Fake News: It Has Real Consequences

Last month we learned about “Pizzagate.” Social media took off with the false account that the restaurant Comet Ping Pong, in Washington D.C., was a front for Hillary Clinton and others to molest and traffic children.

I have a hard time imagining anyone would believe something so preposterous, but on November 27th, Edgar Welch drove from Salisbury, North Carolina with an AR-15 assault rifle to “investigate.” He entered the restaurant and pointed the rifle at an employee who was able to escape. He fired it a few times before surrendering to the police. Mercifully no one was injured.

But it could have gone differently. Posting (and profiting from) fake news is getting out of control. One of my favorite podcasts, Planet Money recently tracked down the author of a fake news outlet, the Denver Guardian. He wants it to appear to be a newspaper and it’s not. But enough people go to this website that he’s able to sell advertising and he’s making a good living. You can read about it here: here.

Many of us grew up seeing the National Enquirer at the grocery store and I think most of us recognized their stories are false. But it now appears that the crazier the story, the more believable it is. The conspiracy theorists still hang on to false stories even when proven false.

America, do yourself a favor: next time you see a suspicious story, check it out on Snopes. They do good work.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 34: Why is Hillary Unpopular? You May Not Like My Answer.

This will surprise nobody, but we will elect a new President in less than 100 days. I’ve been eligible to vote since 1978 and I’ve never missed an opportunity. It’s the least I can do to express my gratitude to our Founding Fathers and everyone who fought in the American Revolution.

But in the 38 years since I’ve been an eligible voter, and the 56 years that I’ve been alive, I’ve never witnessed an election so polarized.

And let me say this as a Democrat: Donald Trump isn’t a bad choice. He’s a dangerous choice.

But that’s not my point. Instead, I wish to talk about why Hillary Clinton is so unpopular. I believe it’s latent sexism.

Eight years ago the election of Barack Obama unleashed racism that many thought was in our past. But we heard thousands of voices who criticized President Obama as someone who won’t lead all Americans because he is African American. He (and his people) care “only for their own people” and don’t care “for the rest of us.” In fact, look at him: he can’t be one of us. He must have been born somewhere else.

Now, his same party has (once again) nominated someone who cares only for “her people.” In the same way that the candidacy of Barack Obama uncovered latent racism, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton exposes latent sexism. Just as racism has informed much of our history with people of color, sexism continues to inform our belief in the relationship between men and women.

Most Christians, myself included, cringe at the belief that women are “temptresses” because in the Book of Genesis the character of Eve gives the forbidden fruit to Adam. I don’t think any reasonable person still believes it, but this was a common belief in the Middle Ages.

I find the idea of women as temptresses inane but archaic. But I’m more troubled by the persistent idea that women should not occupy positions of authority. You can read about it here. A small but noisy corner of the Christian world misuses the words of St. Paul to argue that women should not be in positions of authority over men.

But I’m most offended (as a husband, son, and brother of exceptional women) by the idea that women are, by nature, bitchy and conniving. They can’t be believed and they can’t be trusted.

Not only that, but strong, intelligent, and decisive women wish only to emasculate us. Women who want to “wear the pants in the family” are to be feared.

I first learned about Hillary when her husband Bill ran for President in 1992. Since then I’ve heard the following charges against her:

  • Whitewater: When Bill was running for President he faced accusations that he and Hillary invested in, and benefited by, a development in Whitewater, Arkansas. They didn’t. In fact, they lost a great deal of money in their investment. They were accused of throwing their partners under the bus but they didn’t. They lost money.
  • Health Care: In 1993 Hillary proposed universal health care for all Americans. It didn’t work and she was accused of trying to destroy America by sinking it in piles of debt.
  • Vince Foster: In 1993 Clinton friend Vince Foster shot himself in Ft. Marcy Park in Virginia. Even though he suffered from depression and feared that he would lose his security clearance if he sought help, Hillary is still suspected of killing him and dumping his body. She was devastated by his death but continues to be accused of killing him.
  • Benghazi: On September 11, 2002 four members of our diplomatic corps were killed in Libya by a terrorist attack. At the time Hillary was the Secretary of State. While she grieved the deaths of her friend Chris Stevens and others she was accused of causing this to happen. House Republicans, led by Darrell Issa have spent $7,000,000 in a failed attempt to blame her for the attack. Darrel, by the way, is in danger of losing his seat.
  • Email: The foolish investigation into Benghazi showed that Hillary used an email server not connected to her State Department account for emails that were not, at the time, considered secret. Given the false accusations of her in the past we can hardly fault her for her concern over her privacy. Nevertheless we do need to look into this. We all do email and most of us don’t worry about who is reading what we write. Our privacy depends on the fact that most people don’t care about our correspondence. Hillary does not have that luxury. I’m satisfied that she served us well in her positions as First Lady, Senator, and Presidential Candidate.

I will vote for her in November because I believe she will lead our country well. I also think that our first woman President will honor my wife, my mother, my sister who are exceptional.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 33: I Alone Can Fix It. Really?

This week we are watching the Democratic Convention but I have to confess I still can’t get over last week’s Republican Convention. Frankly it’s something I can’t unsee

But one line from Donald’s speech continues to haunt me. I wrote about this two months ago but Don is simply not a Republican: he is a Fascist.

Don himself made my point last week when he announced that I alone can fix it.

Taking aside the fact that no one alone can fix it, we should all be frightened. In a little over 3 months we will elect a president but Trump apparently believes he will be elected king.

I’ve spoken about this before, but the framers of the Constitution viewed our President as the leader of the Executive Branch, one of the branches of government.

Don does not. He calls on us, the voters, to give him the power to do whatever he wants with the promise that he will protect us from those who wish to harm us.

But in the end, he will harm us the most. Concentrating power in one person never works in the long run. That dictator, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, eventually makes decisions that benefits him at the expense of others. Even when the others helped him achieve his power.

If we truly listen to him, Don has spent his campaign telling us who he will benefit: rich, white, men.

He has spoken with contempt on women, Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, and poor people.

Who has he supported? He has spoken well of Vladimir Putin. He tried to duck question about the Ku Klux Klan’s favorite son David Duke falsely claiming he didn’t know who Duke was.

Our Constitution famously opens with the phrase “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In a real sense, a vote for Donald Trump is an abdication of “we the people” for ” you alone can protect us.” He has made it clear that he has no interest in compromise, discussion, or shared leadership.

Vote for him at your own peril.

Brexit: See What Happens When You Use Your Vote To Send a Message?

Last week citizens of Great Britain voted whether or not to remain a part of the European Union. The EU began its formation after World War II as a way to prevent events that caused world wars that informed much of the 20th Century. It found its roots in 1950 but most people point to 1993 when the “Single Market” was completed with the free movement of goods, services, people and money. Most countries adopted a common currency (the “euro“) and you didn’t need a passport to travel between countries in the EU.

Implementing these reforms hasn’t always been easy, but like the blending of any family, its members attempted to reach for the common good and recognized that each of them did better when they all did better.

But an undercurrent of opposition has always found its place among conservatives who felt individual countries traded away some of its sovereignty. They also felt it opened them up to unfair burdens imposed by immigrants.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron supported membership in the EU. But facing opposition from his own party he promised, in January 2013, that he would call a referendum to leave the EU sometime before the end of 2017. This past February 22nd he announced June 23rd as the date of the referendum.

Smart money and bookies never thought the referendum would call for Britain to leave the EU. But it did, by a margin of 52% to 48%.

This led to great consternation and concern over the last few days. Virtually every economist believes that this will be economically devastating to Britain, and to a lesser extent Europe and the world (including the United States). There’s wisdom to this: limiting trade and immigration has historically devastated nations (history nerds like me point to the Smoot Hawley Act of 1930).

Panicked reaction to Brexit comes not only from those who voted against it, but also from those who voted for it thinking it wouldn’t pass. Simply put, they used their vote to send a message. Using an old, anonymous quote: If you want to send a message, use Western Union.

There is reason to believe that thousands of Britains voted to leave the EU not because they wanted to leave the EU but because they wanted to express their nostalgia for the 1800s when “the sun never sets on the British Empire.”

Now they recognize that their votes have backfired. As an American, what do I take from this?

Well, it’s worth noting that we’re in the middle of a Presidential election.

Hilary Clinton believes Britain should have voted to stay in the EU. She feels that Britain, and the rest of us, would have done better if they had remained. On the other hand Donald Trump claimed that the vote was good because it benefits him.

The same economists who fear Great Britain leaving the EU also fear Donald Trump. Nearly half of US voters tell us they will vote for Donald out of anger at “the establishment.” But many of them will vote for him not because they want him to lead our nation but because they want to send a message that they don’t feel their needs are being met.

OK, I get it. Many voters feel that the “American Dream” is gamed toward the wealthy and we need a revolution to even the playing field. But much like the vote to leave the EU, a vote for Donald Trump will make everyone’s lives worse, not better. Xenophobia and protectionism hurts everyone, but it mainly hurts those without a safety net. It hurts the waitress when her customers can no longer afford to go to breakfast after church. It hurts the local police officer, firefighter, or teacher whose salary depends on property taxes that fall of the cliff when property values plummet. And it hurts people who are depending on their 401(k)’s for a secure retirement.

This is my call to American voters: use your vote to decide who will best lead us for the next four years. If you want to express your displeasure over today and/or your nostalgia from a time when your life was better, send a telegram.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 32: No Don, It is Racism

I think most of us know this, but Donald Trump is being sued by former of “students” of “Trump University”. They claim that they were pressured to spend $35,000 to learn how to make their fortune in real estate. They were told that their investment would provide them with mentors “handpicked” by Don (who made his money in real estate). Further, they claim that the mentoring never happened and that his promises (once their check cleared) vaporized.

The lawsuit is being heard in Federal Court here in San Diego. Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel was assigned to hear the case. He was born in Indiana to parents who came from Mexico.

Reviewing the case, Judge Curiel ordered the release of the instructions given to the “mentors” of Don’s “university” and Don recognized how this damaged his case.

So what do you do if you are Don? Well, he looked at the judge’s first name and recognized an opportunity. Remembering his inflammatory calls to “build a wall” on the Mexican border he decided that his best defense was a good offense: claim that because the judge is of Mexican descent he can’t possibly be a good judge.

It never occurred to him that we would recognize the racism in his comments, even when House Speaker Paul Ryan did. He now claims that his words were misconstrued.

They weren’t. Don claims that Judge Curiel can’t do his job because he was born of Mexican parents. Simply put, this is not different from someone who says: “Don’t hire an African American because those people are lazy,” or “Watch that Jew who lives next door because they are known to steal.”

Today Don tried to claim that he charged the judge because he disagreed with the judge’s decisions.

Yeah, right. Don never charged that Judge Curiel wasn’t a good judge or that his ruling was flawed. He didn’t explain how he disagreed with the ruling.

He could have. But the fact that he didn’t tells us what we need to know about Don. Like bullies from the beginning of time he will do or say anything to advance his cause. Truth doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter. Only his ambition matters.

But at the end of the day, he is subject to the voters. We have the power deny him what he wants most. And we should.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 30: We Need To Stop Calling Donald Trump a Republican

As I write this, Donald Trump appears to be the presumptive Republican nominee for President. Problem is, he’s not really a Republican.

I’ve written about this before, but the Republican party has undergone many changes. The GOP (Grand Old Party) rose from the ashes of the Whig Party when it split over the issue of slavery. Southern Whigs joined the pro slavery Democratic party while Northern Whigs formed the Republican Party. Both parties have undergone tremendous changes, but the last 40 years of the GOP centered on certain core values: lower taxes, smaller government, and Christian values.

But it also stood for a belief that government works best when all three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) work together. Famously in the 1980s President Reagan, a Republican, and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat, opposed each other on most issues, but at the end of the day they met and hammered out agreements that made us a better nation.

The days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill are gone. Now a Republican victory is recognized only if accompanied by a Democrat defeat: a “win-win” is no longer seen as a win.

And the desire of Republicans to destroy the Democratic party has, ironically, turned on them. Donald Trump came into the campaign carrying the banner of hate better than any of his opponents, and now he is the presumptive nominee.

Last July he described Mexicans as “rapists.” Later that month he told us that Senator John McCain was not a war hero because he got captured by the North Vietnamese while fighting for our country. (Don stated: “I like people who weren’t captured”).

When asked by Fox News correspondent Megan Kelly about his treatment of women he chose to attack her.

In November he spoke nostalgically of “Operation Wetback,” the mass deportation of Mexicans in the 1950s.

And as much as he’s trying to distance himself from his remarks it’s not working.

Simply put, I (as a Democrat) need to call out Donald Trump. He is not a Republican: He’s a Fascist. I know this word incites people, but hear me out. A fascist (even one who is elected) convinces people that democracy simply doesn’t work and they need a leader with unlimited power to govern. Only that leader will make his followers “great again.”

But he won’t. In the 1922 Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) was named Prime Minister of Italy by King Victor Emmanuel III. Mussolini then consolidated his power and was the sole ruler of Italy by 1925.

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg. Hitler then used his power to gain more authority, and when von Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler proclaimed himself ruler of Germany.

I know this sounds far fetched in the United States in 2016 but few saw it coming in Italy in 1922 or Germany in 1933. Let’s look at some facts:

  • Donald almost never talks about working with Congress. He speaks often of how “I will build a wall” but I’ve never heard him talk about signing legislation from Congress to build the wall.
  • He insists he can do things that are not currently possible. He has often called for a ban on allowing Muslims to enter our country but he hasn’t given any indication of how he will do this. Passports don’t list our religion.

So what is President Trump to do? If elected he’s already proven he doesn’t play well with others. How long do you think it will take him to decide that Congress is getting in his way and acting as Commander in Chief of the military gives him the right to dissolve the legislative branch?

When told that we can’t ban Muslims because we can’t know their religion from their passports, how long will it take him to decide that passports should list religion? Or perhaps he will demand that Muslims wear a badge (like a crescent moon) on their clothing.

Ordinary citizens in Italy and Germany in the 1930s were horrified that leaders of their choosing became the monsters we now recognize. It’s easy for us, 80 years later, to criticize their blindness. But we can’t criticize them with any integrity if we vote for Donald Trump today.

A year from now if you’re horrified by President Trump, don’t tell me. I warned you.

Lead in Our Water? How Did This Happen? That's Easy.

In the last month or so we’ve been hearing about unacceptable levels of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. How did happen?

First some background: Like cities all over the country, Flint looks to its past for it’s best days. In the first half of the 20th Century, Flint prospered from the automobile industry. But when their plants closed in the 1980s their population dwindled and it became harder to raise the money to run the city.

Previous to 2014 Flint purchased its water from the city of Detroit who got water from Lake Huron (you can read about this here). But in an effort to save money the leaders in Flint decided to switch over and get their water directly from the Flint River. Almost immediately residents of Flint noticed a change in their water quality. You can find an excellent article here.

But the real danger was not the color or smell of the water, but elevated levels of lead. In response to ongoing protests by Flint’s citizens the city began to test the water. There are a few heroes here, and one of them is LeeAnne Walters. She was a loud critic of the water and when the city tested the water coming out of her tap, they found something alarming.

The Environmental Protection Agency claims that no lead is acceptable, but by law 15 parts per billion (ppb) is allowed. The water coming out of the Walter’s tap: 400 ppb. When she had her children’s lead levels tested, they all tested positive and one of them received a diagnosis of lead poisoning. Lead levels in children cause irreversible brain damage.

LeeAnne, digging through city documents, learned that when Flint switched water providers they failed to provide “corrosive controls” that prevented lead from water pipes to leach into the water supply. During this time local and state officials continued to insist that the water was safe even when they knew it wasn’t.

So how did this happen? Alas, this has led to the hand wringing and finger pointing that has become all too common in our current political discourse. There are calls for the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder.

This won’t solve anything. I’m frustrated by the fact that whenever we uncover a crisis we look for a scapegoat instead of looking to a permanent solution. The phrase drinking the Kool Aid owns a place in our vocabulary for a reason. In 1978 nine hundred and thirteen people willingly committed suicide by drinking cyanide laced Kool Aid because they were told to by Jim Jones.

Since 1978 the phrase “drinking the Kool Aid” has expanded to people who sacrifice their integrity for job security. This, I believe, informs what happened in Flint. This, I believe, explains why officials in Flint and Lansing continued to lie to the good people of Flint about the safety of their water. They sacrificed the safety of children they will never meet to ensure they won’t lose their job.

Really? Yes. It’s hard to imagine but job security matters to people. Fear is a frighteningly powerful motivator and the fear of losing our job easily leads us into dangerous territory. Flint and Lansing are full of bureaucrats who lied about water safety and prayed they would get away with it.

The other factor is even worse. Those in power knew that they would likely never meet the people their decisions would affect. The African American population in Flint is currently 53.27%. They are poor and black and easy to ignore. Lying about the dangers to children you’ll never meet is easier than lying about your neighbors.

Sadly I’ve witnessed times where people I knew “drank the Kool Aid.” I’ve seen people who, under pressure to “not make waves” or “go along” or “not be a problem” have remained silent when they should have said something. And even more sadly, I have to admit there have been times when that person was me. I pray those times not happen again.

That said, there are heroes in Flint right now. I told you about LeeAnne Walters. I also want to give a shout our to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Let us all aspire to be LeeAnne’s and Mona’s and let us pray that no more children are damaged by cowardice.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 18: Can Anyone Ask Donald Trump These Questions?

I’m certain I’m not alone in this, but I’m weary of listening to Donald Trump making outrageous statements with no follow up. I get that he makes speeches to friendly audiences without taking questions from reporters, but really? Is there nobody who will call him on his statements?

I’m not a reporter but here are the questions I want to ask him:

  • You want to ban Muslims entering this country until “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” What does this mean? Does that include Muslims who are American citizens who went to the Bahamas on vacation want to return home? Does it mean that Muslims from Europe who travel here on business can’t come here for business? And, by the way, how do you know who is Muslim? I just checked my passport and my religion is not listed. I often get mistaken for being Jewish and no government issued ID shows that I’m Christian.
  • A few months ago you promised to bomb the shit out of Isis. Exactly how do you propose to do this? They occupy a large swath of Iraq and Syria and live side by side with civilians who cower in fear of them. Do you plan to bomb both Isis and the men, women, and children they hold hostage? I hope not. I hope you don’t think that everyone who lives in these areas are members of Isis, or people not worthy of mercy. I condemn Isis for using innocent civilians as “human shields” but I don’t think killing these civilians is the answer.
  • I live in Southern California, about 30 miles from the border with Mexico. You have promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Further you’ve stated that you will make Mexico pay for the wall. I can’t even count how many questions I have for this, but let me get started: What plan to do you have when Mexico refuses your demand? Oh, and this: when you say “a wall” does that mean you will block all traffic between the United States and Mexico? Does that include American citizens who live in Mexico because it’s cheaper to live on the beach there? Does that include Mexicans who work here legally and cross the border every day? Does it include truckers who move commerce across the border and enrich the lives of both countries? If not, are you prepared for the economic downturn we will face when we can no longer trade goods and people with Mexico? If so, how do you prevent immigration that sneaks over a porous border (much as we have today).

Well, Mr. Trump, I’m waiting for your answer.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 15: The GOP Confronts Trump and Have Only Themselves to Blame

The Republican Party has been absent from the White House since 2008 and they’ve not been happy.

They see 2016 as their opportunity to regain the Presidency but they’ve run into a problem: Donald Trump. It’s no secret that Trump thinks of himself capable of doing whatever he wants and he now thinks he can be our next President.

Most of the Republican establishment incorrectly assumed he was doing this as a way to gain publicity for his reality show The Apprentice. Somewhere along this path Don decided he could win and the polls seem to back this up, at least for the Republican nomination.

So what’s the problem? Well, Don appears to be run on a platform of lies. He claims that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the destruction of the Twin Towers. He claims that he witnessed people falling from the Twin Towers even though he was four miles away.

There are more examples, but many Republicans can’t understand why his numbers are strong while he continues to lie.

They shouldn’t be puzzled: they should be ashamed. They gave him the playbook.

The Republican party overflows with experiences where they have encouraged their supporters to ignore the facts and embrace their fears.

Let me give a few examples:

  • On 9/11/2001 we were all united in our grief and fear. We knew almost immediately that Osama bin Laden was behind it. And yet instead of concentrating exclusively on Afghanistan (who harbored bin Laden) the Bush administration claimed that our bigger threat was from Iraq. In 2003 we invaded Iraq, falsely claiming that weapons of mass destruction were poised in our direction. They weren’t and we now know that the Bush administration believed the information not because it was correct, but because it was useful to their beliefs.
  • Despite overwhelming evidence, the GOP continues to deny our role in Global Warming. They continue to insist there is no real evidence that climate change is related to the burning of fossil fuels.
  • During the Bush administration the bookstore at the Grand Canyon was directed to sell the book Grand Canyon a Different View by Tom Vail. Vail claims that the Grand Canyon was formed not by millions of years of erosion by the Colorado River, but by the Noah’s Ark Flood.

Simply put, the GOP spent the last 8 years telling their followers to ignore the facts and instead fear that President Obama and the Democrats are going to destroy America.

And now, much to their despair, Donald Trump has proven the master of their strategy. Don is a polarizing figure and his xenophobic platform virtually insures that he cannot be elected President. I wrote last month how the wheels are coming off on the Republican Party.

They have only themselves to blame.

The Election 2016 Chronicles Volume 13: Donald Trump's Operation Wetback: He's Still At It

Ever since he began his presidential campaign Donald Trump has made xenophobia a cornerstone of his platform. He famously promised to build a wall along the entire US/Mexican border and send them the bill.

More recently he’s spoken about mass deportations of undocumented workers and families. Nobody knows how many there are, but most think it’s somewhere around 11 million men, women, and children. He justifies this by claiming it’s been done before, and done successfully.

As with many things Trump, he gets many of the details wrong and is vague on how he will accomplish it.

There was a program in 1954 called “Operation Wetback” that intended to deport large numbers of Mexicans in this country. Many of them came to the United States in the 1940s as part of the bracero program to fill agricultural jobs left vacant by U.S. forces fighting World War II. After the war ended the GI’s came back home and had to compete for jobs with the braceros.

It’s not hard to see where this went. The Mexicans, who were once needed, were now expendable and they were deported.

In an NPR interview, Alfonso Aguilar of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership provided some facts. He said this: “The Eisenhower mass deportation policy was tragic. Human rights were violated. People were removed to distant locations without food and water. There were many deaths, unnecessary deaths. Sometimes even U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin, of Mexican origin, were removed. It was a travesty. It was terrible. Immigrants were humiliated. So to say that’s a success story, it’s ridiculous. It shows that Mr. Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Even given this, he gives few details on how he will deport 11 million people. In a CNN article he explains that he will build a “deportation force” and they will do it humanely in 18 to 24 months. But NBC claims it will cost us between $100 and $200 billion dollars.

OK so assuming that he’s right, what’s the result? He and most of his fellow Republicans complain about the size of government and the national debt and yet he favors this expenditure. Interestingly enough we currently spend $76 billion on food stamps to ensure that nobody starves.

He also claims that deporting these 11 million will free up jobs for Americans. And so I ask you: how many of us are willing to pick crops, wash dishes, and mow lawns for minimum wage? I know I won’t.

I’ve spoken on this topic before but I’ll say it again: we all benefit because our ancestors did the jobs nobody else wanted. The people Donald wants to deport are the parents and grandparents of Americans who will lead our country in the last half of the 21st Century and the first half of the 22nd. They will make us proud.