Archive for July, 2017

Real GOP Mavericks: Murkowski, Collins

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski at work, governing.

Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski at work, governing.

If you’re looking for a maverick, you don’t go to Arizona where they brag about the “dry heat” and almost everybody is a retired something or other from somewhere else looking to be left alone while they head for the air-conditioning. The state motto in Latin is Ditat Deus, which means “God enriches.” Whether one is a believer or not, that certainly doesn’t suggest an attitude of going out and stirring the pot to make things happen. It’s more like, “Well, OK, let’s chill and if it doesn’t work out, it’ll work out.”

No, if you’re looking for a maverick, by which I mean in this case, an independent-minded person, you go where it’s cold a lot of the time and winters are rough and people don’t have time for pettiness and pettifoggery. “Get on with it! What are you talking about? That’s nonsense; don’t waste my time.”

You go to Maine or, better yet, Alaska. If you’re lucky, both.

The Maine state motto is, “I direct,” or “I lead.” Alaska’s is “North to the Future.”

Action words. Follow me. I know the way.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate early Friday morning, John McCain, the Arizona senator whose reputation as a maverick disappeared in a puff of “Holy smoke!” at Liberty University when he was running for president in 2008, staged a dramatic moment in which he cast a “no” vote — complete with a theatrical thumb-down — on the Republicans’ last-gasp effort at repealing Obamacare.

Boom! The bill was dead. Gasps from Republicans. Applause from Democrats and millions of Americans. The maverick — fresh from surgery for brain cancer at a Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix — was back.

Not really.

Yes, McCain’s was the deciding 51st “no” vote, which killed the bill. But without the preceding “no” votes from Republican senators from Maine and Alaska, McCain’s would have been meaningless and those two senators had been in the forefront of opposing their party’s hypocritical efforts at “health care reform” from the outset.

In the matter of saving Americans from the cruel reality of the disastrous GOP effort to kill Obamacare (as opposed to passing its own health care measure), the real mavericks were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Both women endured insults and threats from male (Republican) colleagues in Congress — and the president — as they stood firmly opposed throughout the sham process conducted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. No last-minute theatrics for them. They let McConnell and the president know where they stood from the outset — on the side of truth and reasonableness, no petty politics.

For doing their job, voting their consciences and what was best for their constituents, rather than toeing the strict party line, Murkowski and Collins were referred to as “witches” and “bitches” online by the Trump troll patrol. Rep. Blake Farenthold, another sad excuse for a legislator from Texas, said that he would challenge them to a duel if they were men. He’d never survive.

The narcissist-in-chief tweeted his displeasure with Murkowski and suggested, in true Kremlin style, that her state might face retribution by the administration. In fact, Senate Democrats said they would ask for an investigation into calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Murkowski and fellow Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, in which Zinke threatened projects important to their state if Murkowski persisted in voting no. That was merely more thuggery from an administration that has no respect for laws or rules of conduct, much less respect for differing opinions.

Collins displayed no patience for McConnell’s nonsense from the beginning of the latest Republican effort to squash Obamacare, pointing to the lack of information and debate on the measure, as well as its negative impact on millions of Americans — the things most other Republican senators were fully aware of but chose to neglect in voting yes.

Collins and Murkowski, of course, were not among the dozen white male Republican senators appointed by McConnell to try to figure out how to repeal and replace Obamacare. No women were on that special panel.

This is today’s Republican Party. A misogynist, or worse, in the Oval Office and a bunch of dumb white men trying to tell women to mind their place.

McConnell, of course, famously shut off the microphone of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a Senate debate, only to listen as she persisted. Clearly, he has similar feelings about Republican women, senators or not.

But Murkowski, who vowed to defend funding for Planned Parenthood (eliminated in the GOP health plan), was elected as a write-in candidate over a Tea Party opponent who beat her in a GOP primary. She doesn’t scare off.

After the big GOP health care flop, she said, “My vote yesterday was from my heart for the people that I represent. And I’m going to continue working hard for Alaskans and just focus on that. I have to focus on my job. I have to focus on what I came here to do.” She had earlier said that it would be nice if some “governing” actually went on in Washington, rather than constant campaigning.

Collins was heard on an open microphone saying Trump’s handling of the budget was “completely irresponsible.” She opposed the Republican health process from the beginning, including the vote to even allow debate. McCain described that tactic as irresponsible, before voting for it. Then he actually voted for a GOP health plan offered later. Collins, Murkowski and several other Republicans voted “no,” (as did all Democrats on every vote). McCain saved his “maverick” vote for the end.

Some called it statesmanship. It was political theater — the deus ex machina coming in way too late. We’re glad you did it, senator, make no mistake, but where have you been all this time, through all this arrant nonsense from McConnell and Trump?

It brings to mind another “mavericky” theatrical moment in the McCain biography, one that also involved an outspoken woman politician from Alaska. Sarah Palin, senator. Remember her? What were you thinking? Were you that desperate for votes in 2008 that you had to sell out to the loony fringe now running your party? Don’t bother answering. Thanks for this decision; it’s a big one. But it doesn’t come close to making up for that earlier one.

No, if you’re looking for statesmanship and courage in this story, look to Senators Collins and Murkowski. If the Republican Party hopes to reclaim its soul, it needs more mavericks like them.

Lining Up for The Smell of Death in D.C.

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

People viewing -- and smelling -- the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.

People viewing — and smelling — the corpse flower (titan arum) in Washington, D.C.

There was a distinct stench of decay in the nation’s capital last week and thousands of visitors showed up to get a whiff — heck, a full, deep inhalation — of it. What’s that? No, no, this had nothing to do with the White House or Congress … stick with me. The odor emanated from, of all things, a flower.

The corpse flower. These large malodorous plants are not for sale at your local garden store. For one thing, they’re huge — this one is 8 feet tall — and bloom rarely. Unpredictably, really. And then for only two days at most. This makes such occasions an excuse for people to line up around the block, as they did at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory, to look and smell.

A plant scientist who is public programs manager at the U.S. Botanic Garden, told the website LiveScience “… once you get into that room, it really hits you pretty hard. It reminded me of a dead deer on the side of the road in the Florida Everglades with a big pile of really soggy, moldy laundry next to it. It was really, really unpleasant.”

I think I know what the man is talking about. In my neck of the woods in upstate New York, about 75 miles from New York City, some farmers have taken to spreading what they say is fertilizer on their land, but which, to noses familiar and comfortable with normal fertilizer, smells like dead deer times ten. Death smell, we call it. Really unpleasant. The farmers never said it was the corpse flower, though. Duck eggs is the story they’re going with.

Unlike the corpse flower, no one around here lined up to take a good, deep whiff. You really only had to drive by to get it. A lot of people did complain to public officials, however, and that may have stopped the practice. Lately, it’s just been good, old-fashioned cow manure.

In Washington, though, Amorphophallus titanum was holding forth last week to no apparent purpose. While it rarely blooms and no one can say when one will bloom, the plant can be long-lived and botanists say the blooming has a specific purpose. Get this: The corpse plant uses its death smell to attract flesh-eating bugs such as beetles and flies that will carry its pollen to cross pollinate other corpse flowers.

So its purpose is simply to perpetuate itself apparently. Thank you, Mother Nature. One bloomed in the Bronx last August, but the plant is native to the rain forests of Sumatra and I suppose it makes sense in the ecological framework of western Indonesia. As for the D.C. transplant, I’m not certain.

This particular plant, which blossomed for the first time, is said to have grown from 4 feet tall to 8 feet tall just in the time it was put on display in the greenhouse — less than a week-and-a-half. It reeked of death for a couple of days then withered.

The folks at the Botanical Garden said this particular plant was the first corpse flower to bloom in Washington, D.C., since 2007. So for eight years — from 2008 to 2016 — there was no call to line up for the smell of death in the nation’s capital. This year — bloom!

Hmmm. Maybe I was wrong about the plant’s purpose. Maybe it’s trying to tell us something. Let’s see … what blooms big and garish without warning for no purpose other than to promote itself, attracts a crowd, appeals to flesh-eating bugs, stinks to hell for a brief period and then withers and goes away for a long time?

Maybe they’ll have a clue at the White House.



Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

By Jeffrey Page

So long, Chris. Write when you get a job of work, not an appointed commissionership.

That is, if you get work; there’s not much call for professional bullies and blowhards. Maybe you can make a career of explaining why people hate being treated like chumps. Sometimes it seems like making fools of people is your specialty.

Here’s what I mean.

Gov. Chris Christie and family enjoy an exclusive day on the beach.

Gov. Chris Christie and family enjoy an exclusive day on the beach.

Several million dollars was supposed to be set aside for the much needed but long delayed repair and rehabilitation of the railroad tunnels that connect lower Manhattan and New Jersey. The tunnels need a lot of work.

So weren’t New Jersey and New York rail commuters left aghast when they learned you diverted a huge chunk of that money for other uses?

The explanation was the basis of a recent story in The New York Times, which reported that you’ve been diverting a large sum from the tunnel repair project and using it instead to support a little used ferry boat service that connects Atlantic Highlands on the Jersey Shore with service to Jersey City and Hoboken.

Chris, you are a screen writer’s dream. Passengers aboard the ferry pay a roundtrip fare of $24, and then New Jersey reimburses the carrier at the rate of $95 per round trip. But wait, this gets better. The Times noted that in addition to the individual subsidy, the carrier, Seastreak, also received $7,200 a day.

In the meantime, the rail tunnels await repairs.

Now, just six months before you leave office, it’s Beachgate, the latest outrage you’ve foisted on New Jerseyans.

It was a beautiful day, a perfect beach day, recently. But anyone thinking about taking the family to Island Beach or any other state park in New Jersey soon found himself out of luck: The state’s beaches were closed due to a government shutdown.

This of course didn’t apply to you, Chris. You’re a man who’s good at getting what he wants and who spares little in getting it. Except when you played sycophant extraordinaire to Donald Trump so that he’d make you his vice presidential running mate. Hey, you can’t win them all.

It was hot and the beaches were cool on July 2. So you took the family and a bunch of aides to Island Beach and if any of the other 8,958,999 perspiring New Jerseyans objected they could take the first bus to hell.

When journalists got wind of your little outing, one enterprising photographer grabbed an incredible shot of you and your private party taking in the rays. The rest of the beach, which is 10 miles long, was empty of all visitors.

A reporter later asked you about your private use of the public beach, and you responded with the tact of a mule: “This is just the way it goes,” you said.

If you ever wish to understand why New Jerseyans dislike you as much as they do, just play back that quote.

Hellooooooooooooooooooo, Out There!

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The Arecibo Message ... sent in 1974

The Arecibo Message … sent in 1974

I pause in my search for intelligent life in the White House to ruminate on another project which may well promise quicker results — the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

The search is known as METI: Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This is not to be confused with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which deals with searching for messages from aliens. To/from. Therein lies the difference as well as a major scientific/philosophical dispute.

The SETI project was popularized in the novel, “Contact,” by astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who was central, along with astronomer, astrophysicist Frank Drake, in creating the program by which huge radio telescopes have listened for decades — still do — for signals from far-distant civilizations.

The book was later made into a movie starring Jodie Foster. You may remember it. It vaguely resembles the book, which I only recently finished reading as part of my return-to-reading movement that was sparked by a “sudden” appreciation of the science of synchronicity. In brief, I started noticing that coincidences led to more coincidences — books led to other books, ideas to other ideas, etc. — and that I ignored the connection between events/people/things at my own loss.

There was a reason that article by Steven Johnson about METI appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine two weeks ago. It was to catch me up on where the search for evidence of life elsewhere in the universe had gone since Sagan’s book was published in 1985. What purpose it may have served for you, I haven’t a clue, but for me it meant there was probably some issue to write about that could lead to more fruitful thought than that monotonous White House disaster.

The fact that I live in Pine Bush, a hamlet in upstate New York known as the UFO capital of the Northeast, just clinched the deal. Of course, in Pine Bush there are quite a few people who believe that extraterrestrials have already been here more than once. Checking us out. Maybe so, but since I have yet to experience a UFO, I’m interested in the debate going on over SETI vs. METI.

It boils down to: It’s all well and good to listen for messages from outer space. If we receive one, it means there is other life out there. We can then decide how, or whether, to respond. The hesitation has to do with not knowing if the other life is friendly or not. If we send out a big hello to the universe, the nay-sayers argue, any civilization that receives it will be far more advanced than ours and could well look upon us as Columbus did on the Native Americans. As Stephen Hawking, the most prominent METI nay-sayer, pointed out, that experience “did not go well” for the Native Americans. Do not advertise our presence, he says, and Elon Musk and many other scientists agree.

But many others disagree, arguing that another civilization, advanced enough to receive our message, would likely also be advanced enough to  understand the value of being peaceful.

So, what to do?

METI’s web page lists several objectives, including:

  • “Promote international cooperation and collaboration in METI, SETI, and astrobiology.
  • “Understand and communicate the societal implications and relevance of searching for life beyond Earth, even before detection of extraterrestrial life.
  • “Research and communicate to the public the many factors that influence the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe …”

I’d say the non-profit agency has noble, worthwhile goals. It’s the kind of project that could serve to remind all of us Earthlings of our relative insignificance in the universe and serve as a unifying, educational mission for our querulous planet. Of course, with even scientists being in disagreement about whether to send or just keep listening, I’m skeptical about political leaders being able to reach agreement. In fact, there’s an argument just waiting for the anti-science crowd to adopt: The Fermi Paradox.

Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist who created the first nuclear reactor, asked (I paraphrase): If the universe is so big (100 billion galaxies, 50 sextillion Earth-like planets) and so old (13.82 billion years), there should be 10,000,000,000,000,000 intelligent civilizations in the observable universe and, after millions of years of technological progress, an alien civilization should be capable of long-distance space travel. So where is everyone?

Well, as I said, there are some neighbors of mine who say aliens have already been here. How could we miss them? Government coverup of UFO sightings is a popular — and not wholly dismissible — theory.

Either way, I say the METI people — who used to be the SETI people — have the right idea. Be pro-active. Send out a big hello to the universe. An inter-galactic tweet. Get an international group of smart, sensitive people from various walks of life to create it. Set up contingencies for what to do if we get a reply … or a visit. War or peace. Then push the button over and over again for however long it takes for some life form out there to receive and understand it.

For the record, a three-minute message was sent out to the universe from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in 1974, under the direction of Drake. It has yet to reach its destination, but it drew immediate strong opposition from the Royal Astronomer of England at the time, who, like Hawking, warned of placing the earth in peril. Since then, we’ve been mostly listening.

I don’t expect to be around when the message is received — they’re talking about light years here, remember — but I do think it’s the synchronistic thing to do. Someone has to get the ball rolling. Douglas Vakoch, the head of METI, says the fears are exaggerated. He thinks 100 years of television and radio signals sent into space should have — for better or worse — already alerted aliens to our existence and he plans to start sending messages next year.

So … hello, world.

The Republican Party: Mean to the Bone

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of Alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

In much the same way that a broken clock is correct twice a day, so did our narcissist-in-chief (NIC) stumble into a truism the other day when he described a “health-care” bill approved by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives as “mean.”

Why did our clueless leader suddenly think a bill he had only recently pushed for and extravagantly celebrated at the White House was “mean”? Surely not because almost everyone who knew anything about it except for Tea Party Republicans thought it was mean. That’s never bothered him before.

I suspect it had more to do with the fact that he needed the Senate, also run by Republicans, to also pass a health-care bill so he could brag about it again and he just happened to be in the room, sitting there like a broken clock, when someone said if there was any hope of getting a bill through the Senate it had to be different from the House bill, which was, as he subsequently repeated, “too mean.”

Those are the kind of simple words the NIC understands. Big. Great. Best. Bad. Fat. Lousy, Mean. He likes to use them. A lot. Mean is not good. It’s bad. People don’t like mean things. How is the bill “mean”? Nuance is another matter.

Well, the bill that was presented to the Senate by a 13-member, all-white, all-male, Republican-only task force was apparently only a tad less mean than the GOP House bill, which means most of the country still thinks it’s awful policy, as do a handful of Senate Republicans. Actually, a lot of Senate Republicans think it’s not mean enough. In fact, not enough Republicans like it for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to a vote that would carry, so he put it off to allow for arm-twisting and bribing.

As he apparently demonstrated at a ballyhooed arm-twisting meeting with all the Senate Republicans at the White House, the NIC doesn’t know — or even care — how the bill works. He’s apparently confused about the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, stuff like that. No matter. Mean or not, he just wants a health care bill passed so he can have another Rose Garden celebration and thumb his nose at Barack Obama. That’s pretty much the entire Trump policy.

McConnell, for his part, resorted to his favorite weapon — bribery — to try to get 50 Republicans to buy in to the bill. That comes in the form of billions of dollars in local projects for Republican senators who might face difficult reelection if they vote for the still-mean health care bill.

Tell me that’s not an awfully mean way to conduct public policy. And to no purpose other than to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans so they will continue to fund campaigns and vote for Republican candidates who promise to cut taxes even more, to eliminate pesky regulations that force businesses to be accountable for any harm they do, and to remove all those “deadbeats” Rush Limbaugh rails about from the Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment and welfare rolls.

In other words, Republicans have totally lost the concept of governing for the public good. They have been against everything for so long they don’t know how — or seem to even care to try — to work with Democrats on creating useful legislation. I’ve been trying to figure out when “mean” became the Republican go-to word in policy. Maybe it was Ronald Reagan’s phony trickle-down spiel. The middle class and poor are still waiting for the first nourishing drops. A lot of them — many Trump supporters — are those supposed “deadbeats” of Limbaugh’s. Of course, they did have to suffer through a major economic disaster brought on by those rich individuals and corporations, who apparently didn’t have enough stashed away from the tax breaks so they had to simply cheat people out of their money. And they got away with it.

By the way, Republicans just voted to do away with an Obama regulation that required people dealing with other people’s money — brokers — to tell their clients what was in their best financial interests, not the brokers’. Bad idea, according to Republicans. Mean, I say.

Mean is slashing hundreds of millions from Medicaid, which pays for health care for 20 percent of Americans, including seniors in nursing homes, simply to cut taxes for those who don’t need it — the one percent. The very wealthiest Americans. Mean is cutting funding for Meals on Wheels and food stamps. Mean is promising coal workers that their dying industry will be revived while creating no jobs for them, but allowing coal companies to dump their waste into streams from which the workers get their drinking water. Mean is putting the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects Americans from such things as water pollution, under the direction of someone who wants to eliminate the agency.

Mean is looking to do away with hundreds of regulations that protect people from health and safety risks posed by unscrupulous cost-cutting minded corporations looking to improve their standing with shareholders. If Republicans want to take an object lesson about such short-sighted governing, they need only to look at the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 79 people.

The fire is believed to have been started by a faulty refrigerator and spread rapidly up the high-rise, fueled by a highly flammable exterior wrapping, called cladding, that is banned for use on high-rises in the United States, but which its maker is allowed to sell in places where regulations aren’t as stringent. In the aftermath of the deadly blaze, Arconic — formerly Alcoa — said it would no longer sell the cladding, which has a polyethylene core, for high rise projects anywhere in the world. The company makes a more-expensive, fire-resistant cladding. Grenfell is a public housing project whose residents had complained for years that there were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, no safety tests and only one stairwell.

Public housing. No safety features. Total disregard for safety regulations. Cheaper construction material. Years of complaining with no response from British politicians more concerned with helping businesses save money rather than protecting people’s lives. Mean.

Since Republicans took control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they have eagerly worked to erase safety regulations issued late in the Obama administration, including rules to keep coal companies from dumping waste in streams and denying federal contracts to dangerous companies. And it’s not just people who are the target of Republican callousness. The NIC recently signed a bill to allow the shooting of bears and wolves — including cubs — as they hibernate. Heartless.

This list could go on and on and undoubtedly will so long as Republicans, once the proud party of Lincoln, now seemingly a collection of mean-spirited individuals lacking in compassion and tolerance, have access to power. Trump is not really even a Republican, but party leaders have been cynical enough to try to use him to advance their cruel agenda.

It is an utterly depressing state of affairs that calls for new Republican leadership or a new party entirely. If you’re a Republican and are offended by any of this, that’s your problem. The rest of us are appalled. It’s your party. You are responsible for what is being promulgated and promoted in the seats of power in Washington. Your silence is tacit approval.

Like the clueless one said, “Mean.”