The danger for Democrats in being ‘ideologically pure’

[Illustration by Georgia Democrats, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

I want to tell you about my mom. She’s the main reason that I’m the outspoken progressive that I am.

Mom been gone for about six years now. She was an advocate for gay rights. She was one of the first people I knew who openly embraced people with HIV in the late 80s. She was pro-immigration. She supported universal health care and public education. She believed in equal pay for women and fought for it her whole life. She was pro-union. She supported left-wing candidates for as long as I knew her.

But there are two other things that you should know about her. She was very anti-abortion, a result of her strong Catholic faith. And she was Canadian and lived in Canada her entire life. Which means that she was never ostracized for her abortion position by other liberals. There was no ideological purity test that you had to vote a straight ticket on every issue of importance for liberals or socialists. That’s just the way it works in Canada.

I’m not so sure my mom would have been so accepted by liberal Democrats in America. And that’s a problem. Not just because it was my mom, but because the dangers of being ideologically pure were on full display last week. The vexed party in this case was the GOP. The major reason the GOP was unable to enact its destructive ‘Trumpcare’ version of health care was that for a group of about 30 Republicans, better known by the misleading name of “The Freedom Caucus,” being ideologically pure was more important than actually governing.

And while I’m personally very glad that the healthcare plan went down in flames, there is a cautionary tale in this failure for Democrats – beware of ideological purity for that way destruction lies.

In opposition, it’s easy to agree with each other and have everybody sing from the same political hymn book. But governing is a whole different animal. Effective governing involves compromise and bipartisanship, especially in the American political system.

The same is true of being an effective political party. If the Democrats want to be the party of women, African-Americans, Latinos, Millennials, Baby Boomers, environmentalists, AND blue-collar whites, that’s going to require some compromise. While there are a lot of issues that all these groups can agree on, there will be disagreements.

If they want to be successful, the Democrats must make room for those disagreements. The leadership, as well as ‘rank and file’ party members, need to listen and respond appropriately. If the Democrats make ideological purity a pre-condition of being a Democrat, then they will fall into the same kind of trap the GOP set for itself.

It’s an exciting time to be a Democrat. A vibrant grassroots movement has sprung up since last November 8 and the election of Donald Trump. Borrowing from the ideas of the conservative Tea Party movement, the Indivisible movement is quickly turning into a real player in American politics.

And that movement is flexing its muscles. It played a role in convincing many moderate GOP members to say they couldn’t vote for Trumpcare. (One GOP rep told a cable news network that the calls were running 1000 to 1 against the bill in his office.) And that effort needs to continue. But Indivisible also needs to be smart about its goals and objectives. It not only needs a view of what’s happening right now, but also a “view from 30,000 feet” as a friend used to say.

If Indivisible borrows too much from the Tea Party playbook, Democrats will end up in the same kind of internally divided boat as the GOP. And I’m not just talking about when they return to power, I’m talking about right now.

GOP factions forgot how to listen to each other. And a significant section of the party came to believe that ideology was more important than doing what many members thought was best for the country.

If Democrats want to be an effective party right now, they must not repeat this fatal mistake. Just because they may not agree on everything, they can still work together to find compromises and move this country forward.

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Trump’s climate change changes really don’t matter

About 41% of the current 250,000 people employed by the solar industry work in installation.

By Tom Regan

My grandfather had a saying that he would use every time I did something too late to have any effect.

“You closed the barn door after the horse was already out past the gate.”

I thought of that saying this morning as I read about President Donald Trump’s plans to undo the climate change regulations that his predecessor Barack Obama had put into place to fight climate change, especially in the late stages of his administration. It’s fair to say that Trump hates Obama so much he will go to any length (or try to, though often not successfully, as we just saw with his Trumpcare debacle) to sabotage anything that Obama did. Trump wants nothing left of the Obama “legacy” by the time he leaves office.

But I’m afraid that on climate change that horse is already out past the gate and despite Trump’s best attempts, he won’t be able to get it back in the barn. While his latest actions will slow down the effects of some of the later regulations that Obama put into place, and cause some headaches for the Paris Treaty on climate change, the United States (like much of the world) is already moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil and more quickly towards solar, wind and natural gas.

Trump officials say the reason that he is wiping out the Obama era regulations is his desire to make America ‘energy independent’ and help coal miners in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia who carried him to the presidency.

This is, however, only so much hot air. America is already well on its way to energy independence. And broader economic trends have already spelled the end of the line for coal. Robert Murray, the head of the largest privately held coal mining company in the US told the Guardian this week that coal jobs aren’t coming back, regardless of what Trump promises. Murray says the jobs have been lost to competition and technology, not regulations. Also, many of the changes that Trump wants to make will take years to put into place and will make little difference in the end.

Here is what will, and is, making a difference. In less than a week, Elon Musk will start taking orders for his solar roof shingles. They are expected to be tougher than regular shingles but cost less. Along with his Powerwall 2, Musk wants to make renewable energy available to every home. Meanwhile, Amazon has announced that it will cover 15 massive warehouses around the US with rooftop solar panels, generating as much as 80% of each facility’s annual energy needs. And where Amazon goes, others will follow.

As it is, solar power currently employs twice as many people in the United States as does coal and slightly more than natural gas. And here’s the thing. Many of those solar jobs are in installation. They are exactly the kind of jobs that many coal miners or other blue collar workers could be easily retrained to do. If Trump really wanted to create more jobs, he would be continuing Obama’s actions, not trying to blow them up.

[Care of the Solar Foundation]

Or take the better fuel efficiency standards for cars and lighter trucks that the Trump administration says it wants to “review.” Again, the horse is well out of the barn. Turns out Americans like driving cars that give them more miles to the gallon. And the two states that have the most drivers – California and New York – have sworn to fight the Trump administration on just about everything (about an hour after Trump took office on January 20th, California’s air regulators released a plan to cut emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). California says it has every intention of continuing its plan to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2015. And seven days ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $70 million electric car rebate. Eligible buyers would get a $2000 rebate.

And that’s not even examining what’s happening with wind or natural gas.

Once again, as is his way, Trump is grabbing the axe by the wrong end. His actions show little foresight and worse planning. It’s like he is only talking to his billionaire buddies who show up to play golf at Mar El Lago on the weekends and who complain to him about the problems of the 1%.

In the end, Obama’s legacy of starting to move this country down the road of renewable energy in order to help prevent climate change will long outlive any ham-handed attempt by Trump to kill it.

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Little difference between London and New York terrorist attacks

Attacks in London and New York were both terrorist incidents. [Photo by Ben Rowe, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

On Wednesday there was a “lone wolf” terrorist attack in London. Four people, including a police officer and the attacker, were killed. Late on Monday, there was also a “lone wolf” terrorist attack in New York. A 28-year old white man named James Harris Jackson, a military veteran, started roaming the streets of the city looking to kill black men. He proceeded to attack and kill Timothy Caughman, a black man he had never met before. After the killing, he looked for more victims but says something “spooked” him and he hid in his New York hotel room instead until he surrendered to police Wednesday.

Both attacks were done by men who, while acting alone, identified with groups who promote a violent agenda. Both men deliberately choose to commit their terrorism to attract as much media attention as possible. Jackson admitted that he came to kill black men in New York because it’s the “media capital” of the world and he wanted ”to send a message.” The London attacker, who has not been identified yet, was “inspired by international terrorism” according to police reports (as in ISIS) and obviously choose London and Parliament because it would attract the most media attention. Both men wanted to start a “war.” The London attacker is part of ISIS’s attempt to start a war between the West and Islam. James Jackson said, like Dylan Roof who killed nine Africans-Americans in Charleston in June 2015, that he wanted his actions to inspire a war between blacks and whites in America.

Looking specifically at the New York attack, it can be seen as part of a consistent uptick in hate-related crimes since the start of Donald Trump’s campaign for president. While Trump has not made an overt racist comment during the 2016 campaign and election, or during his short-term as president, his reluctance to condemn outpourings of support from white-supremacist, racist, and neo-Nazi groups has acted like a dog whistle to these groups, who see this reluctance as an invitation to be more open with their often violent hatred and bigotry towards Muslims, Jews, Hispanics and African-Americans.

As well, Trump’s hesitation in condemning recent attacks against Jewish cemeteries and community centers, or the murder of a visiting Indian engineer who was mistaken by a racist attacker for a Muslim, has also led leaders of these targeted communities to question Trump’s motives. Some have been quite specific. Steve Goldstein, head of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said Trump “quacks, walks and talks like an anti-Semite. That makes him an anti-Semite.”

Where this becomes a problem is in how Trump deals with hate-crime terrorism in the United States, because make no mistake, these attacks are designed to terrorize a community as much as yesterday’s London attack was. It must have been more than a bit disturbing for members of these minority communities to read the report from the Reuters news agency in early February that the Trump administration “wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism.” This deliberately ignores the reality of frequently deadly violence directed towards minorities in the United States by people who adhere to a white supremacist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic ideology.

Donald Trump needs to be president for all Americans, not just his hard-core supporters. He needs to denounce these white supremacist terrorist groups as much as he denounces the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. Until he does that millions of his fellow countrymen will be concerned that they may be violently attacked, not by Islamist terrorists, but by Americans who do not like the color of their skin or their personal religious beliefs.

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Why jobs Trump promised aren’t coming back

Cleveland’s now deserted industrial flats. The kind of jobs that once kept these businesses in operation are not coming back to the US, despite President Trump’s promises. [Photo by Lisa Chamberlain, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

If you want to know why I don’t believe that manufacturing jobs will be returning to the United States as President Trump promised in his election campaign – at least not the kind of manufacturing jobs that once existed in this country – then you need to travel back with me 20 or so years to the Harvard Business School.

Back then I had the chance to sit in on an entire course taught on the Ethics of Business. What I witnessed was fascinating.

The main argument in the class almost always boiled down to duty to shareholders. The professor would offer up example after example of a possible ethical conflict and in the end, the class would invariably break down into two groups: Those who felt that businesses had an ethical duty to society at large and those who felt the only duty was to shareholders and what was necessary to make them happy. This latter group was by far the much larger group and were often identified by the little shark stickers they would place on their cardboard name cards.

I think of that group to this day. By now, they are all in their late-40s and no doubt running business across America. And many of those businesses have probably dramatically changed their manufacturing processes. Some have outsourced their work to China or Taiwan or Thailand or Mexico. Many others have used technology and robots to improve the way they make their cars, air conditioners or tractors for example.

Making those cars or air conditioners or tractors are the jobs that are no longer available to many of the people who supported Donald Trump, the jobs he promised to bring back to help make America great…again. Recently I wrote about how technology is the main reason for the decline of these older forms of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Studies have shown that up to 87% of American manufacturing jobs have been lost to technological innovation while only 13% have been lost to trade or companies outsourcing their work to other countries. A recent McKinsey report showed that by 2050 almost 50% of current American jobs in all industries will be replaced by some form of technology.

I deliberately wrote “older forms of manufacturing jobs” because the jobs themselves have not been lost, they just changed. In September 2016 there were more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States. But almost all required advanced education or training.

All these factors taken together show why these jobs aren’t coming back despite Trump’s promises. The first duty of publicly owned companies is to their shareholders, not to the “American people.” Much has been made of Donald Trump’s background as a billionaire businessman, so he knows how true this is. Even companies like Carrier and its parent company United Technologies, which did agreed to keep some jobs in the United States after being pressured by Trump, is still outsourcing an even greater number of jobs to Mexico because this will reduce costs and make shareholders happy.

Then there’s technology. Many people currently left unemployed by changes in the economy could find work again if they were willing to get that additional education or training. The truth is, however, many of these people just don’t want to do that. They want their old jobs back and really don’t want to deal with the fact that that’s not going to happen. In fact some industry experts have said that even if Trump did bring some of the jobs back to the United States, they would then be lost to technology.

Even more daunting is that McKinsey prediction because we are doing such a poor job right now of preparing young people for the future. A high school education will literally get you little more than a burger flipping job. Once it might have gotten you a good job driving a truck or a taxi but with driverless cars and trucks only a decade away from being an everyday reality that no longer holds true. Even burger flipping might be taken over by robots.

No, the jobs aren’t coming back, one at least not in their old form. Unfortunately, this will probably make people even angrier than they are now. What President Trump needs to be doing is what President Obama was trying to do and that is promote education at all levels and helping people understand that without that education they face a bleak, probably jobless, future.

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The myth of ‘Middle America’ values

The values of hard-work, creativity, innovation and inspiration can be found as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. [Photo ‘Field of Gold’ by Nicholas Henderson, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

There is a myth that circulates in the media of this country, particularly among talking heads on cable news channels and frequently on the opinion pages of newspapers. The myth goes something like this: “real” American values can only be found in Middle America (what is sometimes called fly-over country). The kind of values that you find on the two coasts really don’t represent ‘real’ America.

I’m sure you’ve all heard various versions of this myth. God-fearing, patriotic (as in football loving, flyover, flag-waving exhibitions), blue-collar, family-oriented etc. etc. it’s been around for as long as I can remember and the recent election of Donald Trump has only enhanced its status as a myth since many people see this is the constituency that elected Donald Trump.

Well, this myth is only so much nonsense. In fact I would argue that the opposite is true; these are not the real American values. In some ways are almost anti-American values not because of what they claim on the surface but because of what lurks underneath. And what lurks underneath is too often in fact anathema to “real” American values.

From the beginning of this country Americans have challenged the status quo. The very founding of the country, an act of rebellion against a world superpower, set the tone for the coming decades. While it took a while for Americans to find their footing and their place among the citizens of the world, once they did they never looked back.

The result is an almost unparalleled story of innovation, creativity, and inspiration in more fields than can be imagined including art, medicine, science, music, law, education, film, and a hard-working entrepreneurial spirit that literally changed the world. And all this accomplished while accepting wave after wave of new immigrants who, while viewed with suspicion and alarm at first, grew into the very best of what America is all about and often became the leaders in the fields mentioned above.

This, to me, represents real American values. And they can be found just as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. These are the values that have made America the leader in so many fields for so long.

But that leadership is now threatened by the kind of values represented in that myth of Middle America. Behind all the razzmatazz about God and country and family values lurks fear, suspicion of others, suspicion of progress, a desperate clinging to a world that does not exist anymore, and a refusal to accept the reality of the situation that they face and what needs to be done to change it.

It’s not just that there are many Americans, and they are mostly white and often older, who want the world to go back to “the way it used to be” but knowingly refuse to accept the idea that “the way it used to be” is vanishing. It’s not that the values of God, or country, or family values are out of date, it’s just that they were often a patina that covered over a sense of superiority and entitlement that made too many think the world was their oyster and that they would not have to change as the world changed around them.

It’s always been my personal belief that the greatest thing about America is the idea of America. It’s really what separated it from every other country on the planet. The idea that anybody could be an American no matter where they came from.

And it was those ideas mentioned above of creativity and innovation – and the freedom that they represent – that defined the best in us as a people. Which is why I find the fear and suspicion represented in that myth of Middle America so un-American at heart.

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Prayer space in Canadian public schools a mistake

Canada has had publicly supported religious schools since its founding. But the open practice of religion in public schools has been frowned on by Canadian courts since the mid-1980s. (Above, St. Phillips Elementary Catholic School in Ontario) [Photo by Amir Syed, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

One of the best things about public school in the United States is that religion is left “at the school house gate,” to borrow a phrase from a famous Supreme Court ruling on a different issue.

It’s not quite the same in Canada. There is no “separation of church and state” in Canadian law. Religious schools, in particular publicly supported Catholic schools, have operated in Canada since the country’s founding in 1867. For instance, the province of Ontario supports a Catholic school system. I know because I once attended Corpus Christi school in Ottawa. Right across the street was Mutchmor school, the ”Protestant” school, but basically it was for everyone who wasn’t Catholic. They would call us “Corpus Crispies” and we would chant back they were “Mutch Less.” Such is the nature of how religion brings us together.

There is also public financial support in some form across the country for other religious schools, including Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh.

Canada public schools, however, are like those in the US and openly practicing religion during the school day is frowned upon. At least that what courts in Canada have been saying since the mid-1980s, when the courts ruled that schools cannot conduct religious exercises that favor one denomination. Even voluntary exercises were found to be unconstitutional, as “opting out” can create a stigma for the student who opts out.

It is constitutional to wear expressions of your faith in a public school: a yarmulke if you’re Jewish, a hijab if you’re Muslim, a cross if you’re Catholic. And that is as it should be.

But what about putting aside a space for a group of students so that they can pray during the school day? That’s the question after a school in Brampton, Ontario put aside space for Muslims students to pray on Fridays. This is not the first time this has arisen as a potential issue – in 2012 a public school in Toronto allowed a Muslim Imam to come and talk to students at lunchtime on Fridays.

Both situations are a mistake. If schools are prohibited from holding opt-out religious exercises, then opt-in is also a problem, potentially for the very same reason.

To quote Ed Morgan, a University of Toronto constitutional law expert, who was interviewed about the 2012 conflict, “I think this looks like a school practicing religion. The school may be conveying a message that they endorse religion and that’s what the school is not allowed to do.”

And that’s the way it must be, regardless of the religion. While the Canadian approach to religion in public schools is certainly more open than in the US, this is a road the country does not want to go down. What happens when every religious denomination starts to ask for “accommodation”? Many schools currently refuse to allow parents to pull their children from a class every time something they find questionable is taught – which is as it should be. It’s going to be a lot harder to argue in favor of this rule if you’re giving students from any religion a room to pray in during public school times.

There are numerous publicly supported religious options for school in Canada, where open expressions of religion are welcome. Or before or after school, fine. But the minute the public school day starts, then it’s time for religion to leave.

It’s a particularly hard time for Canadians Muslims. The recent murder of six Muslims in Quebec City and the very public race-baiting tactics of Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch have exacerbated fears in the community. But this is a question that not only affects Muslims, but all Canadians. And if Canada is going to make sure that there is a level-playing field for all people of faith in public schools, then open practices of faith are going to have to be left at that school house gate.

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GOP’s ‘Trumpcare’ CBO meltdown

The CBO’s assessment of the GOP’s Trumpcare is not what they wanted. [Photo by 401kcalculator.org, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

The Congressional Budget Office is a bit like a theatre critic. For the people the most affected by what its officials write, it’s only as good as last its review. If it gives a good review, those officials are loved and praised for being perceptive geniuses. But give a bad review and they’re idiots, always wrong, and don’t know what they’re talking about.

Currently, the Republicans are in full “the CBO is a joke” mode because the assessment of Trumpcare released by the office Tuesday is bad, bad news for the long-term health of the bill. The findings that 24 million additional Americans will be uninsured by 2026 (which is two million lower than the White House’s own estimates according to some reports), that poor Americans are the group most affected and that seniors will pay five times as much for their insurance as they currently pay landed like a grenade.

As a result, the main GOP supporters of the new health care plan started a stylized dance around the assessment in a desperate attempt to discredit it. It’s completely disingenuous, of course, because in 2009 when the previous administration introduced the Affordable Care Act, it was the GOP howling in favor of the CBO’s estimates which at the time helped kill the idea of the single payer option.

Yet for all the negative mud slung at the CBO, it isn’t going to help the bill in the Senate where even Republican members of that chamber showed their dismay at the numbers of uninsured predicted in the assessment. Many of these senators were already skeptical about the chances for Trumpcare, especially those senators in states that had signed on to the Medicare expansion and had subsequently seen dramatic increases in of the number of citizens receiving health care. The additional news that seniors would ultimately see their health care costs rise was another body blow because if there is one block of people who can be counted on to vote, it’s seniors – a fact that all politicians, Republicans in particular, know.

The pro-Trumpcare forces led by House Speaker Paul Ryan are not getting much help from the president who, as he does in most cases, tells whatever group of people he happens to be with whatever they want to hear. There is a report this morning, however, that Trump is willing to move the rollback of Medicare and other changes to the insurance marketplace to 2018 from 2020 to appease hardcore conservative members who just want to totally blowup the Affordable Care Act, and are not happy with the bill as it now stands.

This would practically guarantee failure in the Senate because of the reasons stated above. One needs to ask then if this just becoming an exercise in ‘not my problem.’ It raises the possibility that the GOP is aware that Trumpcare may never pass and elements of the party are looking to blame other parts of the party for its collapse because they can’t blame the Democrats any more for anything.

This would produce widespread panic as failure on such a significant piece of legislation would send the Republicans into a tailspin and make plans for items like tax reform or infrastructure spending that much harder. It would also show people that while the GOP can sing in harmony when in opposition, once in government they cannot overcome the divisions in their own party. Add to that the impending investigation into the Trump administration’s connections with Russia and the exposure of Trump as an unstable, jealous provocateur over his unproven accusations of being wiretapped by Obama, and you’ve got a mess of gigantic proportions not even a year into Trump’s presidency.

Democrats need to be careful how they respond to all this. My advice is for the moment reach for the popcorn, sit back and watch it all unfold in front of them.

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Listening to the opposition… Carefully

It’s hard, but necessary, to hear what the other side is saying. [“The argument” by Kurt Bauschardt, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

One of my oldest friends in the world has become what I would consider a far-right conservative. His opinions on Muslims, liberals, the “left loonies” as he calls them, frequently infuriate me. He’s a big fan of posting links on Facebook from sites that I consider “fake news” that often feature stories that are wildly inaccurate or use grossly out-of-date photos or videos to create negative impression of more recent events. He’s been “unfriended” by many people he has known for a long time who no longer find his views palatable.

But that will never ever happen with me. As much as I sometimes find his views beyond the pale, he has every right in the world to hold them and even publicize them. And he’s not the only one. I have no intention of ever deleting or unfriending individuals whose views I find repugnant. It is vitally important that I know what others think and that I use every opportunity to engage them in debate and try to correct a misstatement or an incorrect fact. It doesn’t always work. There’s lots of proof that it’s hard to get people to change their views. But that’s okay. Now and then they raise valid points that I would totally miss if I had blocked them out.

There is a real danger among liberals and progressives to exist in an echo chamber where they only hear views that mirror their own. (I suppose it’s no different for conservatives or far-right alt-Reich proponents. But I’m not worried about them.) Although it’s far from the only reason that Donald Trump won the last election, the tendency of those on the left to totally discount any view that even carries a hint of conservatism definitely played a role in his victory. In the midst of the noise from alt-Reich party boys, the unhinged ranting of Alex Jones at Infowars, the poorly constructed lies of Breitbart, and the fake news being pumped out via Russia-supported fly-by-night websites, there were conservatives who were saying they were going to vote for Trump because they felt they had no other option, often despite the fact they weren’t all that crazy about him. But we in the left largely missed what they were saying because we had just closed their minds to anything that any scent of Trump support. That was a mistake.

But don’t want to get me wrong here. I’m not saying that liberals need to flail themselves over a missed opportunity. Nor that we must give weight to every lunatic far-right screed. Nor do I buy the warmed-over, pablum-like rhetoric about the coasts being “out of touch” with the “real America” of the flyover states in the middle. The coasts are just as much “real America” as any Midwestern spread of farmland. I reject the notion that because we value diversity, openness, education, science, democracy and a positive role for government that we are less American than anybody else. That’s just horse manure.

What I am advocating is that if those on the left value the things listed in the previous paragraph, we will have a better idea of how to defend those values if we listen to what the other side is saying. Many years ago I was fortunate enough to hear the great Molly Ivins speak at a conference. After she gave her talk she opened the floor to questions and one of the first ones was what advice she would give to those on the left about how to combat the ideas of the right. Her advice was to “read across the grain”, not to just read those things whose viewpoint you agreed with, but to look for the logic, or the lack thereof, in opposing viewpoints.

Because in the end there is no way that everyone in this country is going to be singing the same song or hold hands with each other in perfect harmony and unity. It’s a bit of a creepy idea and not very American. We can certainly strive for better understanding of each other and look for areas of agreement. Nevertheless, it’s important that those of us who hold progressive values fight for the things we believe in because it’s a battle that will never end. But knowing what the other side is thinking will help us craft successful outcomes that otherwise might elude us through our own ignorance.

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Trump’s twitter sleight-of-hand

By Tom Regan

[Photo by Rippie: Contra Censura!, Creative Commons]

By now everyone in the free – and not so free – world knows about Donald Trump’s tweets this past weekend that basically accused former President Barack Obama of being a felon. Trump’s accusation that Obama illegally wiretapped his phone and Trump Tower in New York has been dismissed by every knowledgeable authority in existence, but just like his allegation that three million people voted illegally in the November election, Trump says he plans to have the whole thing investigated.

It is yet another tweet from our thin-skinned, angry president with the short attention span that had opponents in an uproar and his supporters scratching their heads wondering just what he was trying to do.

But whatever he was trying to do, it worked.

Whether intentionally or because he can’t control his temper or ego, Donald Trump’s tweets have a habit of throwing the media and the public off the scent of the real story. The current real story concerns Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. The fact that Sessions lied to Congress about meeting Russians during the campaign is, as one pundit put it, “a big deal.” Sessions is the top cop in the country, and recusing himself from any further investigations involving the Trump campaign and its alleged connections to Russian attempts to sabotage the election is just window dressing. It’s the least thing he could do.

Yet Sessions’ predicament was more or less forgotten by midday on Saturday as the media, stunned once again by an early morning twitter storm from the president, was off on another wild goose chase, deploying its resources to hunt down yet another seemingly disjointed ranting from Mar-el-Lago.

Joe Scarborough first suggested (on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) a pattern to this behavior. Trump inevitably launches these tweet broadsides either late Friday night or early Saturday morning. When you look back at the tweets that have sent the media scurrying to either verify or debunk them, it’s always come after a really bad week and a need for Trump to change the story.

Whether it was his reaction to the size of his inaugural crowd versus that of the much larger Obama inaugural crowd, his accusation about the millions of illegal voters, or in this the charges leveled against his predecessor, Trump’s objective is to use the traditionally quiet news hole on Saturday mornings to blow up the media landscape. As a result, the Sunday morning talk shows to which he is so addicted are forced to discuss the fallout from his weekend twitter rantings rather than the mistakes and errors of his administration that have taken place during the previous week.

There is some debate over why he tweets so intensively at this particular time of the week. Some speculate it’s because his daughter and son-in-law, both Orthodox Jews, are observing Shabbat and are not around to temper his twitter tantrums. Perhaps. But adopting this viewpoint plays into the myth that Trump is incompetent and can’t be left alone for five minutes. It was this line of thinking that led his opponents in the Republican primaries to underestimate him, and then led Hillary Clinton and much of the media to do the same in the general election.

Trump is no dummy. Yes, he’s thin-skinned, has an ego the size of Jupiter, doesn’t like being the butt of comedians’ jokes and probably has very little idea about what it really takes to be the president of the United States. But he plays the media like he is a concert violinist. Years spent in the chaotic and cutthroat New York media market have made him a Jedi media master: “This is not the story you been looking for… There’s nothing to see here move along.”

Yet you can’t blame the media entirely for responding in this way. Journalists are supposed to follow the news of the moment, and when the leader of the free world regularly launches tweets like cruise missiles, it’s hard to ignore them.

And don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. Based on the track record of the first 45 days of this administration, there are going to be a lot of busy Saturday mornings.

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It’s always the cover-up

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. {Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

Many years ago, when I was in Grade Two at St. Dunstan’s Catholic Elementary School in Fredericton New Brunswick, I got into trouble with the nuns who ran the school. There was a fight in the school yard and I had seen it. The nuns wanted me to spill the beans on who was involved. I told them I hadn’t seen anything. They didn’t believe me and for the once and only time in my entire school career, I got the strap.

In the end, it wasn’t the fight in the school yard that got me. It was the cover-up.

It was a lesson I took to heart. Sort of. I’d like to pretend that from that point on in my life, I never engaged in another cover-up of any kind. But that would be a…cover-up. We humans, as a species, seem to think that if we refuse to acknowledge a situation, it will never come back to bite us. Telling the truth would always be the best answer. Yes, there would be repercussions, but not as many as there are once your cover-up gets exposed.

If there is one occupation that seems to suffer the most from the compulsive need to engage in cover-ups, it’s politicians. There are, of course, too many instances of this to name them all, so let us focus on two recent examples from the Trump administration in the United States.

Example one is the former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. First, he said he didn’t meet or talk with Russians about potential sanctions the then-Obama administration was about to level against Russia because of its meddling in the American election. Then the Washington Post discovered he had indeed had such discussions. This being the Trump administration, he might have gotten away with lying to the media and Congress – the Trump minions care little about them – but he made the mistake of lying to poor Vice-President Mike Pence, and that was a bridge too far. The cover-up got him in the end, and now Donald Trump has a National Security Advisor who is much less of a patsy and doesn’t like Russia very much.

Now we have the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He too told Congress he didn’t talk to any Russians and whoops! Now we know he did, thanks once again to the “failing” Washington Post (Sad). When the Attorney General, the “top cop” in the land misleads Congress and the public about a matter that is very much at the forefront of this administration’s troubles du jour, this is not a good thing. As I write this, it has just flashed across my screen that Sessions has recused himself from any investigation into any possible connections between the Trump administration, the Russians, and hanky-panky that took place during the 2016 presidential election. But this may only be the beginning of his troubles, as he might also find himself the subject of an investigation for lying to Congress.

Apparently, Attorney General Sessions did not get the memo about cover-ups being a bad idea.

There is a drip, drip, drip feeling here that is hard to ignore. As Chris Cillizza of the Post noted, where there is smoke, and smoke and smoke and smoke, there is likely to be fire. One is hard press not to wonder just how much of a cover-up is going on here, and just how many more Russians we are going to find hiding in the Trump administration’s corridors of power.

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