King Donnie the Deplorable Puts On a Show

Mao Zedong, formerly known to most of us as Mao Tse-Tung, was known to the Chinese people as Chairman Mao, but also as the Great Leader, the Great Teacher and the Great Helmsman, among other appellations. Next to Mao, North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il seems rather modest. Hitler was officially known as Führer und Reichskanzler (“Leader and Chancellor of the Reich”). Mussolini was informally known as il Duce (the Leader). 

In the New York City tabloids, the Orange Menace used to be known as The Donald. Perhaps he’s satisfied now with simply being the President, the Commander-in-Chief  and (with due sarcasm) the Leader of the Free World. But if today’s meeting of the cabinet offers a clue, there’s at least a Blessed Leader or Master of All He Surveys in his (and our) future.

According to White House reporter John Harwood of CNBC, the President opened the proceedings just how you’d expect:

He began with an opening statement laced with the sort of wild, self-congratulatory boasts that are his trademark. 

“Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things,” Trump declared, even though Congress, which is controlled by his party, hasn’t passed any major legislation.

He hailed his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history,” even though he hasn’t proposed a plan and Congress hasn’t acted on one. He said “no one would have believed” his election could have created so many new jobs over the past seven months (1.1 million), even though more jobs (1.3 million) were created in the previous seven months.

Typically, a president’s initial comments mark the end of on-camera coverage of White House Cabinet meetings, with administration aides then escorting members of the small press “pool” out of the room. But Trump invited reporters to remain as he called on his senior-most advisers to “go around, name your position” and say a few words about the administration’s work.

Later, on Twitter, Harwood wrote: “In covering [the White House] over 4 decades, I’ve never seen a [President of the US] elicit flattery from aides like Trump today”.

According to The Washington Post:

… White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke up to thank Trump “for the opportunity and blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Priebus said he was offering words on behalf of everyone in the room. But one by one, pretty much everyone else seated around the table took the opportunity to lavish their leader with praise, too, as the media looked on.

“It’s an honor to be able to serve you,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I am privileged to be here,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “Deeply honored.”

“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership,” Tom Price, secretary of that department, added when it was his turn to speak. “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Brian Beutler of The New Republic described it a more subjectively:

[He] assembled his entire cabinet at the White House on Monday, and, in a display of dominance and humiliation like none I’ve seen in an advanced democracy, invited everyone in attendance to go around the table praising Dear Leader before the press corps. The whole creepy-bordering-on-obscene spectacle lasted about 11 minutes.

[A video of the entire 11 minutes is provided]

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao looks like she’s been taken hostage, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (the only one who didn’t essentially swear loyalty to Trump) is clearly pissed, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sounds desperate to keep his job (reportedly, he is). 

It’s been clear for years that everyone who agrees to work for Trump eventually abases themselves, but it usually isn’t as plain as it is here, with multiple supplicants surrounding him, essentially being ordered to humiliate themselves.

Remember how King Lear begins? The old guy meets his daughters and asks “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Goneril goes first:

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare…

Cordelia doesn’t have much to say, but Regan does:

I profess myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.

Of course, Lear proceeds to lose his mind and eventually drops dead from all the stress he’s endured. If only life in Washington was that simple.

We Don’t Torture Them Now – We Kill Them Instead

American insanity isn’t limited to Republicans or Republican-sympathizers, of course. For example, President Obama may have curtailed our use of torture, but he’s expanded our use of drones. From The Atlantic:

A report from the CIA’s inspector general [in 2004] had raised the possibility that the CIA’s interrogation techniques violated the UN Convention Against Torture, and that individual officers might be liable for criminal prosecution. That torture report … “was perhaps the single most important reason for the C.I.A.’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects.”

The difficulty in keeping terrorism suspects locked up indefinitely without access to the regular judicial system gave our government an additional reason to kill them instead of capturing them. The result has been more drone attacks:

Though the U.S. drone war started under Bush …, Obama has ramped it up considerably in his half-decade in office. [According to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, Obama] has authorized over nine times as many strikes as his predecessor… Estimates of the precise number of fatalities in those operations range widely; Zenko’s own tally, based on reporting from non-governmental research organizations, puts the rough death toll at around 3,500 people. These include an unknown number of civilian casualties believed by independent researchers to number at least in the hundreds….Tuesday’s report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, lists 119 terror suspects known to have been detained by the CIA, of whom “at least 39 were subject to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques”….

But despite the vast disparity in the numbers of people abused through the CIA’s detention program versus killed by drones, there has been no official accounting of the latter program on par with the torture report released this week. “[Those] normally interested in upholding human rights ideals and promoting transparency (generally Democrats) simply will not investigate their own,” Zenko explained. “And as I’ve pointed out, in every public opinion poll … Americans are more comfortable killing suspected terrorists than torturing them.”

As Andrea Tartaros of Fox News said the other day, “We are awesome!”.

Insanity, Parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, …

You could make a list: the Declaration of Independence and most of the Bill of Rights; the electric light bulb and the Model T; the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Marshall Plan; Citizen Kane and “Good Vibrations”. The Apollo program. The personal computer and the Internet. Where would bloggers be without those?

We Americans have done some very good things. No doubt we’ll do many more, considering that there are almost 320 million of us now.

Still, the first entry on this blog, back in July 2012, was “Insanity”. I wrote it a few days after the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado (12 dead, 58 wounded). Since then, according to the statistics, my most frequent topics have been “America” and “Republicans”. Insanity has been a continuing theme.

It strikes me now that I might as well stop writing about how screwed up this country is. It’s like beating a dead prisoner.

Too often, we’ve been brutal and greedy, fearful and stupid. 

And it isn’t that we’ve simply had bad leaders now and then. Many of us have been in favor of slavery and genocide and showing those foreign bastards who’s boss. Today, an amazing number of Americans think racist cops are heroes, torture is justified, global warming is a hoax and the Rapture is coming any day now. For crying out loud, in 2004, a majority of American voters decided to give Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld four more years!

Maybe reading about Ferguson, “I can’t breathe”, the lowest turnout in 72 years, Boehner and McConnell, the CIA, the rapacious rich and the incessant shrinking of the middle class have merely put me in a temporary funk. But it’s hard to deny that there is something seriously wrong with America and many Americans. 

Rather than filling this blog every day with the latest outrage, I could add a sentence or two to every post: “BTW, America is still screwed up and not getting better. Please vote and, if you call yourself a Christian, try acting like one”.

Or maybe I can focus on things we could do to make things better. In that spirit, here’s what Senator Bernie Sanders called for recently. He wants to make Election Day a national holiday, amend the constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, and institute public funding of political campaigns. But he knows that none of that will happen unless more of us vote:

For those of us who believe in a vibrant democracy with an engaged and well-informed electorate, we have a lot of work ahead. Sadly, in the year 2014, we must still convince the American people about the relevance of government to their lives.

We must convince young people that if they vote in large numbers, we can lower the 20% real unemployment they are experiencing with a major jobs program. We must convince students that if they participate in the political process, we can lower the outrageously high student debt they face. We must convince low-income workers that voting can raise the national minimum wage to a real living wage. We must convince seniors that not only can we prevent cuts to Social Security – we can expand the paltry benefits that so many are forced to live on. We must convince the millions of Americans who are deeply worried about climate change that political participation can transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy – and create millions of jobs.

Throughout American history, people have fought and died to protect our democracy and set an example for other nations. In these very difficult times, we cannot turn our backs on them.

Well, actually, we can. But if we choose not to, how do we go about convincing more people that it’s worth being part of a “well-informed and engaged electorate”, while convincing many of our fellow citizens to give up their benighted political, economic and social beliefs? I really don’t know.

Stupid Remarks Continue to Offend and Entertain

We who make, report, attack or defend stupid remarks have helped make the Internet what it is today, whatever that is. As my 160 (!) followers would attest, I’ve made my own tiny contribution to this ongoing effort. That is, they would attest if any of them actually read the stuff I painstakingly write here at WOCS. (Unfortunately, Internet statistics don’t lie.)

Furthermore, I promise to keep contributing as long as Republicans keep talking.

Keeping with this practice, although in a relatively non-political vein, I’m now going to discuss a few stupid remarks that have recently been reported, criticized and even defended.

First, it’s hardly worth noting that someone on FOX TV said that Santa Claus is white and Jesus was too. As a friend recently pointed out, saying things like that is what people on FOX do for a living. What was more remarkable was the story about a New Mexico high school teacher who criticized a black student’s decision to dress up as Santa Claus, implying that it would have been better if he had dressed up as an elf, reindeer or candy cane. 

According to the school district, the teacher apologized and was placed on “administrative leave”, so there is some truth to this story. Even though the student was deeply embarrassed, I hope the teacher was making a joke (the kind of jocular remark colloquially known in some quarters as “breaking balls”, as in “Hey, Ralph, don’t you know Santa Claus was white!” “No, I thought he was Italian.” “Boom!”). If the teacher wasn’t trying to be funny, we’d have to conclude that yet another education professional has lost his or her mind.

Another recent controversy involves a person with a very long beard who is part of a TV show called “Duck Dynasty”. He got into trouble when he said that it’s more logical for a man to want to put his penis in a vagina than in another man’s butt, suggesting that vaginal intercourse should be more pleasurable for a man than gay anal intercourse. He added, in an apparent attempt at explanation, that sin (in this case, gay sex) isn’t logical. It seems clear from the context that he wasn’t joking.

Now, it isn’t surprising that this person believes gay sex is sinful. Lots of misguided people believe that and say it all the time, even people who aren’t on FOX or in Congress. Nor is it interesting that he thinks sin is illogical. After all, if there are such things as sins, you could wind up in Hell by committing one (that, as Randy Newman once sang, would put you in a terrible position).

What I thought was interesting about this particular stupid remark was that the speaker may misunderstand evolution (even though he apparently spends a lot of time outdoors). It does make sense that vaginal intercourse is pleasurable for both men and women, because men and women who enjoy it tend to have children who will enjoy it too (and so on, and so on, until the nth generation). But that’s no reason to think that a person with a penis might not get a lot of pleasure, and even more pleasure, from putting it somewhere else or doing something else with it. Behavior evolves because it contributes to the survival of one’s offspring, not because it’s more pleasurable than other behavior. People on TV should grasp standard biological principles like this.

A third stupid remark hasn’t received much attention, so far as I know. But it’s also interesting in a way. A woman who works for a “leading internet and media company” sent this out on Twitter yesterday: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” In this case, the speaker claimed to be making a joke.

When I read about this, I had the impression I’d heard the joke before. Then I remembered watching a video of Sarah Silverman telling a similar joke at a benefit concert:  “Last month I did two benefits. One was for AIDS… It was great, but tonight’s benefit is going to be better. I won’t have to worry about who I hook up with. (pause) That’s terrible! (pause) WHOM I hook up with!”. She got a very big laugh.

What would the reaction have been if it was funny Sarah Silverman who tweeted the Africa AIDS remark? People on Twitter might have thought it wasn’t up to her usual comedic standards instead of calling her a stupid racist. I wonder if Justine Sacco’s co-workers in the London office of IAC thought her tweet was yet another example of Justine being her wild and crazy self (as when, earlier this year, she tweeted “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?”).

It’s doubtful, but perhaps Justine Sacco goes to Africa on her vacation every year to work with AIDS patients. But, so far as most of us are concerned, she might as well be a talking, albeit insensitive, dog (ok, I’ve finished writing this post, will someone take me for a walk now?).

Breaking news update!!! Steve Martin has apologized for tweeting a lame joke about the African-American spelling of “lasagna” yesterday. Communication continues to be a dangerous thing, even for talented communicators. (The TMZ site, by the way, actually labeled this story BREAKING NEWS.)

Woof, woof!

nYdog

The Fire This Time

la-na-tt-republicans-blame-obama-20131006-001

More from political cartoonist David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times here:

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-republicans-blame-obama-20131006,0,2739790.story

Jonathan Chait’s conclusion to a thoughtful article in New York magazine:

In our Founders’ defense, it’s hard to design any political system strong enough to withstand a party as ideologically radical and epistemically closed as the contemporary GOP. (Its proximate casus belli—forestalling the onset of universal health insurance—is alien to every other major conservative party in the industrialized world.) The tea-party insurgents turn out to be right that the Obama era has seen a fundamental challenge to the constitutional order of American government. They were wrong about who was waging it.

http://nymag.com/news/politics/nationalinterest/government-shutdown-2013-10/

The Bogus IRS Scandal, with Biblical Commentary

The new director of the IRS has issued a report and provided documentation showing that the IRS targeted a number of groups for special attention based on their names. Among them were groups whose names included the words “Occupy”, “Progressive” and “Israel”, not just “Tea Party” or “Patriots”, as previously reported.

Some right-wingers, who love seeing themselves as victims, claim that this is the biggest political scandal since Watergate. Where do these people come from?

For relevant political commentary:

“I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, New Revised Standard Version)

Or:

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” (King James Bible)

You said it, brother!

http://www.salon.com/2013/06/24/irs_chief_tea_party_wasnt_ the_only_group_inappropriately_targeted_ap/