Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

The GOP is Now a Party of Yohos

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Yoho

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Yoho

    For as long as I can recall, I’ve been referring to people, usually men, who do and/or say dumb things as yohos. As in, “Rudy Giuliani, what a yoho!”

     I’m not making this up and, until I Googled to my satisfaction, I was unaware that I was actually making the word up, at least as far as my definition of it.  And I most certainly was not aware that there was a member of Congress who was actually called Mr. Yoho.

     He’s a Republican, of course. Ted Yoho. What a yoho.

     Yoho is a 65-year-old veterinarian/businessman, who has managed to represent the Gainesville area of Florida for the past eight years without much national fanfare. Then he ran into Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol. Enter the yoho factor.

       Getting involved in a public shouting match with a 30-year-old first-term congresswoman from Queens who is already known nationally and everywhere on social media by her initials — AOC— is just dumb. It is also against the rules of civility by which members of the House of Representatives like to say they comport themselves when discussing issues. Doing it in front of a reporter for a news organization that covers Congress? Yoho.

       The story in The Hill that grabbed national attention is that, following a heated exchange on the steps, in which he called her “disgusting” and “crazy,” Yoho referred to Ocasio-Cortez as a “f****ng b*tch” as the two walked away from each other. She apparently did not hear the remark. A day after the story appeared, Yoho apologized on the floor of the House for his “abrupt” behavior, but denied using the vulgar insult attributed to him by the reporter. Yoho said he actually said “f****ng b****hit,” referring to the congresswoman’s views.

      Yoho said it “is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America, but that does not mean we should be disrespectful.”

       He also said, “I will commit to each of you that I will conduct myself from a place of passion and understanding that policy and political disagreement be vigorously debated with the knowledge that we approach the problems facing our nation with the betterment of the country in mind and the people we serve. I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country.”

     Occasio-Cortez responded on the House floor the next day, in a classic takedown, in effect calling Yoho’s apology B.S. and an insult to all women. Republicans believed Yoho. Most of the rest of the world agreed with the reporter and AOC. That’s kind of the problem with Republicans these days. They’re convinced of their moral superiority and righteousness, but no one else is listening to them because no one believes them anymore. About anything.

      As a fish rots from the head down, so has the GOP. Their leader is a bully, a liar and a misogynist and they know it. Rather than rise up in moral indignation, they have chosen for nearly four years to emulate or remain silent. A sincere apology on Yoho’s part —: “I said it in a fit of anger, but no excuses. I am embarrassed and sorry and regret any hurt I caused.” — would have likely ended the story. But humility is not in the Republican playbook.

      (If you sense — correctly — that I’m believing the reporter’s account, not Yoho’s, that’s because I honestly believe that any man who has lived five or six or more decades in this country can put himself in Yoho’s situation at least once in his life. It happens. Denying or justifying it makes it much worse. Apologizing and looking for the source of the anger is much better.)

     Getting back to being yohos … The Florida congressman’s stated beef with Ocasio-Cortez is her view linking poverty with crime. Fine. But his vehemence in disagreeing is more likely tied to the fact that she is young, female, smart, attractive, outspoken, courageous and popular. Ambitious, too. A magna cum laude who used to tend bar. How dare she?

    It’s the modern Republican Party’s attitude towards accomplished women who don’t come from wealth — Anti. Republicans also used to be Anti-deficits. Not so much anymore.

     The party still is Anti-taxes for the rich, as we know, and it is also: Anti-science, Anti-history, Anti-math, Anti-logic, Anti-proper English, Anti-ethics, Anti-reading, Anti-psychology, Anti-philosophy, Anti-clean energy, Anti-regulation, Anti-immigration, Anti-Social Security, Anti-civics, Anti-government, Anti-law, Anti-answering subpoenas, Anti-choice, Anti-peaceful dissent and Anti-institutes of higher learning. A majority of Republicans actually believe that colleges have a negative effect on America.

      To be fair, there are men of all (or no) political persuasions who disrespect women. Republicans don’t have a monopoly on it. But they do seem to have patented the right to be as dumb as they choose and be proud of it. They have, in fact, become a party of yohos.

 

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

The Bankers Strike Again; Also, UFOs

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

BOB GAYDOS

THE REPORT … bad loans, Beyond burgers, UFOs, takeout

    072F2413-04EB-42B5-8BE1-B11114B646CD  So the cardinal count at our bird feeders has doubled. We now have two males. I take that as good news, believing there have to be two families close by that these dads are rushing back-and-forth to feed. By the way, there is no social distancing at the feeders.

     — Also by the way … Super stock analyst, TV star, Philadelphia Eagles fan and world-class speed talker Jim Cramer raised an important point on his CNBC show when he said, “I just want to know who made the bad loans.” The loans he was referring to came from the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the $2.2 trillion rescue plan passed by Congress to help small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Anyone casually familiar with social media the past few days is aware that many of these loans went to large corporations which were never intended to receive the money. Smaller businesses were shut out. In fact, the fund ran out of its original $349 billion cache after just a few days. When Shake Shack, the Los Angeles Lakers and other well-heeled companies were embarrassed by the publicity surrounding their getting the loans, many said they would return the money. But others said they would keep it.

       Two problems here. One, why did these large corporations even apply for the loans in the first place? Two, as Cramer wondered, who gave them the loans? “I think that banks were complicit. I think banks gave loans to very good customers, maybe because they needed to keep them afloat,” Cramer said. He said Americans are “sick” of this kind of behavior from banks and he’s absolutely right. Penalize the companies, who must have supplied phony info to even apply for the loans, and the banks, who surely knew. Make the names of those banks who approved the loans public, as Cramer suggested. Congress should investigate.

      — By the way … we finally found Beyond Meat burgers at the supermarket and created our version of a drive thru treat at home. Delicious. Of course, now, having already decided the Impossible Whopper is also delicious, some serious taste-testing is in order in the plant-based food wars. Any personal reviews out there?

     — By the way … speaking of out there, did you notice that little UFO item the Pentagon slipped out in the midst of the pandemic, maybe figuring no one was paying attention? It declassified videos

The Navy released this video of UFOs this week.

The Navy released this video of UFOs this week.

showing swiftly moving UFOs with the soundtrack of naval pilots expressing, well, awe. The videos were actually made public a couple of years ago by a private group, but the Pentagon had no official comment on them at the time. Recently, the Navy announced a formal policy on reporting UFOs. Apparently, the brass decided to believe their pilots were actually seeing something that they could not identify or explain. The Pentagon had a classified program to study numerous reports of such phenomena from 2007 to 2012, but abandoned it for what it said were more pressing priorities. The former head of that program resigned in protest in 2017 over the secrecy surrounding it. Retired former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, who pushed for the original program, tweeted that release of the videos now “only scratches the surface of research and materials available. The U.S. needs to take a serious, scientific look at this and any potential national security implications.” Or we can let the new Space Force handle it.

      — By the way … folks in my neighborhood have been familiar with the UFO phenomenon for a long time. In fact, Pine Bush, N.Y., has an annual parade/festival to celebrate its designation as the UFO capital of the Northeast. Nice event.  Unfortunately, it’s postponed this year until fall. Of course, some folks may think we’re a bit out of it, but It’s hard for me to discount the idea that there’s something out there and it’s intelligent, because it’s smart enough to stay away from us right now. Make a hard left at Earth, captain, and get out of the neighborhood fast.

       — Finally … scenes from a pandemic: Sitting in the parking lot waiting for our Chinese takeout. Customers preceding us waiting at the door, socially distanced, all wearing some variation of masks. When they leave, a silver hearse pulls up, white skull painted in the rear window and a spooky ghost in one of the side windows. Normal-looking lady wearing a mask gets out the driver side, goes in, picks up her takeout and drives away expeditiously. GrubHub? DoorDash? Thinking I’m definitely in a Coen brothers movie. By the way … I had shrimp lo mein.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

BOB GAYDOS

Thursday, April 16th, 2020
The new normal.

The new normal.

THE REPORT … masks, wildlife, dogs, waste and scoundrels

April 16, 2020

  072F2413-04EB-42B5-8BE1-B11114B646CD   So I shaved my beard and mustache off the other day. Three-blade razor, no soap or gel. Not bad and only two small nicks. Now my N95 mask fits more snugly and friends will be able to understand me when I shout hello to them from 6 to 8 feet away in the supermarket. By the way, a big thank you to all supermarket workers. Be well.

     — By the way … The cardinals have still not returned to our birdfeeders, but we had a visit from a large, male wild turkey the other morning. Undoubtedly shopping for his young brood snuggled away someplace nearby. He apparently didn’t like what his feathered comrades were feasting on and eventually wandered off. Probably see the whole family soon.

     — By the way … One of the more significant changes brought about by the coronavirus came in the country of its origin, China. Following up on its decision announced in February to ban the eating of wild animals, the Chinese government last week said it will also be illegal as of May 1 to eat animals raised as pets. In China this is big. Dogs and cats are now safe. The wildlife trade in China has long been controversial and lucrative and has always been a potential source of some new virus. Wildlife has traditionally been used, not only as a source of food, but for clothing, medicine, ornaments and pets. Past attempts at curtailing these uses of wildlife have been only marginally successful. Given the worldwide pandemic that is believed to have started in a Chinese wildlife market, one would hope that there will be serious international pressure on the Chinese government to strictly enforce these new rules.

    — By the way … is it just me, or does it make no sense in a country of such vast resources for there also to be such widespread need? With the pandemic making it even harder for millions of Americans to get enough healthful food, farmers in Florida were plowing under acres of fresh produce and in Wisconsin and New York – including in my own Orange County — dairy farmers were pouring gallons of milk into fields. With schools and restaurants closed, the major buyers have almost disappeared. But people are still hungry. Question: Instead of giving farmers millions of dollars in bailout money for throwing away good food, why not buy the food and give it to food pantries for people who are hungry?

      — By the way … when Congress gets back from its self-isolation, that handful of members who sold and bought stock after being briefed early on the virus should be investigated for insider trading. They knew what was coming, kept quiet or even downplayed the risk and then cashed in big on the worldwide suffering. Unconscionable.

      — By the way …  I think the stay at home order is resulting in a lot of healthier canines. Walking the dog is not just a chore anymore.

       — And finally, by the way … although I am firmly ensconced in the age group most susceptible to dying from COVID-19, I am not willing to simply give it up so that Rush Limbaugh, a bunch of Tea Party Republicans, Dr. Oz, Laura Ingraham or any other cult member can “get back to business.” I plan to live for the Day of Reckoning. For any evangelists who wandered into this column, that’s The Rapture without the empty clothes stuff.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

It’s Unraveling Before Our Eyes

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

 

By Bob Gaydos

Paula White ... spiritual advisor

Paula White … spiritual advisor

 It’s unraveling. Well, to be accurate, the Trump “presidency” has never been wrapped too tightly and he has always been loosey-goosey about such things as the Constitution, the law and the truth, but now the frayed strands of denial are becoming harder for even an occasional Republican to ignore.

     The change struck me recently when Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting Mr. Everything and currently acting chief of staff, said at a well-attended and well-recorded press conference that, of course, there was a quid pro quo proposal made by Trump to the president of Ukraine — a proposal that is now the focus of impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives. In fact, Mulvaney went on to say the White House did it all the time with foreign leaders.

      “Get over it!” he exclaimed defiantly, exhibiting the arrogance of the ignorant that surely will cost him his job. It’s one thing for the boss to indict himself with his own words, as Trump has frequently done, but “yes men” are wise to be stingy with their own words when defending the indefensible. Mulvaney has never been that type.

       When Republicans as well as  Democrats expressed shock at this bold admission of executive extortion masquerading as diplomacy — you’ll get U.S. financial aid if you try to dig up dirt on the Bidens -– Mulvaney was quickly dispatched to deny he said what the assembled media had recorded him saying. This trick — insisting you didn’t hear what you heard — only works for Trump because he’s assembled enough sycophants around him and throughout the government (hello, Lindsay Graham) that it’s taken this long for Democrats in Congress to begin a serious effort to remove him. 

    But it won’t work for Mulvaney, because, first of all, everyone knows he’s a stooge and, more to the point, like virtually everyone in Trump’s protective cocoon, he’s expendable. There’s always a Matt Gaetz auditioning to be the emperor’s next mascot.

     Gaetz made his play for Mulvaney’s job by leading a platoon of House Republicans on a mission to storm closed hearings in the pre-impeachment process. This was not only a stupid high school stunt that should have embarrassed all who took part, it was also a serious breach of security and violation of House rules. The stormers said Democrats were holding secret depositions, even though there were Republican committee members in the room and a dozen of the stormers themselves were entitled to be in there. But that would mean doing their jobs rather than staging a phony protest to try to delegitimize the process. Pure desperation.

        When it turned out Gaetz was acting with Trump’s blessing, the unraveling was even more obvious. Since then, there’s been nothing but name-calling by Trump (veteran government employees who testify are “traitors” or “scum”), refusal by White House staff to honor congressional subpoenas and demands that the whistleblower’s name be revealed. 

      That last is the nastiest, an indication of where Trump and his shameless acolytes (add Rand Paul to the list) have descended. Of course, there are laws to protect the identity of whistleblowers so that they feel safe enough to come forward with their concerns of government wrongdoing without fear of retribution. But Trump operates out of fear all the time. When he’s scared, he turns scarier and there’s not much scarier than the person occupying the most powerful position on the planet telling his supporters  — some of whom have displayed violent tendencies — that the whistleblower and those corroborating his or her story are traitors leading a coup to topple their leader.

        In addition to being an act of desperation, this can also be considered an impeachable offense — attempting to intimidate witnesses or obstruction of justice. But at this point, Trump doesn’t care. He’s also gone so far as to tell Republican senators who are up for re-election that he’ll support them only if they promise not to vote to convict him when the impeachment trial inevitably moves to the Senate. Bribing witnesses they call it. 

         Of course, in the ever-chaotic world that is Trump in charge, there was also the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria, pulling out U.S. troops without consulting his generals, insisting later that our troops were staying to protect Syrian oil (which is virtually non-existent), turning the killing of the Isis leader into another self-aggrandizing moment and thanking Russia and Syria for their help before mentioning U.S. troops who did the job, getting booed at a World Series game in Washington, D.C. (his staff had to know this would happen or they have become as delusional as he), and threatening to cut off federal aid to California, which is fighting devastating forest fires, because he doesn’t like the Democratic governor and the state voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

         This last bit of Trumpian unraveling put Californian Kevin McCarthy, House minority leader and the top Republican in that body in the delicate position of having to defend a man who was willing to let McCarthy’s home state be consumed by flames because the man was consumed by pride, anger and fear.

     But McCarthy, a true Trump trooper, grasping at strands, kept silent. After all, he would need Trump’s support from those California Republicans who fear what would happen if he were removed.

     In what would be considered the last strand for anyone else, Trump also announced that prosperity evangelist Paula White, described by some as his longtime personal pastor and by others as an opportunistic blonde con artist, had taken a position with the Office of Public Liaison as advisor to the president’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Let us all pray. Kneel if you wish. Send cash.

    When it’s all coming apart at the seams, turn to God, or in this case, someone who says you’re the next best thing.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Take Me to Your Leader: A Fable (?)

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

 

By Bob Gaydos

Ancient Rome had leaders for life, as long as they lived. Shown: Emperor Diocletian.

Ancient Rome had leaders for life, as long as they lived. Shown: Emperor Diocletian.

 They really should have known better. After all, the evidence was there from the beginning. The erratic, impulsive behavior. The fascination with the spotlight. The ignorance and pettiness. The lying, cheating, arrogance and lack of empathy. It was a show. Always, just a show. Not surprising for a veteran of what was known as reality TV.

     Yet the people of The Promised Land elected him to be their leader, even though he made it pretty clear to anyone who paid attention to his street brawl of a campaign that he didn’t really want the job, just the attention and prestige that went with it. Run for leader. Insult everyone. Wow the audience. Maybe stir up new business for his brand-name empire … Sell the name. It was always about selling the name.

    It worked. Sort of. The other major candidate, a woman, was clearly more qualified for the job. Smarter. More experienced in government and diplomacy. Familiar with the constitution. And her husband had been elected leader in the past, twice. She understood the tremendous responsibility that went with the honor.

    In truth, many citizens saw The Showman for what he was and did not like him or vote for him. However, many other citizens, saying they did not like her because she was too something or other (traits usually overlooked in males) chose not to vote at all or to vote for a third candidate with no chance of winning. A protest of sorts, they said. He’s obviously unqualified, but we just don’t like her, was the reasoning.

      She still got the most votes, but that didn’t matter under the arcane voting system used in The Promised Land that emphasized geography rather than actual numbers of people. Also, he cheated. He got secret help from another country, ironically (to all but him), a country which had long been an unfriendly rival for world leadership. The Other Land and The Promised Land had waged what was described as a Cold War for decades, stockpiling weapons and forming alliances with other nations. The Promised Land had emerged victorious in that struggle, so the Other Land was glad to help disrupt The Promised Land campaign and infiltrate voting systems to provide just enough geographical votes for The Showman to win. A “leader” who could be bought.

      The investigations started immediately because there were actually laws prohibiting such interference in the country’s elections. Those who had written the laws a long time ago feared influence over a leader who was beholden to foreign powers for their help in getting him elected.

      Their wisdom was quickly validated as many early decisions made by the new, unprepared leader were to the benefit of The Other Land. He also filled key government positions and judgeships with people who were as equally unprepared or equally self-serving as he, or both.

      Worst of all, the delegates who had been elected to Congress to write the laws and to provide a check on the leader — at least those delegates from his same political party — chose instead to overlook or defend his inexplicable, often cruel, decisions.

      Of course, they knew who he was from his well-documented past and his ruthless campaign and had almost universally condemned him at first. But once he demonstrated that through his support among rank-and-file party members he had political power over their careers, his onetime critics bowed and kowtowed. They had staked their careers on the votes of people who were, in many ways, as ignorant, petty, boorish, racist, selfish and uncaring as their leader. None of the delegates had the courage to resist. Those who shared his views, of course, simply hoped to get rich in the process.

      It didn’t take long for the unraveling of the veneer of civilized governing to begin. The leader spent most of his time playing golf, watching television and sending messages to the people via social media. He gave his adult children “advisory“ roles in his administration. He chose people to lead various departments of government whose main mission was to dismantle those departments. He rekindled feelings of racism and distrust of immigrants among those citizens who had previously been outvoted by the nation’s more welcoming and open-minded citizens. He ignored all his campaign promises and lied about “accomplishments“ daily. His supporters cheered.

      In just two years, The Promised Land had lost its standing as the respected, trusted leader of the free world. He insulted its longtime allies and, instead, courted leaders who were as ruthless and thuggish as he. Murderers. All the while, he also saw to it that his private business interests gained financially from his position as leader. He insulted his generals, his senior diplomatic advisers, top law-enforcement officials and anyone who dared to disagree with him. He fired the top law-enforcement official who was investigating foreign interference in his election. Still, his party members in the Congress supported him and resisted any efforts to remove him from office.

      Inevitably, being someone who never learned from his mistakes — actually never admitted any mistakes —  The Showman went looking for help from yet another country to help solidify the position which he hoped would become leader-for-life. He would withhold aid to Newkraine unless its leaders agreed to try to dig up some dirt on a political rival. He also abandoned longtime allies on the battlefield, leading top military leaders and even some of his own party supporters to criticize him.

     The opposition party, having gained some power in the Congress because of his erratic behavior, began a serious attempt to remove him from power, using the laws of the nation as their guide. In response, some of his followers in the citizenry threatened civil war were he to be removed. Leaders of an extreme religious cult, which had supported his every immoral act, warned of eternal damnation for those who would dare to try to remove him from office. After all, he had been sent by God.

    All the while, he lied, as did his closest aides, often contradicting themselves and compromising him in the process. To them it didn’t matter. Until of course it did. To him. He fired those who couldn’t keep up with his lies and managed to find others willing to try. He called those who criticized him or were testifying against him “scum.“

     By this point, even most of the citizens of The Promised Land had grown weary of The Showman and wary of what he might do next as commander-in-chief with an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

     What he did was order his loyal supporters among congressional delegates to storm the private, top security hearing in which an official investigation was being conducted into his efforts to extort help from Newkraine for his political purposes. They were ineffectual, but to him it didn’t matter. They had served a purpose. These lawmakers were demonstrating that the law didn’t matter, just as he had been insisting on a daily basis that the truth didn’t matter. “The press is the enemy of the people,“ was his motto. 

     In the end, only he mattered. More to the point, he knew full well, only the next season mattered. Could his show survive for another season? That was the overriding question, not global warming or terrorism. He knew from his reality TV experience that the best way to guarantee success was to foment friction, create turmoil and drama, play to people‘s fears and biases, do the unexpected. Create suspense. Make people long for a hero who would just make it all stop.

      “Make me leader again,“ he would say. The people of The Promised Land would cheer. His contract would be renewed for another season. That was the reality. He knew that from the beginning. They should have known, too.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Democrats: Stand By Your Woman

Monday, December 25th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ... leading the way

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand … leading the way

So I wrote a column saying that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been beautifully positioned — by a combination of Donald Trump’s fear of self-confident women, the rapid emergence of sexual misconduct by prominent men as a social issue, the newly demonstrated political power of women of color, and her own intelligence, commitment and ambition — to run for president in 2020.

Here’s a sampling of comments I received:

— “She’’s done, as far as I’m concerned, and I voted for her. What she did to Al Franken for her own benefit is a disgrace. She needs to be primaried, and voted out.”

— “Never vote for her.”

— “Horsefeathers.”

— “Another Democratic hypocrite just like the rest of the party.”

— “Just another Schumer loser and certainly a disgrace for NY.”

— “I think almost every single politicians in New York is corrupt. For example, was she part of Hillary Clinton’s 100 member leadership team? If so, that kills it for me right there. … I mean Bernie Sanders ended up supporting Hillary, but he had to, I think. He has my vote in 2020, and my undying allegiance.”

Of course there were the usual trolls who can’t spell or comment without being vulgar — the world the Internet has legitimized. There were also some positive comments about Gillibrand, but that response was markedly muted, with Democrats in my and Gillibrand’s home state of New York apparently sharing the uncertainty of Democrats nationally as to what to make of this outspoken junior senator who had just called on the groper-in-chief to resign.

The reaction of David Axelrod, one of Barack Obama’s chief advisers, was typical: “There should be rigorous pursuit of these kinds of charges, but right now there are no rules. She’s been a leader on the issue [of sexual assault]. But the danger for her is looking so craven and opportunistic it actually hurts her.”

Someone identified as a top Democratic operative was quoted thusly: “If you cared about the Democrats and 2018, you would be calling for hearings [for Trump]. When you call for resignation, you’re jumping the gun. I’d rather have congressional candidates being asked, ‘Do you support hearings?’ Calling for resignation is not really what’s best for the party, but it’s good for her.”

So, bad for her or good for her? Gillibrand isn’t waiting for Democratic “operatives” to decide.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, the senator provided some insight into her thinking: “I take calculated risks. I measure. I assess risk very intensely. And then I make a judgment. When you play tennis as a kid, you’re going to win sometimes and lose sometimes, and you learn how to behave well under both circumstances. Such a great life lesson because if you’re not afraid of losing, you’ll take a risk — like running for office.”

Including president.

My impression is that Democrats typically have difficulty recognizing opportunities that offer themselves and even more difficulty uniting behind a candidate, whether they agree with all her views or not. It’s almost as if winning elections is not that important. Republicans, of course, have demonstrated that they are capable to a fault of standing behind a candidate regardless of his lack of character, intelligence, knowledge of government, or emotional stability, perhaps even to the eventual demise of their own party.

But that’s the Republicans’ problem. Many Democrats seem to be inclined to try to make a problem of Gillibrand’s synchronistic moment. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that she’s a woman and she’s talking about a subject many people find difficult to talk about frankly and publicly — sexual harassment in all its forms, from subtle to blatant.

That the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump did not prevent him from becoming the Republican presidential candidate, never mind winning the campaign for the White House over a clearly more-qualified female opponent, may well be due in large part to unspoken attitudes about gender and sex and politics and how to behave when they all come together.

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 popular vote among white women, running against a card-carrying misogynist. The usual complaints voiced about her were that she was too ambitious or not trustworthy. But Trump was all ambition and a congenital liar. He was also an admitted sexual predator. But so was Bill Clinton, although it took some time and an impeachment for his admissions to come forth. And through it all, Hillary stood by her man. You could almost hear Tammy Wynette singing it: “You’ll have bad times; he’ll have good times; Doin’ things that you don’t understand …”

As a man occasionally guilty of sexist remarks, I nonetheless venture to say that I have noticed that women have a way of remembering things. “She attacked all those women who were used by Bill and now she wants to be president? I don’t think so.” The women voters stood by their man, just like the song says, “ ‘Cause after all he’s just a man” … allowed to be ambitious and untrustworthy.

That time is no more. #MeToo and the Women’s March and generations of women who have grown up liberated beneficiaries of other women’s struggles — women not trying to behave like men or needing to be silent about sexual abuse in order to succeed — have changed the political landscape. Gillibrand, 51, is one of them and she understands the changing dynamic.

One of the trickier challenges in talking or writing about the recent flood of sexual misconduct allegations is how to differentiate among the various behaviors — Harassment? Groping? Unwanted touching? Suggestive talk? Sex for a promotion? Assault? Rape?

Gillibrand makes it simple: “Let’s say the line is here, and it’s all bad,” she said at a women’s conference, to cheers. She is someone willing and able to lead the much-needed discussion. Indeed, she has led a bipartisan effort to rewrite the rules in Congress on dealing with sexual harassment charges. The current system relies heavily on delay and legal hush money.

Democrats need to take Gillibrand and women’s issues — including Bernie Sanders’ key issue, economic equality — seriously. They are all connected to the issue of men in power using and abusing their positions to get sex in exchange for “helping” a woman’s career or at least not hurting it. In essence, of using power to “keep women in their place.”

I understand that a lot of Democrats feel that Sanders was robbed of the Democratic nomination and that he would have beaten Trump. I agree. But Bernie in 2020? Look, I think he would be a good president. Heck, with all modesty, I think I would be a better president than Trump. But I’m four months older than the Vermont senator, who will be 80 in 2020. I hate ageism, but I’m also a realist. If Sanders runs, I’ll vote for him, but I think being president of the United States is a younger person’s game. In today’s world, perhaps a younger woman’s game.

(The author has been a registered independent voter for more than 50 years.)

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Trump Launches Gillibrand Campaign

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand ... right place, right time?

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand … right place, right time?

Here comes Kirsten.

Thanks to Donald Trump’s thin skin and pathological need to attack any woman who speaks the truth to and about him, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign for the presidency — mostly media speculation and staff downplaying until now — has been launched onto front pages, TV and social media sites ahead of schedule.

Not that Gillibrand is complaining. In fact, she thanked Trump in typical Gillibrand style — directly and defiantly. Just the way to get under his skin. And just the way to use his misogynistic history and instincts to put the spotlight on her signature issue —  sexual predation. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

The launch began when the Democratic senator from New York called on Trump to resign as president in light of allegations of sexual assault or harassment from, at last count, 17 women. Gillibrand had already called for the resignation of fellow Democratic senator, Al Franken, of Minnesota, because of sexual assault allegations and had said that, if BIll Clinton were president now and were facing the sexual misconduct charges that led to his impeachment, she would expect him to resign.

Those two moves set Gillibrand apart from the two wings of the Democratic Party — the progressives who love Franken and feel he was railroaded and deserves the hearing he requested, and the Clinton regulars who see any criticism of Bill as an attack on Hillary. Plus, some felt Gillibrand appeared to be ungrateful for the help she received from the Clintons when she replaced Hillary in the Senate. Members of both Democratic factions felt Gillibrand was exploiting a situation — the whirlwind of sexual assault allegations being made public about prominent men in various fields — to advance her political career.

In other words, she stood accused of being a politician.

Apparently. being ambitious is acceptable, even commendable, behavior for men in politics, but not (with the exception of Hillary) appropriate for women. This fits nicely with Gillibrand’s campaign to change prevailing societal attitudes and treatment of women.

And, critics notwithstanding, she didn’t come late to the party. Indeed, she came to the Senate already focused on sexual and gender abuse, turning her focus on the military as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. She was one of the leaders in the move to do away with the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that banned gays from serving openly in the military;

She has championed a bill, which has bipartisan support, to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. The Military Justice Improvement Act is a byproduct of hearings in 2013 on sexual assault in the military, which she held as chair of a subcommittee on military personnel. Gillibrand has also been instrumental in drafting the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would hold colleges accountable for sexual assault on their campuses. And she is building bipartisan support for a measure to revamp congressional procedures for dealing with sexual harassment.

If ever there were a case of right place, right time, right person — right woman — this sure seems like it. Gillibrand may or may not have been planning to run for president — or maybe she was still assessing her chances — but the combination of: 1) the misogynist Trump in the White House; 2) the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal in Hollywood; 3) the ensuing accusations, revelations, admissions, firings and resignations of high-profile men in powerful positions in media, movies, business, politics; 4) the Women’s March movement; 5) the demonstration of women’s voting power in Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama; and 6) the legions of Democratic women who want a champion of their gender but for various reasons felt Clinton wasn’t it, would seem to suggest a perfect alignment of the stars for a woman with excellent political instincts and without political baggage.

Senator Gillibrand.

A word about those instincts. Gillibrand was appointed senator in 2009 to replace Clinton, who was nominated to be secretary of state by President Barack Obama. Her selection by New York Gov. David Paterson was a surprise because Gillibrand was then a relatively unknown  congresswoman from upstate New York. That is, conservative upstate New York. She had managed to be elected in a Republican-heavy district in large part due to her ability to recognize what was important to her constituents (agriculture, guns) and to communicate directly to them. She says they trusted her even though she was a Democrat and two out of three voters were Republicans.

But she changed when she moved from the House to the Senate, going from representing a conservative congressional district to representing a liberal state. Critics say it was cynical and political, aimed at getting re-elected. She says as she traveled the state she learned different views about issues that were important to people — on gun control and gay rights for example — and her views changed as she learned more.

Take your pick on the Gillibrand evolution. The proof is in the pudding. She has been vocal and persistent in the Senate in championing whatever cause she latches on to, including single-payer health care and family leave, which have been longtime issues for her.

Still, it is #metoo and the rapid recognition of millions of women of the political power that is theirs, waiting to be harnessed, not exploited, that has placed Gillibrand — perhaps moreso than another favorite Trump target, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren — at what may be a pivotal place in history. Four male Democratic senators called on Trump to resign before she did, with nary a tweet from Trump. Gillibrand’s statement got to him.

He tweeted: “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Charles E. Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

Typical Trump, attacking a woman standing up to him by insulting her and using sexual innuendo. Also typically Trump, with bad timing. The tweet appeared hours before the senator was to speak to a group of truckers. The dotard’s sexual history was obviously not on the agenda, but, of course, the press asked Gillibrand to respond to his tweet.

So she did, in typical fashion: “It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice. I will not be silent on this issue, neither will women who stood up to the president yesterday and neither will the millions of women who have been marching since the Women’s March to stand up against policies they do not agree with.”

You could almost hear the campaign cash registers ringing.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Facebook Has an Algorithm Problem

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

facebook thumb downAlgorithms are cool. I get it. I mean, I get that they’re cool, not how they work. I like to think that, if I had to, I could probably work really hard to understand them, but I dropped out of engineering school to do this. No regrets.

In fact, writing about life in all its complexities has given me an appreciation for what people — real people, not some numbers-crunched algorithm people — have to deal with on a daily basis. It has exposed me to the value of compassion, compromise and common sense.

Our universal dictionary, Wikipedia, defines an algorithm as “an unambiguous specification of how to solve a class of problems. Algorithms can perform calculation, data processing and automated reasoning tasks.”

But they can’t, obviously, do ambiguous.

I’m thinking about algorithms because Facebook, an Internet empire built on them, recently said it was going to hire 1,000 people to review ads in response to the embarrassing revelation that users’ news feeds during the 2016 U.S. presidential election were awash in political ads run by Russians, undoubtedly using their own algorithms to target various groups in an effort to influence the outcome. Facebook said Russians bought about $100,000 in ads — with rubles — but apparently the social media giant’s algorithms detected no ambiguity afoot with Russians arguing to protect Americans’ Second Amendment rights or stirring up anti-gay feelings, not in Moscow, but in the American heartland.

Congress is investigating. That’s good. It should do something this year. But Facebook has more than a Russia problem. It has become the major source of news for millions of Americans, yet its news feeds have been shown to be awash in fake news. Lots of really fake news, not Trump “fake news,” which is real news.

Facebook — actually Mark Zuckerberg — is talking about becoming a more responsible source of reliable news information and hiring “content moderators” to review, well, content, and a lot of additional people to look out for violent content on the site. Swell. 

If you will permit me a self-serving observation, he’s talking about hiring people to exercise judgment over what appears publicly on Facebook because: (1) algorithms can’t think or feel like people and (2) this is how responsible newspapers have operated forever. Just saying.

In the interests of full disclosure, I also will say I have had my own personal experiences with Facebook algorithms. Recently, I received an e-mail telling me that an ad I wanted to run boosting a column on a Facebook page I administer was rejected because it had too much copy. It didn’t say the copy was boring or poorly written or even offensive. Just too much of it.

OK, I’ve had editors tell me the same thing, but I was also never prepared to give an editor ten bucks just to run the column. Oh yeah, the ad in question was proposed in July. I got the rejection e-mail on Halloween.

Then there’s the friendly way Facebook greets me every day with news of the weather in Phillipsport. “Rain is in the forecast today, Robert.” Thank you. If I Iived in Phillipsport it would matter a lot more, but it’s a half hour drive and there’s a big mountain range between us and my page unambiguously says where I live. Can’t the algorithm read?

But the incident that really convinced me that Facebook had an algorithm problem was its response to a complaint I filed regarding a post that was being sarcastic about the dotard-in-chief. I am guilty as charged of leveling (much-deserved) sarcasm at the Trump, but this cartoon had him in a coffin with a bystander saying to Melania, “‘Sorry about the assassination, Mrs.Trump, but he knew what he signed up for.”

As a “content moderator” for newspapers for several decades, I would never let such a tasteless, provocative, potentially dangerous item to be published. I told Facebook the same thing. I said they should delete it. It encouraged violence at a violent time in our history.

The algorithm replied that the post did not violate Facebook’s standard of, I don’t know: Acceptability? Appropriateness? Decency? Who sets this pathetic standard?

I use Facebook a lot. It has many wonderful benefits. But “automated reasoning” is not a substitute for good old, gut-instinct common sense. It’s the best way to connect people with people. Maybe people cost a little more than algorithms, but I think Zuck can afford it and there are a lot of laid off editors looking for work. If it’s not fake news that he’s serious about running for president some day, he’ll be glad he did it.

I’m also curious to know what Facebook says if I decide I want to pay to boost this post. I wonder if they’ll let me run a picture of Zuck. Can I even call him Zuck?

Stay tuned.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

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.”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Sycophants, Cowards and Steve Bannon

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Steven Bannon. CREDIT: Matt McClain, The Washington Post; Ron Sachs, pool via Bloomberg; Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post

Sean Spicer, KellyAnne Conway and Steve Bannon.
CREDIT: Matt McClain, The Washington Post; Ron Sachs, pool via Bloomberg; Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post

I had a strange thought as I was processing the latest rush of news from the White House: Steve Bannon may be the most honest person in the building. Not likable. Honest.

He doesn’t talk about being honored to be of public service as a top adviser to the president. He doesn’t pretend to like non-whites, poor people or Muslims. He doesn’t even pretend that Jared Kushner has any business being another top adviser to the president. All Bannon does on a daily basis is go about his mission of dismantling the government, agency by agency, presidential decree by presidential decree.

In other words, he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s using the unhinged narcissist-in-chief (NIC) for purely personal political reasons. And he doesn’t show up in front of microphones to justify or try to explain the logic of the NIC’s latest embarrassing breach of protocol, ethics, conduct, law, decent behavior, etc.

There are plenty of others all too willing to do that, including someone I never thought would join the chorus of Trump excusers — National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. When he was appointed to the White House job, I thought, “Well good, Trump finally got one right.” Like most of the rest of the people watching Trump put together a staff, I figured he had finally named someone who knew what he was doing, had solid principles and the guts to stand up for what he thought was right, including saying when the president was wrong.

Apparently I was wrong. After The Washington Post broke the story that the NIC had divulged highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting at which the American press (but not a Russian photographer) was banned, there was McMaster on the White House lawn disputing the story while at the same time seemingly confirming much of it as he tried to find that elusive place for the NIC’s behavior known as “appropriate.”

The next day, of course, Trump tweeted that he did indeed tell the Russians some classified stuff, but so what, he’s the president and he can do so if he chooses. That may well be true, but it doesn’t make it right, or smart. McMaster thus became the latest apologist to be thrown under the bus by a man who demands loyalty but exhibits none of it.

But I have no sympathy for him because he surely knew before taking the job how Trump operates. Similarly, I do not feel sorry for Sean Spicer, KellyAnne Conway or others who took jobs as mouthpieces for a demonstrated pathological liar and have lost any credibility or, indeed, dignity they might have felt they had in doing a job professionally by stepping out every day to repeat Trump’s lies, defend them with air quotes or describe them as “alternate facts.”

If they didn’t realize what they were getting into from the campaign, they surely knew it on day one when Trump bragged about the size of his inauguration crowd. Even though government photos showed it to be small, he still sent Spicer out to say it was huge and, instead of resigning, Spicer did as he was told.

He is now a late-night TV joke, as is Conway. So apparently, like a lot of others, they took the job for the money or some perceived personal gain, but not the “honor” of doing public service because there is no honor in hiding in bushes to get your story straight for the press or arguing that the president’s own tweets don’t say what they say.

Vice President Mike Pence has also shown a casual willingness to defend Trump — as when he said the NIC fired FBI director James Comey on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, not over the FBI probe of Trump-Russia connections only to have the Tweeter contradict him the next day on Rosenstein and the Russians. But Pence, an evangelical Christian who doesn’t have dinner alone with any woman except his wife, long ago sold his soul when he left Indiana to be vice president to a man whose life has been, and continues to be, a textbook case of misogyny. Birds of a feather.

You can also throw Reince Priebus in the stew with all the rest who thought having a White House position was something prestigious and influential and something they would be able to point to with pride on their resume — even though the man they serve is without intellect, integrity or shame and demands that they support his delusions, which they have dutifully done. Sycophants all.

The word is that the NIC may fire some of his White House staff soon. Indeed, he may well have done so before I finished writing this. I do know that a special counsel has been named by Rosenstein to conduct the Trump-Russia connections and that a few Republicans in Congress have apparently decided that the only way to save their jobs is to start investigating Trump and stop defending him.

Yes, it’s their sworn duty to do so, but the Republican Party has been a shameless enabler and apologist for Trump from the day he got its nomination. Priebus, as Republican National Committee chairman, led the way on that and got his prestigious White House job as a payoff. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have aided and abetted every step of the way in Congress, relishing the added power and accomplishing nothing. If they ever had any semblance of pride in the work they do and gratitude for being allowed to serve their country — the kind of things Republicans always talk about — that has long since been obliterated by their obsequiousness and crass disregard for the people they are supposed to serve. They are cowards, plain and simple.

No, it’s just Bannon. He has never pretended to care about creating jobs or providing healthcare for Americans the way all the rest have. For him, it’s always been about supporting the emperor, uh president, to solidify his power so that he can go about oppressing minorities, deporting immigrants, blowing up the federal government, eliminating individual liberties and making a ton of money.

I hate the SOB. But he’s never once pretended that Trump was smarter than him or stood in front of TV cameras to say that black was white, or vice versa, depending on the Trump Twitter feed of the moment. Bannon hasn’t got a soul to sell and when he lies, it’s not to us, it’s to the NIC.

Somehow, that’s not comforting either.

rjgaydos@gmail.com