Attention American citizens, time for another quick reality check

Only the people who are employed in America’s political-industrial complex can afford to keep up with all this stuff day to day to day, but some of it you just can’t avoid knowing about.  The Republican candidate for president is:

–seemingly sabotaging one of his own alleged rhetorical strong points–that he will hire “the best people” to take care of America’s problems–with almost every personnel move he makes:

Trump’s campaign has been a roiling, noxious, dysfunctional mess from the start, characterized by public feuds, subject to sudden leadership changes and unable to fulfill key functions (like actually having a campaign apparatus in key states). And Trump’s personnel selections have been both instructive and disastrous.

–finding yet another new way to demonstrate his ignorance of American ideals:..

…more concerning than Trump’s usual lack of specificity was his declaration that “We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people.”

(snip)

what, exactly, are “our values”? I’m betting you and I have some differences of opinion when it comes to what we value. But the good news is, the Founders accounted for that with the First Amendment, allowing for all kinds of different beliefs. Whatever Trump values, citizenship — much less entry into the country — does not require you agree with it.

What citizenship does require, in addition to service, is that immigrants “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” So, if by “our values,” Trump means our laws and Constitution, we’ve already got that covered, Donald. You can take the day off.

But of course, that’s not all Trump means.

contributing to the long-simmering “confusion” of much of the American voting public:

Trump, who says he doesn’t read much at all, is both a product of the epidemic of ignorance and a main producer of it. He can litter the campaign trail with hundreds of easily debunked falsehoods because conservative media has spent more than two decades tearing down the idea of objective fact.

If Trump supporters knew that illegal immigration peaked in 2007, or that violent crime has been on a steady downward spiral nationwide for more than 20 years, they would scoff when Trump says Mexican rapists are surging across the border and crime is out of control.

If more than 16 percent of Americans could locate Ukraine on a map, it would have been a Really Big Deal when Trump said that Russia was not going to invade it — two years after they had, in fact, invaded it.

If basic civics was still taught, and required, for high school graduation, Trump could not claim that judges “sign bills.”

The dumbing down of this democracy has been gradual, and then — this year — all at once.

–and causing a freak-out in the conservative media that wouldn’t have been believed just a year ago:

throughout the election season, it has appeared that Republicans have fielded more attacks from their supposed friends on the right than their political opponents on the left. It’s an incidental twist, considering how Republicans helped foster the growth of the conservative news media in order to avoid the skewering of mainstream journalists.

Instead, it appears their plan of using friendly pundits to tap directly into the vein of red-blooded Americans sympathetic to their political views has backfired. That has boosted the candidacy of Donald Trump

And all of that was just last week!

Nevertheless, each day I read that there are still plenty of people who supported Trump in the primaries and are still behind their man, no matter anything on that list up there or the fact that he seems to be backing off some of the strong rhetoric–and outrageous positions and promises–that (presumably) won him their support in the first place.  In fact, it’s becoming more clear that those people aren’t much interested in the details of what he’s had to say during the campaign so far:

Boz says illegal immigration is a problem, but when it comes to policy, he trusts Trump to figure that out. “Whatever he wants to do, I’ll back him. That’s all I can say. It’s tough,” Boz says.

Inside, Judy Callahan, 69, says she’s preparing to retire from her job as a hospice cook — and devote her free time to volunteering for the Trump campaign. Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Callahan says she has supported the real estate developer from the beginning.

“I just love him — I love every second of him,” she says.

Callahan says she opposes amnesty and wants Trump to be “strong” on immigration, but it doesn’t bother her that his policy positions can sometimes seem unclear.

“I listen to half of what Trump says,” Callahan explains. “And then I move on because you have to get people’s attention.”

The Onion has been able to describe this new reality most effectively:

“Do you really think you’re going to come up with some new criticism of his policies or his preparedness that will finally make us reconsider our votes?” Gallagher continued. “Please, you should all just save yourself the effort.”

The loyal Trump supporters said their message was directed at everyone who has actively sought to convince them that voting for the real estate mogul is against their own interests, a group that includes current and former members of Congress, members of past Republican administrations, America’s NATO allies, human rights advocates, the pope, and many veterans, as well as their own families, friends, and coworkers. The candidate’s backers added that, considering how they have already gone along with everything he has said and done in the 2016 election cycle, those trying to communicate Trump’s shortcomings to them should “quit wasting their breath.”

Heralding the Classic with a clash of the brass

Are you like me, are you looking forward to what ought to be a pretty good World Series between Boston and St. Louis starting tonight?  Of course you are.  And this may just be me not paying attention, but I’m pleased not to have had to hear about the usual stupid bets between mayors and governors when a series like this comes around; on the other hand, I was very pleased to learn, from NPR, about this unusual throwdown between the orchestras of the two towns!

I’ll take the Cardinals in 6…

"I have a dream"

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took the podium at the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; it is still one of the most profound and moving speeches in the history of American rhetoric, on top of what it meant to the civil rights movement.  King did not dream that his children would one day be able to watch the speech on their desktop computer or smartphone, but they can, and so can we.

The whole thing is remarkable, including the peek you get at what a slice of America looked like in the early 1960s; go to the 12:00 mark to catch the dreams, and then on through to the end for the ad-libbed “let freedom ring”s and the promise of ultimate freedom which still stir my emotions.

“…let freedom ring.  And when this happens…and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Out of the coverage leading up to this week’s anniversary I’ve pulled a couple of gems: from Brian Naylor at NPR, a look at the little segregated southern town that was Washington, D.C. 50 years ago; and from Robert G. Kaiser in The Washington Post, a reporter’s remembrance of the event he covered 50 years earlier, with a quite remarkable admission—that the local paper blew it when it all but overlooked King’s speech in its coverage of the march!

A day in the life

It’s one of those days…you know the kind I mean.  The details of my today aren’t important and I’m not trying to play on your sympathy; just saying we’ve all had those days when the universe makes it clear, again, that your well-laid plans are not binding on anyone else.  A day when you’d agree with the characterization offered by Ned Racine in Body Heat: “Sometimes the shit comes down so heavy I feel like I should wear a hat.”  A day when a lot of frustration gets vented, or distilled out, on the drive home.

If you are lucky enough, you stumble upon something coming out of the car radio that nudges aside the pall, at least for a few minutes, and reminds you that today is just today…there will be plenty of tomorrows that are not today.  For me, today, it was this story on NPR about the positive effect of organized baseball on some kids in a drug-infested neighborhood of Camden, New Jersey, creating safe pockets out of the despair where “kids can still be kids.”

Now, I know that just about any activity for kids that their parents and other adults in the neighborhood actively support could have the same impact on the kids as baseball is having for these particular kids today…and I try not to go all Ken-Burns-and-George-Will on the mystical healing powers of baseball…but on this day—All-Star Game day!—hearing about the mystical healing powers of baseball for some kids in Camden, New Jersey really hit the spot.

And then, there’s this:

Hu on 1

(apologies for the misspelling, Bud!)

Meet Ed Snowden, and other notes from a remarkable week in privacy and espionage‏

As they used to say on every Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll station ever, the hits just keep on comin’:


After a stunning one-two punch of secret spying revelations last week, one thing that I hadn’t really counted on happened right away: a voluntary and fairly proud confession from the guy who says he turned over the secret documents to the reporters.  Meet Ed Snowden, and read the Washington Post reporter’s sidebar describing what it was like to communicate with Snowden, who knew that he had turned himself into a marked man.


Last week someone (I forget who) noted, possibly on Twitter, the irony that we as a nation feel confident in farming out our National Security Agency work to companies like Snowden’s employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, which didn’t know that he was gathering up documents and talking to reporters, but the job of groping us in airports is so critical that only a government employee will do.  Oh, by the way, in a classic horse/barn door kinda thing, Booz Allen finally got around to firing Snowden


I also expected this sooner: the ACLU is suing the government alleging violation of its rights of free speech, association, and privacy:

As an organization that advocates for and litigates to defend the civil liberties of society’s most vulnerable, the staff at the ACLU naturally use the phone—a lot—to talk about sensitive and confidential topics with clients, legislators, whistleblowers, and ACLU members. And since the ACLU is a VBNS [Verizon] customer, we were immediately confronted with the harmful impact that such broad surveillance would have on our legal and advocacy work. So we’re acting quickly to get into court to challenge the government’s abuse of Section 215.


One of the most fun things here has been that the secret court orders forcing telephone and Internet companies to turn over information are so secret that the companies aren’t even allowed to discuss the orders, and the news has made it look like the companies have been happily cooperating with the feds in violating their customers’ privacy.  For anyone who still thinks there is no presumption of privacy anymore, consider this: Google is asking government permission to spill the beans and tell its customers what it has done, in order to “to ease public concerns about the privacy and security of users’ data.”

Google’s inability to disclose “the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests” fuels speculation that the company has given the U.S. government free access to all its users’ data. That speculation, [Google chief legal officer David] Drummond wrote, is “simply untrue.”


What about our national leaders, the men and women to whom we look for guidance and wisdom on such occasions…what do they have to say about this whole invasion of privacy/government spying on Americans thing?  Fortunately, some have been right on top of things, speaking out in favor of a national discussion about the proper balance of safety versus privacy; some have taken some time to think things over before coming to a conclusion about Snowden, and most are waiting for the polls to come in.


OK then, here’s the first poll: Americans tell the Pew Center that they’re pretty much OK with their government spying on them

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post…finds no indications that last week’s revelations of the government’s collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy.

Currently 62% say it is more important for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Just 34% say it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.

Not everyone thinks that, though, me included.  But I’ve already had my say this past week; I recommend taking a look at Emily Bazelon’s thoughts on government abuse of power

The government has admitted to unconstitutional NSA spying before—last year. The existence of these newly reported databases should be worrisome because once the information is collected, it is so much easier for the government to misuse it. The more data mining, the more it becomes routine and the more tempting to come up with more uses for it. If you trust President Obama and his people not to go too far, what about the next president, or the one after that? We have now had a Republican and a Democrat administration sign up for a broad expansion of warrantless wiretapping and other surveillance, and bipartisan support in Congress for the tradeoffs we have struck. And yes, there is more to the current revelations than we know—in particular, the rationale for the FISA court’s long-standing order for the phone data, and the rationale for PRISM. Let’s concede that a terrorist attack somewhere has probably been prevented as a result of these efforts. So how do we ever go back?

We probably don’t. And someday, the abuses will begin, in all likelihood long before we know about them. I’m not usually moved by slippery slope arguments. But this one looks so very easy to slide down.

…and Charles Cooke’s consideration of a simple historical lesson on personal privacy in a free society:

The adult truth, as ever, is that being free means accepting the negative consequences of being free. I daresay that if cameras were installed in every one of the Republic’s private bedrooms and monitored around the clock by well-meaning sentinels, then the rates of both domestic violence and spousal murder would decrease dramatically. But a free people must instinctively reject such measures as a profound threat to their liberty and, in doing so, accept the risks of unregulated home life. Alas, the story of the last century is the tale of a gradually diminishing tolerance for risk. “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. In almost all areas, our modern calculation is quite the opposite.

(snip)

The Fourth Amendment exists now for precisely the same reason that it existed in 1791: to ensure that, in the absence of extremely compelling situations, Americans are not subject to casual government scrutiny. Its authors understood that knowledge is power, and that, as there is no justification for the state to have too much power over you, there is also no justification for the state to have too much knowledge about you


I hope that as this story continues in the months to come, people will give it the serious thought that it deserves.  For those having a tough time getting a handle on what all the furor is about, try this as a starting place: would you feel the same way you do now about the actions of the U.S. government if the last president were still in the White House?