sale.”

Trump claims he “is the least racist person you will ever meet.” Yet he has consistently made racist statements about Latinos and Muslims, and his first foray into politics was based on the allegation that Barack Obama was not born in America, an accusation that African Americans correctly interpret as a racist effort to delegitimize the first African American President of the United States. He recently retracted it under pressure from his campaign managers who are trying to make him more palatable to mainstream voters. Avowed racists and white nationalists recognize him as one of their own, however, and have been enthusiastically endorsing and campaigning for him.

PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize winning fact checker, has rated 70% of his claims in this campaign as mostly false, false, or “pants on fire.”

It’s hard for the media to stop talking about Trump (hard for me, too!) because he’s so outrageous and skilled at bringing attention to himself. Just minutes after playing clips of Clinton referring to Trump and no clips about the policies that comprised the bulk of her speech, an MSNBC anchor asked, “Why doesn’t she talk more about policy?”

In the recent NBC National Security Town Hall, Clinton had to spend half her time explaining the complexities of her e-mails as Secretary of State, a controversy created by the wasteful House Republican investigation into Benghazi.  Added to endless Whitewater investigation against her and her husband in the nineties that ended up uncovering nothing except a man who lied about his infidelity, Republicans have succeeded in creating the perception that the Clintons are dishonest. If she were the liar her critics claim, somewhere in the eleven hours of Benghazi testimony or the hours of FBI grilling there would have been cause for a perjury claim.  PolitiFact has ranked 72% of her campaign claims as true, mostly true, or half true. Remember, Trump: 70% falsehoods. How do you like them apples?  

But let’s talk policy! There are many reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton besides saving the nation and the world from the turmoil of a Trump presidency. With eight years of steady leadership by President Obama, we have recovered from the Great Recession. We just learned 2015 median wages increased by a stunning 5%! Hillary Clinton plans to increase the job growth we have enjoyed the last 6 1/2 years through a variety of proposals, including increased spending on desperately needed infrastructure projects: roads, bridges, clean energy, high tech. She will work to raise the minimum wage, fight for equal pay and guaranteed family leave, child care and housing for those who need assistance. She will work to improve and expand the Affordable Care Act to cover more Americans and keep health care costs down. 

Unlike her opponent who makes up policies on the fly and makes false claims about the effects they will have on jobs and the economy, Hillary Clinton has devised her proposals over the last year with many top experts, including Bernie Sanders. Go to to read her proposals, including a highly detailed fact sheet outlining how she will invest billions revitalizing coal communities.

West Virginians are struggling. Democrats in our state government have not provided the leadership needed to move our economy forward in a declining coal market, so many have decided to give Republicans a try. Like their national counterparts, however, they spread divisiveness, attack worker’s rights, want tax cuts for the wealthy, and starve needed government programs. Historically, under Democratic presidents, the economy improves for working people and those on the margins more than under Republicans, whose policies favor the wealthy. That’s why I’m excited about a President Hillary Clinton. She may not be the “apple of your eye,” but she’s not the poisonous fruit some portray her to be, nor the time bomb that is the alternative.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Will Clinton or Trump Help Families of Murder Victims?

A mother or wife who has lost a child or a spouse to a shooting steps up to the podium, briefly identifies herself and describes the promising life that has been cut short. She tells the audience that the candidate she supports will stop more senseless killings like this one and the crowd, sympathetically cheers their courage. Clinton or Trump? Both. 

Clinton has brought to the stage families of African Americans who have died at the hands of police and Trump the mothers and spouses of those killed by undocumented immigrants.

Are the candidates using these families for crass political gain or are they giving voice to their grief in order to highlight a grievous wrong that they intend to fix as president? And is there moral equivalence in the solutions they espouse?

Because I support Clinton and abhor Trump, my knee jerk reaction was that there is no equivalence, and that there is something untoward in one white woman after another coming to the stage to name the Latino criminal responsible for a death. But, I asked myself, why was that different than the black women who came to the stage to talk about their children or spouses? 

The answer may have come slowly, but it came. There is equivalence in the pain these family feel, but there is no equivalence in the solution the candidates offer to solve the problem their family members’ deaths represent.

“There's no evidence that immigrants are either more or less likely to commit crimes than anyone else in the population," says Janice Kephart, a researcher for the Center for Immigration Studies. This fact flies in the face of Trump’s insinuations that immigrants from Mexico are primarily criminals. Roughly 2-3% of Americans may commit a violent crime. Yet in order to prevent violent crime of those who might commit it within the population of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States Donald Trump proposes on most days to deport all eleven million, and on some days to deport immediately any that have been arrested for anything and decide later what to do about the rest.

In order to reduce the shooting of blacks by police, Hillary Clinton proposes to increase training for police departments on the use of force and to help them buy body cameras so that after an incident police can be either prosecuted or exonerated based on hard evidence rather than witness testimony only.

So, on one hand, disrupt the lives of millions of people including millions of innocent women and children, some of whom are American citizens, and on the other hand spend some money to help communities improve their police forces. Where is the moral equivalence?

And for the record, while Clinton doesn’t specifically address violent crime by undocumented immigrants, she does plan to focus resources on detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety and reduce gun violence by getting more illegal guns off our streets and keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them by closing the gun show loophole and expanding background checks. Hillary has plans that will keep our country safe while preserving our freedom and our unique status in the world as a nation of immigrants. Trump would neither keep us safe nor keep us great. Trump’s America is like no America we have every seen.