Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas 'Round the World

Opinion |

So here it is, Christmas Day. All the halls are decked, all the chestnuts roasted, and all the eggs nogged. If you have kids, your home is no doubt filled with the cheerful din of the little ones doing their level best to completely destroy the toys Santa brought. It’s tradition.
There are lots of traditions at Christmas. There are the big, widely shared ones, like the tree and the pretty lights. But it should surprise no one that, around the world, people celebrate the holidays in ways that are, shall we say, a little different.
In Japan, for example, nothing says “Christmas” like KFC.
While the birth of Jesus isn’t a national holiday in the Land of the Rising Sun, a combination of clever marketing and a craving for holiday fowl among homesick expatriates has caused Colonel Sanders to be as much an icon as Santa Claus this time of year in Japan.
The chain sells an estimated 240,000 “party barrels” of chicken, chocolate cake and wine every holiday. Better get your order in early, though. They often sell out months in advance (My wife, by the way, heartily approves of this tradition).
The folks in Greenland enjoy some more traditional (at least for them) delicacies at Christmastime. There’s “mattiak,” which is a strip of whale skin with blubber inside. It’s reputed to be somewhat chewy.
Or if you’re not into seafood, there’s “kiviak,” which is the flesh of 500 or so auks (a tiny Arctic bird), packed inside a sealskin, which is then sewn up and allowed to ferment for about seven months before the sealskin is opened and what must be a truly indescribable mess is consumed.
Yum! After contemplating that, fruitcake doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
For truly odd Christmas treats, however, you have to go to the Catalan region of Spain, where one of the iconic figures of the season is the “Tió de Nadal,” or Christmas Log — a hollowed-out piece of wood with a happy face and little wooden legs on one end and the other end open.
Starting Dec. 8, it’s the children’s job to “feed” Tió de Nadal by stuffing him with candies, nuts and other foodstuffs. On Christmas Eve, it’s time for the little guy to earn his other name: Caga Tió, which, politely translated, means “poop log.”
The children beat the log with sticks to make the goodies fall out, while chanting the traditional song that goes, “Poop, log! Poop nougats, hazelnuts and cheese! Poop well, or I’ll beat you with a stick!”
This goes to show you one thing that binds all humanity together: Whatever their nationality, little kids find poop jokes hilarious. When the poor, put-upon log is finally “emptied,” he’s tossed into the fire and burned, which hardly seems fair, really.
And yes, the kids do eat the candy.
The people of Venezuela haven’t had a lot to celebrate recently. But let’s hope they’ve kept one great Christmas tradition alive, by which I mean the tradition of roller-skating to Christmas Mass.
According to MSN, “vehicular access to Caracas is blocked off in many areas before 8 a.m. to allow this unconventional commute to take place, and the night before, children will tie one end of string to their big toe and hang the other out of the window — allowing the passing roller skaters to offer a friendly tug as they pass in the morning.”
All of the above seem somewhat whimsical and light hearted. But in the Netherlands, they seem to have gone out of their way to discover the dark side of Christmas.
For one thing, “Sinterklass,” their version of jolly old St. Nick, doesn’t live with his wife at the North Pole. He lives in Spain, surrounded by a group of dark-skinned assistants (possibly slaves) known as “Zwarte Pieten” (“Black Peters”).
The Zwarte Pieten are sort of like Santa’s enforcers; they’re tasked with beating naughty children with sticks and stuffing the really bad ones into sacks to be dragged off to slavery in Spain. The Zwarte Pieten, played by guys in dark makeup and curly-haired wigs, are a fixture at every public appearance of Sinterklaas, because, after all, what would the joy of Christmas be without the dread of black guys coming to your house, beating you senseless, then dragging you off in a sack?
To their credit, some in the Netherlands have begun questioning whether the idea of scaring little kids with violent guys in blackface is a little bit racist. It’s a debate we’ll leave for another time, because hey, it’s Christmas.
Whatever your Christmas tradition, even if it involves roller skates, KFC, pooping logs or scary black elves, I hope it brings you joy and peace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Santa's Mailbag 2016

Opinion |

Dear Santa: I swallowed my pride. I grinned and laughed at that Cheeto-haired baboon’s stupid jokes and “locker room” talk. I did everything but get on my knees and beg for the secretary of state job. But — well, we know how that turned out. So all I really want for Christmas this year, Santa, is my pride and my dignity back. I’d like to be able to look at myself in the mirror again. — Mitt, Salt Lake City
(Note to staff: You know how I hate disappointing little Mitty, but once you throw that dignity away, it’s gone. Maybe get him a Kindle and an Amazon gift certificate. He’s going to have a lot of time on his hands to read. Again. — S)
Note from staff: OK. You should know we got the same letter from Chris Christie. We’ll give him the same. — Hermie the Elf
Dear Santa: Before the election, I was telling people on Twitter that I was ready to “grab my musket” if Hillary Clinton won. I was telling everyone on my radio show that I was looking forward to Trump “draining the swamp.” Now, I find out that the Russians influenced the elections and Trump’s putting all these Goldman Sachs people and insiders from that very swamp in his administration. I’m really ticked off. But I don’t want any kind of do-over. In fact … well, I’m not sure what I want. What do I want, Santa? Help me! — Joe Walsh, Chicago
Note to staff: Joe Walsh? That goofy guitar player for the Eagles and the James Gang? Did all that life in the fast lane make him lose his mind? — S
Note from staff: No, boss, this guy’s a former Republican congressman who has a right-wing radio show now. We don’t know what happened to his mind, but it ain’t pretty. He’s the first one to jump ship, but he won’t be the last. — Hermie
Dear Santa: I know people love you, but I’m gonna say, no one is as loved as me. I’m the greatest musical artist of all time. You feel me? Of all time! Beethoven? Mozart? Couple of (censored) (censored). But when I visited Trump Tower today to meet with the Prez-elect, I realized that want I really want is to be part of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet. Maybe minister of music. Or secretary of awesome. Something that fits my genius. Oh, and Kim wants a pony. — Kanye, Los Angeles
Note to staff: Wait, this Trump guy doesn’t have time for intelligence briefings, but he’s got time to meet with Kanye West? — S
Note to Santa: Yep. Amazing, ain’t it? — Hermie
Note to staff: Well, Kanye’s totally unqualified and bat-spit crazy. I’m surprised Trump didn’t make him ambassador to Great Britain. — S
Note to Santa: Give it time, boss. — Hermie
Dear Santa: Remember how in 2011, I was talking about the three government agencies I’d abolish, but I couldn’t remember the third one? Well, it’s a funny story, actually, but I’m now nominated to be the head of it. Problem is, I still can’t remember what it is. Can you help me? And maybe give me a map to wherever it’s located so I can find my way to work on the first day? Thanks, amigo. — Rick, Austin, Texas
Note to staff: What’s that herb that’s supposed to increase memory? Kinko something? — S
Note to Santa: Gingko Biloba, boss. And we’ll make sure the missus gets some for you, too. — Hermie
Dear Santa: Greetings from Moscow! President Putin is sending best wishes and wants to reassure our neighbor to the North that planes and icebreaking ships you and elves are seeing in northern waters are mere scientific expeditions. Or are there for fishing. Whatever. Also, is no need to get President Putin anything this year. He has everything he needs with the American president so much in his debt, in so many ways. In fact, President Putin wishes to give gift to all American people: copy of Russian language lessons from, how do you say, Rosetta Stone. Will make things easier later. —Yorgi Dmitriovitch Danilov, secretary to Mr. Putin
Note to staff: I don’t like the sound of this, guys. — S
Note to Santa: We don’t either. Merry Christmas anyway, boss.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

This Is A Job For...TRUMP-MAN!

Opinion |

High above the teeming streets of the Big Apple, in the secure fortress of Trump Tower, a phone rings. A small, stubby-fingered, but exquisitely manicured hand reaches for the receiver.
“Yeah? What is it? This better be good. I was getting ready to really burn that totally unfunny Alec Baldwin on Twitter.”
“I’m afraid that will have to wait, sir,” the voice on the other end responds. “There’s a problem. It’s the Carrier air conditioning plant in Indiana.”
“You don’t mean …”
“Yes, sir. It’s shipping jobs to Mexico.”
The short-fingered man springs to his feet.
“Not if I can help it! This is a job for … Trump-Man!”
Quickly, mild-mannered billionaire Donald J. Trump dashes into his walk-in closet. When he emerges, he’s clad in a bright orange, skin-tight Spandex suit and turquoise shorts. A mask and cape that match the shorts complete the ensemble. As the cleverly disguised billionaire admires himself in the mirror, a gray-haired man in a dark suit walks in.
“Oh, Lord, not this again,” he mutters.
“Half-Pence, my faithful sidekick!” Trump-Man says. “Just in time! Get into your uniform! There is globalism afoot!”
The gray-haired man sighs.
“Sir, the election’s over. I really don’t think we should be wearing those …”
“No time to waste!” Trump-Man insists. He hustles his sidekick into the closet. After a few minutes, the gray-haired man emerges, shoulders slumped, in similarly tight Spandex, this time colored beige, with the figure “1/2” emblazoned across the chest.
“Excellent!” Trump-Man nods. “Quick! To the Trump-Plane!”
As he dashes off down the corridor, he begins to sing. “Here I come to save the daaaay …”
“Why the heck did I agree to take this stupid job?” the man now known as Half-Pence groans as he trudges off behind his boss.
Two hours later, superhero and sidekick stand in a corporate boardroom in Indiana, in front of a baffled group of Carrier executives.
“You’re on notice, globalists!” Trump-Man bellows. “You’ll not toy with American workers’ lives any more! Conservatives are in control now!”
A man in a Brooks Brothers suit timidly raises his hand. “Um, sir? What’s ‘conservative’ about a single member of the Executive Branch strong-arming companies who make economic decisions based on free market factors?”
“So,” Trump-Man says, with a haughty sneer, “that’s the way you want it, eh?” He turns to his sidekick. “Half-Pence! Show them we mean business! Give them millions of dollars in tax breaks!”
Half-Pence nods confidently, then does a double take. “Wait, what?”
The man who spoke up echoes him. “Wait, what?”
“Shut up, Farley!” the CEO breaks in. “Can’t you see he’s got us right where he wants us?” He turns to Trump-Man. “Curse you, Trump-Man,” he says in a voice strangely devoid of anger. “You’ve won this time. But we’ll be back.”
“And we’ll be here!” Trump-Man says, “Ready with more taxpayer money!”
“Oh, woe,” the CEO says, “Woe is us.”
Later, on the steps of the Carrier plant, Trump-Man stands, hands on hips, basking in the cheers of the crowd. “Feels good, doesn’t it, Half-Pence?” he says. “We saved over 1,100 jobs today.”
“Just like you promised during the campaign, sir,” Half-Pence replies.
“Actually,” a man in a hard hat on the steps speaks up, “it’s more like 800 jobs.”
“What?” The superhero’s brow furrows in annoyance.
“Yeah. We got a letter from the company saying the deal with Carrier will save only 730 factory jobs in Indianapolis, plus 70 salaried positions. And 553 jobs are still moving to Monterrey, Mexico. Oh, and all 700 workers at the Huntington plant are still gonna lose their jobs.” He holds up his smartphone. “Here. It’s all in a report on the local station, WTHR. Oh, and according to Business Insider, Carrier’s announced that it’s raising prices by 5 percent.”
“Half-Pence!” Trump-man snarls, “silence that man! Hit him with a million dollar tax break!”
The sidekick leans over and whispers in his ear. “Oh … he’s one of them, eh? Not eligible for tax breaks.”
Before the man in the hard hat can speak again, a group surges forward on the steps.
“Trump-Man!” one of them calls out. “The globalists are sending my job manufacturing wiper blades from Ohio to the Philippines!”
Another speaks up. “And my paper company in Scranton is outsourcing sales to call centers in Sri Lanka!”
The crowd begins calling out, “Hairbrushes from Michigan to Indonesia!”
“Back-scratchers from Nashville to Malaysia!”
“Help us, Trump-Man!”
“Only you can fix this!”
“Only you!”
“Half-Pence,” the crestfallen superhero says, “this may be more complicated than I thought.”
His sidekick looks at him sourly. “Ya think?”

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

What I'm Getting Mr. Trump For Christmas

OK, so I checked on Amazon and there is actually a book called “The U.S. Constitution for Dummies.” That settles the question of what I’m getting our president-elect for Christmas.

Because — I’ve got to tell you folks, some of Mr. Trump’s latest actions and public pronouncements make me wonder if he’s ever heard of the document, much less read it.
Take, for instance, this tweet he sent at 6 in the morning this past Tuesday: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
For those of you wondering “where did that come from?” there was apparently a Fox News story that ran about that time on that issue, and of course, if Fox News does a story on it, the soon-to-be-leader of the fee world has to weigh in immediately.
The only problem is, it’s well-settled law that burning the U.S. flag as a means of protest is protected speech under that pesky First Amendment.
No less a conservative lion than the late Antonin Scalia stated that “If I were king, I wouldn’t go about letting people burn the American flag,” but that “we have a First Amendment which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged.” Scalia, however he may have gritted his teeth at having to do so, signed on to a Supreme Court opinion striking down a Texas law that made flag-burning a criminal offense.
Note, however, that Trump, a man who’s said he wants justices “in the mold” of Justice Scalia, was suggesting that maybe he’d go further than imprisonment, to outright revocation of citizenship.
This raises the question of whether Mr. Trump is aware of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” There’s no provision for the president or anyone else revoking someone’s citizenship, especially for acts protected under the First Amendment.
I’m sure some Trumpkins will fall back to their default defense, namely “But Hillary!” and point out that in 2005, then-Sen. Clinton co-sponsored a bill that would have criminalized the burning of the U.S. flag for the “primary purpose of intimidation or inciting immediate violence or for the act of terrorism.”
Well, let me say this about that: (1) She was wrong, and engaging in the kind of pandering that led me to describe her as “Republican Lite” for years; (2) The bill failed, as it bloody well should have; and (3) enjoy “But Hillary!” in the last few weeks you’ll be able to use it. Pretty soon she’s going to be off the public stage, and bringing her up will just seem more and more sad and desperate.
There are those who have suggested that PEOTUS is merely pumping out outrageous tweets to draw public and press attention away from the more serious issues posed by the many conflicts of interest posed by his business interests, both in America and abroad.
Here again, we invite Mr. Trump to peruse the Constitution, in particular the often-overlooked “Emoluments Clause” of Article One, which forbids anyone “holding any Office of Profit or Trust … without the Consent of the Congress,” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
Now, considering the negotiations and entanglements Mr. Trump and his worldwide enterprises have in foreign states and the desire of kings and princes to curry favor with the most powerful man in the free world, one would think that Mr. Trump might want to steer clear of not only actual conflicts of interest, but also of what we in the law biz call “the appearance of impropriety” in business concessions or payments from foreign leaders.
One might think that. But, as one of my old law professors used to say, one would be wrong. Mr. Trump has indicated that he’ll leave his businesses to be run by his children, but would “presents, Emoluments, Offices, or Titles” given to a Trump scion insulate Trump himself from charges of corruption? Let’s just say I have my doubts.
The House and Senate are all lovey-dovey right now, but Mr. Trump has said some pretty harsh things about the party he leads, and in particular about the Speaker of the House. Once the celebrations are over and the hard give-and-take of governing begins, he may be on thinner ice than he realizes.
So enjoy my gift of “The U.S. Constitution For Dummies,” Mr. President-Elect, and I hope that you read with close attention, particularly Article 2, Section 4. That’s the one about impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dear Mr. Trump

Being President Will Be Harder That It Looked | Opinion |

Dear President-Elect Trump:

First off, congratulations on the win. It certainly came as a shock to a lot of people, including yours truly. Judging from what I’ve seen since, it also came as a major surprise to you. That look on your face as President Obama and Speaker Ryan showed you around — well, Mr. President-Elect, you looked like you’d just been walloped in the head with a two-by-four.

I just wish I’d been a fly on the wall to see your expression when the national security team gave you your first “deep secrets” briefing. You know, the one where they tell you about what’s really hidden at Area 51, and about that thing they discovered buried under the ice at the South Pole.

Also, I hear from both NBC and The Wall Street Journal that you and your people were surprised to find out that when one administration leaves the White House, they take all their staff people with them, so you have to replace all of them. This is probably something someone should have researched if you really expected to win. Is there a “Presidential Transition for Dummies” book out there? Probably not, since we never needed one before. Sad!

It looks like the presidency is turning out to be a lot harder than you thought, doesn’t it? I see from your “60 Minutes” interview that that big border wall (“taller than this stadium!” you said) is apparently now going to be a fence, at least in some places. Mexico’s still probably not going to pay for it, but I bet you can find some Latino fence company in Texas or Arizona who’ll cut you a deal.

Don’t be surprised if they ask for payment in advance, though. I imagine after hearing about all those other contractors you stiffed, your credit’s not that good.

Of course, since your good buddy and loyal sock-puppet Rudy Giuliani now calls the fence just “a campaign device,” and since the Republicans in Congress don’t like big projects that cost a lot of money, it may not get built at all. Good luck dealing with your fans if that happens.

Speaking of projects that cost a lot of money, I’m glad to see that one of the things you’re talking about is a big investment in infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports and the like, in order to stimulate the economy and put Americans back to work. It was also an excellent idea when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had it. Some might call that “stealing,” but that would be mean-spirited. Just don’t ever use the words “stimulus” or “shovel-ready,” or the Republicans in Congress will make fun of it. And we all know how you react to being made fun of.

On the subject of jobs, I keep hearing that all of these people in the streets protesting against you are “paid protesters.” First, congratulations on creating jobs before you even get into office! But I’m not sure where you apply for them. Please advise.

Hey, remember those coal-mining jobs you said you were going to bring back to places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, etc., by cutting regulations? You might want to check with Mitch McConnell. He just said it’s “hard to tell” if just rolling back regulations will lead to an increase in mining jobs.

Also touch base with this guy Nick Carter, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. He told an interviewer, “I would not expect to see a lot of growth because of the Trump presidency,” according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Man, those miners are going to be ticked. If I were you, I’d steer clear of those states for a while, assuming you ever intended to go back there at all once you harvested their electoral votes.

Oh. Before I forget, I have a question. You ran against the Republican establishment as well as the Democrats, promising that you’re going to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Yet your chief of staff is going to be Reince Priebus, Mr. Republican Establishment himself. Your transition team is also chock full of the very kind of insiders you ran against. People like Gen. Mike Flynn, who lobbies for defense contractors and who’s been offered the post of national security adviser.

Fox News also reported that Rudy Giuliani, who’s lobbied and been a “consultant” for Venezuela, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is the front-runner for Secretary of State. So my question is, how do you drain the swamp if you’re hiring so many of the alligators?

Anyway, here’s to an interesting four years. Love to Melania and the kids.

Your pal,


Hey, 'Memba When?

This week's Pilot column:

This week, a little trip down memory lane:

Remember back when a public official using a potentially unsecure personal line of communication was a threat to national security and an offense that not only disqualified one for the presidency, but also required that the perpetrator be locked up?

Well, it seems that President-Elect Donald Trump has discovered that having one’s own personal device, however unsecure, isn’t such a big deal.

He’s reportedly demanding that he be allowed to keep his personal Android phone with all its contacts, and has also been taking and making calls to world leaders on the unsecured device.

Oh, and tweeting, of course. Lots of tweeting.

Speaking of tweeting, remember when “safe spaces” were something that the right sneered at? I seem to remember The Pilot’s own Bob Levy doing so just last week. But now it seems that the Republican president-elect is a fan of safe spaces, at least for his Veep.

After the cast of “Hamilton” delivered a speech at curtain call that respectfully told Mr. Pence that “we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us,” Trump took to his unsecured Twitter account to complain that “The Theater (sic) must always be a safe and special place” and demanding that they apologize for their “rude behavior” toward Mr. Pence — an apology that, to his credit, Mr. Pence said he didn’t want because he didn’t consider the speech rude.

That didn’t stop King Donald’s fervent supporters from demanding that the peasants pay a price for their act of disrespect to the sovereign and that the most popular show in the country be boycotted. Yeah, good luck with that.

Speaking of rude behavior, remember when Trump and his minions were chanting “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton’s emails and foundation and Trump himself was telling Secretary Clinton to her face that if he was president, she’d be in jail? Good times, weren’t they?

Now it seems those days are gone, just like Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, etc. Trump told interviewer Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes” that he doesn’t “want to hurt the Clintons,” and just this past week, his spokes-harpy, Kellyanne Conway, confirmed that Trump “doesn’t want to pursue” those charges and that, while he was “thinking of many different things” right now, “things that sound like the campaign” are not among them.

Speaking of foundations and the misuse thereof, remember when the Clinton Foundation was, for unspecified reasons, just more evidence of the dastardly secretary’s foul sink of corruption and even more reason to “lock her up”?

The Trump folks seem oddly silent in regard to a recent IRS filing found by the Washington Post concerning the Trump Family Foundation, in which they had to fess up to multiple acts of “self-dealing” and “transferring assets to disqualified persons,” such as Mr. Trump or his family members.

If that language seems a little obscure, it might help to know that if you or I did it, it’d be called “embezzlement.” I guess being indignant about using one’s foundation for personal gain is one of those “things that sound like the campaign” that our new embezzler-in-chief isn’t interested in anymore. To paraphrase Sarah Palin, how’s that drain-y swamp-y thing goin’ for ya?

Oh, and remember when waterboarding was something Mr. Trump thought was pretty keen? Well, in Tuesday’s interview with The New York Times, Mr. Trump talked about how he’d spoken with his potential defense secretary, Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, and Mattis told him he’d “never found it to be useful,” so, in Mr. Trump’s new and improved opinion, torture is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.” It’s a heck of a thing when a guy nicknamed “Mad Dog” is the voice of reason.

In the same interview, Mr. Trump, who was adamant that the idea of climate change was a “hoax by the Chinese,” now says he’s going to have an “open mind” on the Paris climate change accords and “look at them very closely.”

Yes, times have certainly changed since Nov. 8, haven’t they? Either that, or nothing Donald Trump said in his presidential campaign has any meaning to him now whatsoever. One wonders if anything does, or if it was all just “campaign devices,” to use Rudy Giuliani’s phrase.

On the one hand, I’m happy if he’s really breaking those awful promises. On the other hand — man, you Trump supporters really got played.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Republic of Fear

Opinion |

Tomorrow night is Halloween, when kids (and many adults) dress up as the things that scare us most — ghosts, vampires, witches, skeletons, etc.
(Bet you thought I was going to slip a Trump joke in there, didn’t you? Nah, too easy.) So let’s talk about fear.
Let’s face it — there’s plenty of fear to go around. America seems to have gone from the Home of the Brave to a Republic of Fear. The country whose president once famously proclaimed “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” now seems to be afraid of everything.
To hear some people tell it, fanatical Muslim jihadists are arriving by the tens of thousands, and even their children can’t be trusted not to murder us in our beds. Mexicans are pouring across the border in hordes that would make the Mongols look like a Sunday School outing, hell-bent on raping our women and taking our jobs.
There are so many mad killers out there just waiting to shoot us all down like cattle for whatever reason that some people feel like they need to strap on a shootin’ iron, Wild West style, to go out and get a Happy Meal with the wife and kids. Perverts are dressing up as women to get into women’s bathrooms by claiming they’re transgendered.
Drug cartels! Knockout gamers! Ebola! Zika! Attacks on the power grid! It’s enough to make you want to run into the basement and nail all the doors shut.
The ironic thing is, though, we’ve actually never been safer. While there’s been a slight uptick in crime this year, violent crime has been falling steadily for years.
According to studies done by the Pew Research Center, more Mexican immigrants are leaving than are coming to the U.S., and Border Patrol reports show that fewer and fewer Mexicans are making the attempt. And 78 percent of that “flood of refugees,” according to figures released by the State Department, are women or children, with children making up 58 percent.
The New York Times used data from the “Officer Down Memorial Page,” which “tracks law enforcement officer fatalities in real time” to show that officer deaths from hostile action have been falling steadily for years and are at historic lows.
Ebola’s been knocked back into the jungle. There has never been an epidemic of fake transgender people sneaking into women’s rooms — believe me, if there were, women would have dealt with it by now.
And yet, if you want to see fear turn to frothing rage, try to point any of the above out to some people. Try to tell them the sky’s not falling, and they’ll scream at you that it is and that you’re part of the conspiracy to keep the fall quiet for political gain.
Why? How do people get so wedded to their fear? It’s easy to see where it comes from. And, no, I’m not going to blame Fox News, at least not exclusively. Again, that would be too easy.
Fear-mongering has been a staple of media, and broadcast media in particular, for years. My wife and I used to laugh at a local newscast that was so obsessed with “alerting” viewers to hazards, including venetian blinds, radon and (I swear this is true) apples, that we ended up calling it “Everything In Your House Will Kill You — Film at 11.”
Now, fast-forward 20 years, expand that across multiple national networks, broadcasting 24/7/365, and every one of them dedicated to keeping you terrified and glued to the set. Add into that brew the internet, the technology that finally made literally true the old saying that “a lie travels around the world before the truth gets out of bed.”
Frankly, I have to admire the courage of anyone who’s not actually hiding under the bed after all that.
So what do we do? How do we get our tickets out of the Republic of Fear? Well, we could just turn off all the fear-mongering media and unplug the internet. But we know that’s not going to happen. So I’d recommend a rigorous regimen of skepticism.
You don’t have to be afraid of something just because some TV talking head or Twitterer tells you to. Be rational. Be logical. Demand to see the evidence. And don’t let them make you afraid.
Happy Halloween.

Thanks, Canada!

Opinion |

To hear one of our presidential candidates tell it, America is a crippled, blighted hellscape.
The way this candidate describes this country, its everyday reality makes the post-apocalyptic zombie-haunted world of “The Walking Dead” seem like an episode of “Mayberry R.F.D.” Our military is broken, China is laughing up the sleeves of their Gucci suits at us, and the very election system is rigged worse than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Tired of hearing from the “America Is Awful” crowd? Want to be reminded that America is still great? Well, there are some people out there who want you to know the high esteem in which they hold our great land.
Ironically, those people are Canadians.
It seems that a Canadian marketing company called “The Garden” decided that we here to the south needed a little cheering up.
“As their closest friends and neighbours,” they posted on their blog, “we thought it was important for us to do something to cut through the negativity and help remind them that no matter how bad things might seem, there are a lot of reasons to believe that America is still pretty great.”
To that end, they asked Canadians to submit short video clips to remind us what’s good about us. The results, gathered into a minute-and-a-half of video, are pretty amazing. I know these people have a reputation for being nice, but this takes nice to a whole new level.
“You invented the internet,” one lass reminds us. “Your National Park systems protect some of the most beautiful places on Earth,” one earnest looking young man chimes in. Yet another fellow reminds us of our giving nature: “Over $250 billion a year donated to charity.” And so on. “Warm.” “Open.” “Willing to fight to make things better.” It goes on and on like that. I swear, it made me tear up to watch it.
You know, it shouldn’t have to take Canadians to remind us that, while we do face some serious challenges both at home and abroad, there’s nothing wrong with America, as Bill Clinton once said, that can’t be cured by what’s right with America.
Sure, we’ve got problems: income inequality, pervasive racism (and the stubborn denial of some people to admit it exists), a recovery that’s not reaching all of our population, out-of-control health care costs, and the ever present threat of terrorism, both foreign and domestic. But you know what? We can beat those.
We are a country that never stops getting better. We started our national life with a shameful embrace of slavery. We got better, even though we had to go through five years of half the country trying to kill the other half.
For years we denied basic rights of citizenship to people based on the color of their skin. We got better, this time without a civil war. For years we denied other citizens fundamental rights based upon who they love. We got better, via the rule of law.
Oh, and along the way, we beat Hitler and the Japanese Empire at the same time. We cured polio. We invented communications satellites, air conditioning, cellphones, the personal computer, jazz, bluegrass, hip-hop, and rock ’n’ roll. Dear Lord, people, we went to the freakin’ moon, and now we’re setting our sights on Mars and beyond.
We’ve never stopped thinking, we’ve never stopped innovating, and most of all, we’ve never stopped making our society better, freer, and more humane. That’s because our Founding Fathers set up a system that, for all its sometimes frustrating inefficiency of outright foot-dragging, allows everyone’s voice to be heard and gives them a peaceful way to resolve their grievances — if they’ll just use it and not fall into the cynicism and despair that we see breeding violence and terrorism in other countries.
So, don’t wait for a Canadian to tell you America’s great (but if you see one, thank them and give them a hug). And the next time someone tries to tell you that America’s “crippled” and “broken,” that everything’s terrible and we need to throw out democracy and install some sort of Third World-style strongman to fix it — well, if you won’t listen to the words of President Emeritus Clinton above, listen to Mr. Chuck Berry (who, speaking of good things about America, announced on his 90th birthday that he’s cutting a new record): “I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the USA.”

Sunday, October 16, 2016

You Just Keep Being You, Donald. Please.

Opinion |

Dear Mr. Trump:
I know there are people around who are telling you that you’re blowing this election, that the tactics you’re using are ill-conceived and self-defeating. I know they’re urging you to stay off Twitter and to let the political professionals handle your message.
I can tell you that I only have your best interests and, even more important, the best interests of America, in mind when I say this: Don’t you believe them, Mr. Trump. You keep right on doing what you’re doing. In fact, I think you need to ramp it up. A lot.
Take Paul Ryan, for example. How dare he withdraw his support and tell down-ballot candidates to do whatever it takes to save their own political careers? That was a betrayal of you personally. Worse than that, it was disrespectful, and we all know you’re a man who doesn’t tolerate or forgive disrespect. It’s why your base loves you.
So you should totally keep going after the Republican speaker of the House, calling him “very weak” and “ineffective” on Twitter. You’re not going to need him when you take power.
In fact, you know what? You should do the same to each and every one of the 33 House members and 17 senators from your party who have shown you that same appalling level of disrespect.
You should do a nasty Tweet about each and every one of them individually. Space the tweets out over days. Take your time. Tell them they’re losers. Keep telling them their “poll numbers — and elections — are going down” in November. After all, you tweeted it yourself: “Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary.” Show America you know who the real enemy is.
Hey, I’ve got an even better idea! Tell them that when you win, they’re going to jail! That’ll show them you’re not a candidate to be trifled with. It’ll purge the weaklings and cow the rest into silence. Let the Republicans hate, so long as they fear, right?
And how about those debate moderators? Boy, they sure rigged the thing for Hillary, didn’t they? You should spend lots and lots of time talking about them, and talking in general about how unfair the media is to you.
Tell them how you’re going to single-handedly “open up” the libel laws so you can sue and — dare we even hope? — put anyone in jail who criticizes you in a way you think is unfair. That’ll really show people what kind of leader you’ll be: a strong one. Like Vladimir Putin or Saddam Hussein.
Also, you should totally double down on bringing up the women who’ve accused Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting them. You should bring them to every campaign event, just to remind people that it’s not necessary for anyone to be charged, let alone found guilty, of sexual assault.
The accusation is enough for the guy to be branded a “rapist,” right? Unless of course the person making the accusation is someone like Jill Harth, who’s sued you for allegedly trying to rape her in your own daughter’s bedroom. Or that woman who’s suing you for allegedly tying her to a bed, beating her and raping her at your good buddy and convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein’s house when she was only 13.
Or your ex-wife Ivana, who accused you of raping her while you were married but later, after being pressured by your lawyers, said she was only “violated.” Those gals have, in your words, “real problems,” am I right?
So you keep defending your bragging about sexually assaulting women as “locker room talk.” Keep bringing up Bill Clinton’s accusers and talk about how Hillary “attacked” them. I’m sure no other women from your past will come forward to accuse you of that same behavior.
(Oh, by the way, if you’re tempted to grab a strange woman by her private parts while you’re campaigning in North Carolina, don’t. It’s called “sexual battery” here, and being convicted of it would require you to register as a sex offender.)
In summation, Mr. Trump, I’m glad that, as you recently tweeted, “the shackles are finally off.” Let Trump be Trump. Lead the Republican party to its inevitable, God-ordained destruction — I mean its destiny. Please your base, and everyone else can go pound sand. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Stay the course, Mr. Trump. America depends on it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

There Can Be Only One

Opinion |

It seems like only yesterday that one of the favorite right-wing talking points was “only one candidate is under FBI investigation.” Well, that investigation has come and gone, with no criminal charges recommended or brought. But there’s still one candidate who’s unique in so many ways:
Only one candidate’s skin is so thin that he gets up at 3 in the morning to engage in a Twitter feud with a former Miss Universe and to insist that he was completely justified in cruelly humiliating her in public 20 years ago because she was really, really getting fat.
Only one candidate completely loses his mind, his temper, and all sense of decorum and proportion every time you mention Rosie O’Donnell.
Only one candidate thinks it’s a legitimate campaign tactic to attack his opponents’ spouse, both in the primary and the general elections.
Only one candidate has mocked a disabled person on camera.
Only one candidate’s foundation has received a “cease and desist” letter from the New York attorney general because of raising funds without being legally certified as eligible to do so.
Only one candidate’s foundation has used $258,000 donated allegedly for charitable purposes to settle the candidate’s legal problems and over $30,000 to pay for huge portraits of the candidate.
Only one candidate used money from his charitable foundation to pay big contributions to two attorneys general to get them to lay off a fraud investigation, while bragging that when he gives money to politicians, they do what he wants.
Only one candidate has repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Only one candidate says he wants to “run the government like a business” after losing nearly a billion dollars in his own companies and putting them through multiple bankruptcies.
Only one candidate says that people who don’t pay taxes are “a problem” in society but then says that not paying taxes because he lost all that money just shows how “smart” he is. Guess that makes those of us who do pay taxes and don’t lose hundreds of millions “dumb” in his eyes.
Only one candidate says he wants to “run government like a business” after stiffing multiple small business people, daring them to sue, and fighting them tooth and nail in court to avoid paying the money he owed.
Only one candidate has longstanding and well-documented ties to the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia mobs, including paying double market value to Philly mobster Salvatore Testa for land upon which to build a casino.
Only one candidate paid far over market value for ready-mix concrete to New York Mafiosi Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, head of the Gambino family. Only one candidate has been proven to have used illegal immigrant Polish workers in a demolition project on one of his New York building projects, mysteriously without any backlash from the unions.
Only one candidate has an upcoming court date in a civil fraud and racketeering case.
On the other hand, only one candidate was secretary of state when four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were murdered by terrorists in Benghazi, Libya. And that candidate is the only one who’s undergone scrutiny by a total of 10 government committees, including highly partisan House and Senate select committees, in regard to the tragedy.
Those committees have generated thousands of pages of reports at a cost of millions of dollars, in order to find absolutely no evidence of personal wrongdoing by that candidate.
Only one candidate has been the focus of more prolonged, highly partisan investigations than any other in U.S. history, investigations which have turned up exactly zero criminal activity.
And yet only one candidate gets the benefit of “innocent until proven guilty” in the court of media and public opinion. After all, where there’s that much smoke, there must be some fire somewhere, right? But only for one candidate.
Both candidates supported the Iraq War. And only one voted for it, because only one was in a position at the time to do that. The other one was apparently busy losing millions of dollars in his businesses. But only one candidate is honest enough to admit that support and only one now says it was a mistake.
To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from the late Hunter S. Thompson: Hillary Clinton may have made some stupid mistakes, but they pale in comparison to what Donald J. Trump does every day, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.
I started this year as a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I’m still not totally thrilled about Hillary Clinton. But when you weigh the pros and cons — the longtime political pro versus the shameless con artist — the choice is clear. There can be only one.