Category Archives: Politics

All I Want For Christmas

Some women want jewelry; others want designer bags. Not me. I want to play Jedi mind tricks on American political leaders. According to the official Star Wars website, “the Force can have a powerful effect on the weak-minded, a phenomenon Jedi sometimes take advantage of in pursuing their missions.”

Perfect.

What’s my mission? To make 2017 better than 2016. It’s a low bar. If I could just harness the Force, I’d point it directly at our “weak-minded” lawmakers so they would…

  1. …Stop worrying so much about where other people go to the bathroom.

I’m looking at you, North Carolina. When the most well-known piece of legislation to come out of your statehouse is called the Bathroom Bill, it’s time to reflect upon your governing priorities. This panic over public bathrooms is the very definition of a First World Problem, and I use the word “problem” loosely. If you are really that concerned about bathroom habits, consider focusing your time and resources a little further away from home.

Fun Fact: nearly 2.4 billion people in the world don’t have proper toilets (according to the World Health Organization.) So instead of demanding that we show our birth certificates to the ‘potty police’ every time nature calls, consider writing a check to UNICEF.

  1. Remember that America asks the world to “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,” even when those huddled masses come from Syria.

Half the population of Syria has been displaced and a generation of children is growing up in refugee camps without education or security or hope. Why isn’t our government doing more about it? I’ll tell you why: because we can never be 100% sure that a terrorist won’t slip in among those refugees!

I can’t argue that, but let’s unpack the threat. Suppose 1 of every 1000 refugees is a terrorist (a totally absurd assumption since in fiscal year 2016 we admitted over 6,726 Syrian refugees, of whom exactly zero were terrorists). Canada had welcomed over 25,000 refugees as of last February, and none of them is on Santa’s naughty list.

If we welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees and if 1 of every 1000 was not only a terrorist but also successfully committed a terrorist act, approximately 44 Americans would die in those attacks (fatality assumptions based on 2016 data).

That means we won’t risk the chance that 44 Americans might die, in order to save 25,000 people. Either this great country is filled with cowards, or we are bad at math. Or possibly both (given the falling regard for all things scientific or fact-based, and the tiny percent of us who serve in the military).

  1. …Act like decent humans.

It doesn’t seem that hard, does it? Yet time after time, our elected leaders behave like babies (at best) or heartless bastards (at worst). I am tired of turning on the news and hearing about a certain someone grabbing women by the privates, whining about his press coverage, and threatening to create a Muslim registry. I don’t know what’s more exhausting: keeping track of it all, or sustaining an appropriate level of outrage. But what can I do about it?

If I get the Force for Christmas. I will play my Jedi mind tricks. And by this time next year, the 24-hour cable news cycle will go dark for lack of material because our president will actually be presidential. We’ll have some new Americans with whom to celebrate the holidays. North Carolina will no longer be the butt (ha ha) of much bathroom humor.

If my stocking is empty, however, I fear 2017 may be even worse than 2016. In which case, I will seriously consider relocating. To a galaxy far, far away.

 

Is Donald Trump Really a Genius About Taxes?

After last week’s revealing New York Times article which speculated that Donald Trump may not have paid federal taxes for at least 18 years, his campaign surrogates took to the microphones in response to all the fuss.  “The man’s a genius,” declared Rudolf Giuliani, former mayor of New York City.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said the story simply proved how qualified Donald Trump is to overhaul the tax code.

 For his part, Trump tweeted: “I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president.”

 Really?

 Because if you read the entire Times article, the last few paragraphs featured some pretty revealing insights from Trump’s tax preparer at the time, Jack Mitnick.  Here is the first:

 “[Mr. Mitnick] had long handled tax matters for Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, and he said he began doing Donald Trump’s taxes after Mr. Trump turned 18.”

 Think about that for a moment: Donald Trump never, not even once, filed his own tax return. Never completed a 1040 EZ like most of us do when we turn 18 – a rite of passage signaling the arrival of adulthood and full citizenship. Not for Trump – Daddy’s accountant handled that for him.

 But surely as his business interests grew along with his assets, he must have learned how to leverage the tax code to his advantage. He must have educated himself on the basics, if only to protect his wealth and maximize its value. Right?

 Wrong. Mitnick remembered Trump and his wife when they reviewed and signed the tax returns he had prepared for them.

 “[Mr. Mitnick] contrasted Fred Trump’s attention to detail with what he described as [Donald’s] brash and undisciplined style. He recalled, for example, that when Donald and Ivana Trump came in each year to sign their tax forms, it was almost always Ivana who asked more questions.”

 If that’s true, Donald Trump may actually know much less about the tax code than the rest of us.  He’s never filed his tax returns without professional help, and apparently he expressed little interest in understanding what was on the pages he signed.  And yet he boasts that he knows more about the tax code than “anyone who has ever run for president.”

 This is what worries me. I don’t actually care that he used the tax laws to his advantage; I am in the same camp with those who say, “Don’t hate the player – hate the game.” The tax code is what it is. I have never heard any American claim to willingly pay more taxes than he legally owes.

 I worry because Trump believes he’s an expert in something he knows nothing about. This shouldn’t surprise anyone; it’s part of a pattern. He’s previously claimed to know more about warfare than our decorated military leaders. He repeatedly brags about his outstanding temperament (when he’s in between tantrums or resting his thumbs after a 3 a.m. tweeting session).

 But his supporters believe he’s a tax genius, when in reality he probably couldn’t find the signature line without the little yellow post-it arrow his accountant affixes to his returns. If Donald Trump is elected president, he is in for a big surprise when he signs his first tax return in office.

 After all, the presidential salary is $400,000. There are few loopholes or offsetting losses from businesses, so a President Trump would likely have real taxable income on which he would pay actual federal taxes.

 Possibly for the very first time.    

What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen When a Boy Plays With a Toy Gun?

If you watched any part of the recent 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon, you might think you know the answer. The classic holiday film features a white boy named Ralphie who desperately wants to find a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle under the Christmas tree. Much to his dismay, everyone with whom he shares this heartfelt wish (his mother, his teacher, even a department store Santa) rejects the toy as too dangerous. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” they proclaim.

But the story of Tamir Rice tells us that the “worst thing” that can happen, actually, is being mistaken for a criminal who is brandishing a real gun, and being killed by police who shoot first and ask questions later.

Last week, a grand jury in Cleveland declined to press charges against the officer who shot and killed Tamir. Timothy J. McGinty, the prosecutor in the case, said the boy’s death was “horrible, unfortunate, and regrettable. But it was not, by the laws that bind us, a crime.”

Perhaps McGinty’s statement is actually the “worst thing,” for it did nothing to assure parents that any black boy playing with any toy gun couldn’t reasonably expect the same fatal outcome. He reported that the officer who shot Tamir had reason to fear for his life, implying that the fatal shooting was merely an unfortunate consequence of Tamir’s own actions. Actions identical to those of Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Each boy was playing with a toy.

Several recent news reports confirm that the worst consequence for any particular behavior may depend upon the skin color of the one doing the behaving.

Sandra Bland (African American) allegedly changed lanes without signaling, which didn’t result in anyone being harmed. She was arrested and jailed, then mysteriously ended up dead in her cell. The officers involved claim she killed herself, but her family doesn’t believe it. A grand jury declined to indict anyone.

Eric Garner (African American) allegedly sold individual cigarettes on the street, which didn’t result in anyone being harmed. A video recording clearly shows him being choked to death by a police officer and his death was ruled a homicide. Again, a grand jury declined to indict anyone.

Meanwhile, a white male named Ethan Couch drove drunk and killed four people, then pled guilty to four counts of manslaughter (Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner never went to court or entered pleas – they didn’t live long enough to do so). But Ethan was sentenced to 10 years probation and no jail time. Now that he’s been apprehended for apparently violating probation, maybe he’ll face real consequences. He will probably survive.

These news snippets are selective, but they highlight a painful truth that is undeniable to all but the most blind. While America has spent the last century desegregating our institutions, giving all Americans access to the same rights and privileges, the criminal justice system is a stubborn holdout and still has a long way to go. As long as it’s not working for each and every one of us, it’s not working at all.

With that in mind, what’s the worst that can happen when a boy plays with a toy gun? For now, unfortunately, that depends on the color of the boy’s skin. America can celebrate progress when a boy like Tamir wants to play with such a toy, and his mother’s only warning is “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Testosterone: The Military’s Real Enemy

Two stories in the news this week made me impatient to see women holding more senior positions in the military, and not for the usual reasons. Sure, women have leadership skills and technical expertise, and deserve a shot at those jobs. But the biggest reason of all, and why we can’t wait any longer, is because of something women don’t have. Testosterone.

This pesky little hormone is a troublemaker. Its link to needless violence can be traced back to Cain and Abel (note they were brothers, not sisters). Ill-advised sexual encounters and venereal disease have plagued armies since the beginning of time. British soldiers during WWI were over five times more likely to be hospitalized for syphilis or gonorrhea than from trench foot, the war’s signature ailment.

In today’s military, testosterone is clouding the judgments of men who really should know better.

The first is Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the superintendent at the United States Military Academy. He recently defended the school’s boxing requirement despite overwhelming evidence about the downside of repeated blows to the head. That’s right – every male cadet who graduates from West Point must spend a semester receiving and delivering rounds of minor brain trauma. Concerned mothers and the school’s Board of Visitors (chaired by a woman) are pushing for change but meeting resistance. In fact, the superintendent is doubling down on his machismo by considering making female students take boxing, too, as they do at the US Naval Academy.

West Point has documented 97 concussions from boxing during the last three academic years. When students are unable to complete the course due to too many concussions, they are forced to repeat it later. If that seems perfectly rational, maybe you’ve had too many concussions.

The next example of testosterone run amok comes from Senator John McCain, speaking on the senate floor about recent developments in Syria. As a former naval aviator and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he should know that while he may not like the fact that Russia is flying combat missions in Syria, it was actually a good thing that they alerted us to their actions so we could avoid an international incident or accidental loss of life.

With hormonally-fueled bravado, McCain said that rather than complying with the Russians’ request, we should tell them, “We fly anywhere we want to, when and how we want to, and you’d better stay out of the way.” Which sounds more like something one toddler would say to another than how seasoned diplomats should communicate.

This kind of provocation, if he really meant what he said, is reckless and dangerous. But it’s not unique among the men in charge of militaries. No doubt Vladimir Putin’s actions are being fueled by a similar level of testosterone (including his habit of posing shirtless).

Defenders of General Caslen and Senator McCain may argue that testosterone is vital to producing a combat-ready military, and that it makes men better fighters. Maybe. But female pilots and soldiers seem to do just fine with the amount they have.

I’ve personally seen examples of testosterone doing more harm than good. During my time in the navy I witnessed many promotions, happy occasions that should be celebrated with congratulatory handshakes but inexplicably involve a gauntlet of punches to the upper arm (where the new rank chevrons are worn). It wasn’t unheard of for a sailor to sustain pain and bruises so severe, they interfered with his ability to perform his duties.

Worst of all is the tradition of “blood wings” or “blood pinning,” where a newly-minted paratrooper receives his insignia by having the sharp pins of the new badge pounded into his chest muscle by his colleagues. This is considered an honor and a rite of passage.

Must we be content with a “boys will be boys,” philosophy, even when applied to people who should have become men long ago? I don’t think so. We need more women in the ranks and at the top, because the fairer sex seems less susceptible to hormonal fluctuations. Let that sink in for a while.

Marriage for Millennia

During arguments about gay marriage before the Supreme Court today, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the definition of marriage “has been with us for millennia.” Later in the proceedings, Justice Antonin Scalia borrowed the phrase and noted that marriage has meant a man and a woman “for millennia.”

These allegedly ‘best and brightest’ legal minds in the country, both graduates of Harvard Law School, sat on their bench high above the crowd and argued against gay marriage by saying “this is how it’s always been.”

As arguments go, this one comes just before “but all the other kids were doing it” on the list of Worst Reasons Ever for making a particular decision. And in this case, it’s not even accurate.

Marriage as we know it today looks nothing like marriage “for millennia.” The justices could use a quick tutorial.

A favorite example of conservatives, “Biblical marriage,” is a good place to start. The first marriage we see up close in the Bible comes in Genesis, when we meet Abraham and Sarah. Alas, Sarah can’t get pregnant so she offers her maid Hagar to her husband and he willingly beds and impregnates her. Is this an example of traditional marriage to which we should all aspire?

In the Old Testament, polygyny (one man and more than one wife) was common, and in fact was a practical response to female infertility, short lifespans, and unexpected changes to family structure (Deuteronomy 25:5 requires a brother to marry his deceased brother’s wife if she has no sons, keeping her in the family).

Notice a theme? Women were at best breeding machines, and at worst, property to be reluctantly maintained until death. For much of human history, females spent their whole lives as someone’s property, first their father’s and later their husband’s (and if the husband died, God forbid, they were at the mercy of their in-laws).

This is still the case in many societies today, with tragic but predictable side effects like infanticide of female babies and arranged marriages of girls barely in their teens.

For millennia, marriage was less about a relationship between two people than about the transfer of property from one family to another. The rich and royal got married to join kingdoms, create heirs, and form political alliances. For rich commoners, marriage was a way to merge families, real estate, and wealth.

Even for poor or middle class people, the institution of marriage existed for mostly practical reasons – running a farm or a small business was easier when two people worked on the chores. Lots of men never learned domestic skills and until recently women couldn’t earn money outside the home, so marrying was just a way of getting by in life.

Marriage has changed a lot in the last several thousand years, and mostly for the better. One of the best advancements in modern, Western marriage has been the introduction of choice and consent of the parties involved. Most Americans don’t believe that women should be forced to marry against their wills, or that marriages should be arranged by extended families.

Today, we fall in love and we are free to choose our mates. We willingly enter binding contracts where both parties make equal, life-long commitments to each other. This is absolutely not the way it’s always been, but it is the way it should be from now on.

Let’s hope Ruth Bader Ginsberg will enlighten Scalia over a nice bottle of Chianti.

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Everything’s Bigger in Texas

As the nation’s second largest state by geography (only Alaska is larger) and second largest by population (thanks to California), Texas is all about big. Belt buckles are huge. The sky goes on forever. Longhorns sport, well, long horns.

Also big in Texas: The GOP and GOD. Republicans control all statewide offices, both houses in the state legislature, and make up most of the state’s congressional delegation. Religion is also a pretty big deal in the Lone Star State. Several of America’s biggest megachurches are in Texas, and the city of Lubbock has more churches per capita than anywhere else in the US.

But what is even bigger in Texas? Hypocrisy.

How else to explain the heartbreakingly heartless response to the current humanitarian crisis / tiny illegal immigrant infestation (depending on your point of view)?

About 52,000 minors have crossed our country’s southern border since October 2013, and 75% of them are from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (countries where gangs, drug crimes and murder make life perilous for everyone, including young children). The kids arriving in Texas have risked everything and survived an extremely dangerous journey. Only unimaginable violence and desperation at home could drive reasonable people to send their children on such a trip.

It’s no surprise that these families seek mercy and compassion at the border. After all, when children arrive at the front door of Texas, they arrive in a very religious state in our most religious region (the Evangelical Protestant Bible Belt), which is governed overwhelmingly by our most religious political party (89% of Republicans identify as religious; 76% as Christian).

And yet, when these tired, poor, huddled masses of children arrived on the Texas doorstep, how did a few Republican leaders respond?

Republican Congressman Raul Labrador: “Deport these families, these children…I know it sounds harsh, I know it sounds difficult.”

Yes, it sure does. We agree on that.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham: “We have to send them back, because if you don’t you’re going to incentivize people throughout that part of the world to keep sending their children here.”

 Really, Senator? Do you seriously believe it’s so desirable for parents to send their children on life-threatening journeys and maybe never see them again, just because US citizenship sounds so peachy? Have you ever met an actual parent? And would you honestly send the children back into the hell from which they barely escaped?

Republican Representative Tom Cole: “We are essentially incentivizing the flow of this population by not returning the unaccompanied juveniles to their countries of origins quickly.” He then went on to complain that some children are being sent from the overcrowded Texas facilities to temporary shelters in his home state of Oklahoma (which is also in the Bible Belt; 88% of Oklahomans call themselves religious – 82% are Christian).

 Gosh, Congressman, it’s a shame that anyone in Oklahoma might be inconvenienced just so a few thousand kids don’t have to sleep on a concrete floor, crammed in overcrowded cells while they await immigration hearings. 

In such a “Christian” land, all of this begs the obvious question and calls to mind a popular bumper sticker: “What Would Jesus Do?”

I don’t claim to know. But I do know this: if God did decide to test us – to challenge the faith of the Bible Belt, to see how Christians practice the “love your neighbor like yourself” (Mark 12:31) command when the chips are down, He couldn’t have devised a more straightforward exam.

Into the territory of His most ardent followers, He delivered thousands of innocent, frightened, hungry, needy children. They are alone in a strange land where they don’t speak the language, have no resources, and in some cases have no family. We are a prosperous nation with plenty of land and resources, despite many competing budget obligations. And what’s more important than helping “the least of these, my brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25:40)?

So…what will be the biggest, most Texas-like outcome from this story?

It may take some Texas-sized ideas to find solutions for these children, to ensure the best outcome for them. Indeed, we may have to write some Texas-sized checks in order to make that happen. Will our religious nation step up to that plate? Do American Christians remember anything Jesus said about giving?*

Or will hypocrisy remain the biggest thing in Texas?

*Hint: it’s in Luke 3:11 “He answers and said to them, He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise.”

Mike Huckabee’s Medication Morality

Did you hear what Mike Huckabee said at the annual meeting of the Republican National Committee last week?

Paraphrasing his words can’t make them more palatable, so here they are, unfiltered:

 “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

First of all, can anyone point to a Democrat anywhere (or a Republican other than Mike Huckabee himself) who’s actually said anything close to that?  This was ground-breakingly creepy!

Next, does he realize that women’s libidos and reproductive systems wouldn’t actually need birth control if not for men?

And can this mean that he supports marriage equality, because gay and lesbian couples don’t need birth control to avoid unintended pregnancies? What a bargain for Uncle Sugar!

Who the heck is Uncle Sugar anyway – it sounds like the name of a rock band made up of dirty old men.  Again, creepy.

120228_rush_santorum_ap_328After unpacking the layers of crazy, misogynistic, non-ecologically sound Styrofoam peanuts surrounding his intent, I’m left with this nugget of truth: Mike Huckabee believes birth control is immoral.  He’s not alone in this belief:  Presidential candidate Rick Santorum said plainly that contraceptives are “not OK” and are “counter to how things are supposed to be,” while radio host Rush Limbaugh called a woman a “slut” for suggesting that contraceptives should be included in a comprehensive package of health services at her university.  

Just for kicks, I’ll get on this crazy train.  Let’s go for a ride.

mothers-day-ended-my-marriage

Libido under control – thanks, Mike Huckabee!

Let’s agree that some medications become unnecessary with certain behavior changes.  Putting aside the other health benefits of birth control pills (reduced risk of anemia, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer, treatment of endometriosis, treatment of PMS and painful and irregular periods, to name just a few), you don’t need them to prevent pregnancy if you aren’t sexually active.  Perhaps this kind of behavior modification would not make for happier marriages, but it would give poor “Uncle Sugar” a break from providing all those pesky pills.  Problem solved.

That was easy!  Let’s apply the same logic to other expensive and potentially unnecessary drugs.

Who doesn't love kale?

Who doesn’t love kale?

Consider cholesterol-lowering statins.  They are the second-most prescribed drug in the US, with 94.1 million prescriptions annually. That’s almost as many people as were previously having sex, before Mike Huckabee’s helpful directive to control their libidos (oh, wait, that was only for women).  Cholesterol can be significantly reduced with a regimen of exercise and diet.  Good news, statin-takers!  If you weren’t already pulling your hair out from your recent commitment to abstinence, you’ll be happy to be distracted by 6 a.m. “cross fit” workouts and kale smoothies.

Note to people with Type 2 Diabetes: you’re next with the exercise and the kale.  Insulin is for the undisciplined.

They will pay for all this fun...

They will pay for all this fun…

Uncle Sugar is also sick and tired of providing chemotherapy to cancer patients who brought this on themselves (you know who you are, you sunbathers, smokers, and alcoholics!).  Unlike birth control pills, chemotherapy offers no side benefits at all and is actually poison, so patients should be happier without treatment.  Next time, use sunscreen and cut back on the gin.  Tell your friends.

We can even reduce our dependence on the most widely prescribed drug in the country, hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen (131.2 million prescriptions!).  This drug is prescribed for people with “moderate to severe pain,” to which Uncle Sugar must surely ask – have we become a nation of wussies?  Americans who care about freedom and liberty do not need to suck on the teat of hydrocodone.  To victims of car accidents, retirees from physically demanding careers, and veterans returning with war injuries, Uncle Sugar says, “You should have been more careful!”  Rub some dirt on it.  If all else fails, take the American flag that hangs on your front porch and bite down on the stick until you forget about your pain.

veteran in pain

Did you enjoy this trip into the heart of Mike Huckabee’s America, where no one has sex (well, married couples can have it 2.3 times to produce the average number of children per family), everyone exercises and eats right, and no one drinks or smokes?  Uncle Sugar, happily relieved of his birth control oversight duties, can go lie on a beach somewhere.  I hope he wears sunscreen because no one will feel sorry for him if a mole starts to look weird.

We will never be perfect enough to not need modern medicine – all the superb pharmaceuticals we’ve created help us live comfortably with the various conditions and health ailments we all get.  Maybe we deserve them, maybe we don’t, but who’s to say?  Someone may judge me for the choices I make, but I sure don’t need it to be Mike Huckabee.

Or Uncle Sugar.  I have a sneaky suspicion he’s been helping himself to Viagra.

creepy uncle sam