Eyes open, moving ahead

To be an American and believe in the American system is to respect the outcome of elections, especially when your side loses or, in this case, when the side you especially fear and detest wins.  The right to vote does not come with a guarantee that the majority will make a good decision, but I believe we have to give the winners their chance.

Let’s start by giving the Donald Trump voters the benefit of the doubt, and assume that most of them are people with legitimate concerns about how our government has operated in recent years, who have worries about the dysfunctionality of our system that many of us share; that they are people who voted their conscience for a positive change.  You may feel, as I do, that they made a poor choice of candidate, but the truth is they won and they get their turn at bat.

Trump won the election fair and square; there was no rigging, or at least, none beyond the whole Electoral College thing for which we have the founders themselves to thank.  Congratulations, Mr. President-elect; I join with President Obama’s sentiment that “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.”  To me, that means starting with whatever common ground we share and all working together to make changes we agree on; next, we discuss the issues where we do not agree, and work toward a resolution we can all stand behind.  I’m not saying that Trump deserves to be immune to criticism or opposition to his statements or actions, but that we judge him on his actions as president and president-elect; give him a chance in the new job.

He started on Thursday with a pretty low-key trip to Washington to start the transition of power, and I got the impression that he was a little in awe with the realization that this all is real.  Right after that he reminded us of his proclivity to a lack of restraint when it comes to any criticism.  In light of the large protests of his victory the past couple of days, the “real” Trump returned to Twitter Thursday evening:

Of course the best part of this is that the protests we’ve seen this week are exactly the thing Trump called for four years ago:

The totally unsurprising irony, though, is that Trump himself called for a march on Washington in the wake of President Obama’s 2012 win.

“We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!”

He also tweeted, “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!”

Trump finished the full hypocrisy circle nine hours later (degree of difficulty, apparently: zero):

And it took four more hours after that before he tweeted a perfunctory Veteran’s Day message.  S.E. Cupp summarizes:

…in Trumpland, there are no consequences for rank hypocrisy. This is the total lack of self-consciousness that was once disturbing and now only merely amusing. Remember, Hillary Clinton would make a great President, he once said, until she deserved to go to jail.

The Republican primary was rigged, until he won it. FBI director James Comey was a Clinton hack, until he was very fair and professional. Trump would contest the election results, unless he won. It’s impossible to keep up with Trump’s in-the-moment justifications and hyperactive moral relativism.

But, we must try.  It’s our job as Americans to participate in our own governance; that includes working together for common goals and the general welfare, and calling bullshit on our leaders when it’s deserved, and Trump needs to learn that.  Religion scholar William Martin put it this way in Texas Monthly in 2007: “Whether in Mormons or Methodists, prophets or presidents, distaste for dissent and opposition to open inquiry are not admirable qualities and do not foster freedom.”

Furlough Journal: Finding the past in the present

The “partial government shutdown” means I’m at home this week with time to kill; yesterday I had planned to play golf but it rained…a lot.  (Today it rained again; hey, aren’t we in a drought?)  So, I finished off the last two issues of Golf magazine, which I had allowed to lapse, and then organized the more than two and a half years of back issues of Texas Monthly that I’ve been ignoring since…well, since March of 2011, our state’s 175th birthday.  Texas Independence Day, March 2, 1836; while the siege at the Alamo neared its end, 59 Texans gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos and declared Texas a nation independent of Mexico.

The cover story in “The Terquasquicentennial Issue” is a tour of 175 historic events and places in Texas history.  From 113 million year old dinosaur fossils west of Glen Rose (#1) to the invention of the integrated circuit (#23) and the frozen margarita machine (#22), both in Dallas (dammit), to the sites of infamous murders (#4, #7, #15, #34, #46, #62)  and great literature (#29, #81) and the first Dr Pepper (#145) and important sports milestones (#10, #18,  #53), the list is a great read for Texans and, I think , at least amusing for non-Texans.  But #31 made me stop and think: the first Confederate monument in Texas, erected in 1896 and still there today on the grounds of the Grayson County Courthouse in Sherman, in north Texas.

I’ve lived in Texas for more than 45 years, and I’ve seen plenty of monuments to Confederate war dead, including some pretty impressive ones on the grounds of the state capital; I never gave much thought to any of them.  Even when I considered the probable impropriety of praise for the losers in a civil war, I reconciled it to myself with the thought that it was a memorial placed by good-hearted people to honor lost brothers.

But the wording on this memorial got me thinking (emphasis mine):

“Sacred to the memory of our Confederate dead, true patriots, they fought for home and country, for the holy principles of self government—the only true liberty. Their sublime self sacrifices and unsurpassed valor will teach future generations the lesson of high born patriotism, of devotion to duty, of exalted courage, of Southern chivalry.”  “Fighting for the preservation of family, homeland and rights is never a lost cause. So great the valor, so supreme the sacrifice, so red the rose . . .”

Maybe it’s just me, but all I can hear in my head as I read that is the echoes of today’s far right.  The invocation of traditions of faith and righteousness are the buzzwords of today’s extreme conservative political machine; the people who claim to love and cherish the U.S. Constitution and the laws of this country, and who are fighting the good fight to take their country back (from whomever), are using the same language as people who supported and honored the traitors who took up arms against the United States of America, who claimed the backing of the Almighty in a fight to defend the practice of human slavery.  Today, conservatives impugn their political enemies for an alleged lack of patriotism using the same language that was used to exalt traitors to this country.

Do many of the extremist Republicans who are responsible for today’s standoff in the current fight over “family, homeland and rights” look to those rebels as examples of “high born patriotism” and “devotion to duty”?  Do any?  It makes me wonder.

Don’t let the rules of evidence get in the way of a guilty verdict, not when you can change the rules

Did I grow up on another planet?  Was my education about the basics of a criminal trial, or even just the nature of plain old fairness, totally alien?  Apparently so, when I read what the Texas Legislature is up to

We here in the Texas state senate are voting to change a rule of evidence in criminal trials.  Now, this wouldn’t be for every criminal trial, just a special kind of case, one where the defendant is accused of rape or sexual assault.  Y’see, people accused of rape or sexual assault—not convicted or admitted rapists, mind you, but accused rapists—they are so clearly evil (evident by the fact that they have been accused) that we think our good God-fearing prosecutors deserve a little help inflaming the passions of connecting with the jury.

This bill would make it legal in rape and sexual assault cases for the state to present evidence to a jury—after the judge hears the evidence outside the presence of the jury and decides that it is relevant—that at some time in the past there had been similar allegations of rape or sexual assault made against this same defendant.  Now, we’re not talking about telling the jury about a person’s record of criminal convictions during the punishment phase of the trial, after they already found the guy guilty of the new charge; that’s already in the law.  No, we mean telling the jury before they reach a verdict in this case about any time in the past when the same defendant was ever even accused of a similar crime.

Now, just to be clear: we’re not saying the jury should know that this guy was once arrested, or indicted, or tried on a similar charge; that’s OK and all, but we mean we want it to be OK for the jury that hasn’t yet decided if this scumbag’s defendant’s guilty of this crime to be told if he was ever accused of any similar crime—doesn’t matter if he was never arrested, or indicted, or tried on the previous accusation.

You and I both know that there’s some of them whiny types (folks who came here from New York City, probably) who’d say we’re ignoring fundamental rights and revving up some kind of witch hunt, but they just don’t understand how we do things here in Texas, is all.  We’re putting this together to go with a new package of laws we think’ll be good for Texas, stuff like:

Not getting all spun up about $27 billion in state budget “challenges” and starting the session off with having Governor Haircut declare that things like mandatory pre-abortion sonograms and outlawing sanctuary cities and demanding Congress pass a balanced budget amendment are emergencies, and need to go to the head of the legislative line; and

Making sure we get our money’s worth out of our lazy-ass liberal college professors by putting a premium on productivity and emphasizing more time in the classroom, not that egg-headed research they’re so keen on; and

Seeing to it that the long-suffering public servants in the Legislature get the treatment they deserve and can carry their concealed handguns in places like bars and amusement parks, places where we already decided it wouldn’t be safe to have everyone packing.

Any questions?  Well, thanks for your attention.

These are my favorite stories about the Texas Legislature:

There was a “typo” when they wrote the state constitution back in 1876—they didn’t mean to have the legislature in session for 140 days every two years, they meant for it to be two days every 140 years.

In the 1970s the mayor of Austin, who was noted for an irreverent sense of humor, was holding his weekly news conference and a reporter idly mentioned, “Well, the Legislature’s coming back to town soon.”  The mayor’s immediate response: “Lock up the kids and dogs!”

Hard economic truth for $2000, Alex

If only that were the figure—the real issue on deck in Washington, D.C., the issue that drove last week’s election results, is economic recovery: when will the economy get stronger, when will job growth get stronger.  It’s the issue that all of most of the nation’s journalists largely ignored, except for predictable emotional pitches.  Alan Mutter recently pointed out the reasons why: the economy is a hard story to tell, and it has nothing to do with easy stories like who is the new president and what will he do, and why do we think he’ll do it, and what do the polls say about what the people think about what he’ll do.

…the myopic press stuck to covering the inside-the-Beltway story of the day – health care, Afghanistan, Supreme Court picks – instead of zeroing in on the things that really mattered to all but the very wealthiest Americans.  Things like: Will I keep my job? What will I do if I get fired? Can I keep my house? Will I be able to send my kids to college? How can I afford to retire?

It’s anybody’s guess if the myopia will be cured soon; the prognosis is not encouraging, but there’s always hope.  There are some trying to sound the alarm: Mutter points out Paul Krugman at the New York Times as one good example (and notes that the good professor is, in fact, not a journalist in the usual sense of the word, but an economist).  I’ll give kudos to Loren Steffy, the very good and very readable business columnist at Houston’s Leading Information Source.  He’s written an excellent summary of where we stand, and it’s not pretty.  Quoting the Congressional Budget Office,

“Unless policymakers restrain the growth of spending substantially, raise revenues significantly above their average percentage of (gross domestic product) of the past 40 years, or adopt some combination of those two approaches, persistent budget deficits will cause federal debt to rise to unsupportable levels.”

Some of the people crying about the national debt these days come off as wacky, but there is a scary kernel of truth in that cry and our government is going to have to address the problem—and blindly rubberstamping an extension of tax cuts followed by another round of collecting campaign donations from lobbyists is not the answer.

The national economy, at its core, is subject to the same rules as your household economy and mine.  If you spend more than you take in, you go into debt; reducing your income doesn’t magically translate into higher revenues; you pile up enough debt and most of your payments are going to the interest and very little to principal, and you never get out of debt.

I’m not saying you and I, or the government, should never borrow money, although it would be sweet not to have to.  But you borrow money to buy a house or a car; sometimes you have to charge to your credit card, like when the extra thousands it takes to buy a replacement air conditioner are not just sitting there in your savings.  But you can never borrow enough to repay all of the principal—ask Bernie Madoff.  At some point you have to bite the bullet and make unpopular choices.

Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka writes today about how the economic rescue plan known as TARP catches flak as an example of big government run amok, despite (a) the fact that it was dreamed up and implemented during the Bush Administration, allegedly a conservative regime that believed in small government, and (b) is costing less than one-tenth of the advertised $700 billion.  TARP was the best thing the administration could come up with to save the whole economy, and if some of the bad guys who caused the collapse got caught up in the rescue then we’re going to have to learn to live with that.

What will Congress and the president do to get this country’s economy headed in the right direction?  I hope more news agencies commit the resources to dig into the question and produce some journalism that will help the economic illiterati like me understand what’s going on.

For that to happen we need more of them to adopt the idea Jack Shafer discusses today in Slate: we don’t need journalists to be unbiased in the sense of not having an opinion on issues, we need more who are honest and curious and hard-working and are committed to using an objective process to reach some verifiable conclusions.

As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write in their 2001 book, The Elements of Journalism, traditionally, it was the journalistic method that was supposed to be objective, not the journalist. As long as the partisan journalist comes to verifiable conclusions, we shouldn’t worry too much about the direction from which he came.

This will require an agreement that there are—as a…well, as a matter of fact—certain verifiable truths, and abandoning the current craze of dismissing as biased any “facts” that don’t conform to one’s current opinions.  How about we start with a little optimism about each other on that score.

The more things change, the more they stay eerily the same

First of all, don’t believe most of what’s coming out of the mouths of the political pros today, either the candidates or the party officials and consultants, including the ones disguised as Fox News commentators.  The winners of yesterday’s elections are saying every result is due to people rejecting President Obama and big government, while the losers are trying to convince us that they’re not to blame; nothing is that simple.  But make no mistake: the Democrats were beaten up yesterday.  Why?

For starters, the party in power always loses seats in the midterm elections.  Plus, Americans are (generally) not ideological, they’re practical—they want the economy strong and unemployment down, and they are impatient so they voted for someone new.  They didn’t, by and large, vote for mouthy extremists with no realistic plan for solving problems.  It was the independent voters, who supported Democrats in 2008, who drove the results of this election.  And if this election showed the biggest party swing in some 70 years, maybe it was because we’re trying to recover from the worst economic crisis in some 70 years.

The irony?  Unemployment is unacceptably high, but the naysayers aren’t giving the administration any credit for what it did do that, arguably, saved the economy.  But those things didn’t bring back jobs fast enough, and that was all the excuse many needed.

Don’t put too much stock in this big change being permanent.  Just two years ago there was supreme confidence that the Republican Party had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and that was less than a decade after the Democrats were routed and ostracized following the Clinton presidency, which came after a generation of Republican ascendancy while Democrats wandered in the desert.

Republicans now control the House and should be expected to make an effort to lead, rather than just get in the way as they’ve done the past two years.  Some wise Republicans have said as much today, that the people have given them a “second” chance (this presumes the world began with the election of Ronald Reagan).  Well, the thing Speaker of the House-presumptive John Boehner has touted is the Pledge to America, and I’ve read estimates that achieving that vague set of goals will add $700 billion to the debt.

So don’t be surprised if there’s not much change in Washington.  Promises to lower taxes are vacuous: government can’t afford to take a pay cut any more than you or me, not if it plans to keep programs people want, like Social Security, Medicare, and national defense.  Cutting anything else won’t have the kind of impact on long-term debt that will make a serious difference.  Besides, when it comes to a plan to help the economy recover and generate jobs, what’s your level of confidence that the party largely responsible for the circumstances that led to the economic crisis is the party that can make it all better?

Look for real changes at the state or local level, where enough small changes can add up to real power for Republicans.

One more thing: enough with all the balloon juice about “taking back” the government, unless you’re talking about taking it back from the deep-pocketed interests who’ve been controlling the people in office for years and years now.  On paper, the government is still and always has been in the hands of the people we citizens chose to look out for our interests, just as the Constitution envisioned.  On the ground…well, we all have to understand that the longer those people stay in government—like Boehner, just elected to his 11th two-year term?—the more they depend on the money that greases Washington’s wheels; it’s true for Democrats and Republicans, and they know it, too.

The older I’ve gotten the easier it’s become to keep these things in perspective: if you don’t like the results of this election, remember that there’ll be another one along soon enough.