A good many writers prefer to keep “politics” well away from their art.  I am not one of those, in part because I suspect that such distancing, for all but the shallowest of work, is impossible.  As Pete Seeger puts it, as soon as you gather two people together and start a conversation, you are affecting the body politic––you are having an impact on civic discourse and public opinion.  The topic might start with “Who will win the big game?” but it won’t stay there; talk will quickly move to what constitutes a legal hit in football, and how should the NFL compensate permanently injured players (if at all)?  Or, one might begin with a declaration of love for Middle Eastern cuisine, and moments later delve, however accidentally, into the limits of nationalism and the long-term fate of Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East at large.

Another starting point for lively conversations: books.  Plays, too.

You see where I’m headed, of course.  Stage plays and fiction begin most often as entertainment, a diversion, but in good work, that’s only the opening gambit.  Viable writing––work worth reading more than once, and for years beyond the day it got printed––always has a socially conscious heart.

Possibly you are already familiar with at least a smattering of my written work.  Perhaps you realized that the ghost story you were reading or the play you just acted in had more on its mind than thrills, chills, and yucks.  You became curious.  You thought, “Now that was surprising.  The story started off here.  But it took me over there.

So.  I’m using this page to go where so many writers are (and not without good reason) afeared to go: into the realm of blatant, bald opinion.

This will be an ongoing project, subject to revision.  (I trust that nothing I believe is so carved in mental granite that it cannot, in the face of new information, be open to change.)  Therefore, I proceed with both humility and trepidation.

But excitement, too.

Let’s see where the day takes us.

For starters, the gravest trouble facing the world today is not global warming but overpopulation.  It’s not that the globe can’t support or sustain our current numbers, it’s that it can only do so at the expense of virtually every other vertebrate species, and at our own long term peril.  The essential, most undeniable fact of our existence is limitation, first in the realm of mortality, and second in the politically dicey realm of scarcity.  Resources are limited, period.  The earth only has just so much to offer––and worse, it offers up what resources it has in highly variable amounts.  Nobody mines bauxite in Indiana, or coal in Maine; the precious metals required for iPhones and such are available in the Congo (for now) but not in the Philippines.  And so on.

In a democratic, nominally free, society, talk of China’s attempts to curb population growth invariably comes saddled with the adjective “draconian,” and of course it’s easy to see why.  Like any other species, we face a biological imperative to reproduce.  But then, so does the cancer cell, and it does so even when success means the death of its host––and, shortly after, of itself.  Is our species highest aspiration really to go on multiplying until there’s nothing left but ourselves?  I should hope not, but at present, that’s the course we’re on, and it needs to be discussed, not tucked into a dark corner labeled “Problems for the Future.”  I encounter our future every day in the eyes of my two children, and I am not at all convinced I like the future which they will shortly inherit.

Global warming.  The science is clear; it has been for decades.  I got my first lecture on the chemistry of the atmosphere, and how certain molecules combine to trap reflected heat, in nineteen eighty-six.  It wasn’t a difficult model to comprehend, and the only reason for it to be controversial is that any admission of its veracity requires us to change how we, as a causal species, live our lives.  What modern conveniences must we give up (or improve upon radically) in order to thwart the disaster we now court?  Driving less, that’s one.  Flying less, that’s two (and better).  Switching over to very expensive LED’s in every household fixture?  Well...I’m working on it.

Immigration rears its head with increasing frequency as the one political football on which “both sides” can agree.  What “both sides” ought to be talking about is how to level the playing field internationally such that not every reasonably ambitious person deserts his or her own nation in order to come here, to the U.S.  First, because that’s unsustainable for the U.S. itself, and second, because it’s ruinous for those nations sending their best and brightest our way.  A constant stream of immigrants in a world without significant new frontiers ought to be taken as a sign of a world out of balance, especially in the twin realms of economics and opportunity, but no.  It’s taken as a local, discrete issue: “We need higher fences and clearer internal policies.”  Sure.  Maybe.  But that’s a Band-aid, and the actual wounds––the causes of immigration––remain unexamined.  For this travesty of short-sightedness, “both sides” get an F minus on their report card.

Regarding the Second Amendment and “originalists,” an awkward moniker to be sure, I fail to comprehend the value of living under the yoke of a totally static founding document.  Situations change, and so, too, technology; change, after all, is the single great constant of the universe.  Or is it?  The electron constant remains, so far as I know, constant, and when it comes to how the government and the courts interpret the Constitution of the United States, change is unholy, anathema. 

No, I am not in favor of large-scale anarchy and interpretive chaos; a certain amount of bedrock (what the courts call “legal precedent”) is essential.  But there is a middle ground, and We, the People must strive to rediscover it, or else our ongoing debates about “gun control” and “marriage equality” are doomed to nitpicking successes rather than viable achievements.

Regarding the private ownership of firearms, I’m for it, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be at least as tightly regulated as, say, Sudafed.  As I write this, the Senate is dithering about whether to give up on re-enacting the ban on “assault rifles.”  I support a ban on any firearm or incendiary device designed more for open warfare than for private protection or hunting.  Limiting magazines also makes sense if we expect to make progress toward and not away from a just and civil society.  Certainly, the nation needs to examine its attitudes and policies toward mental health, but we must assume that humanity is imperfect––that mental illness, or “crazy people,” or our species’ flair for making horrendous decisions (pick your terms and pick your poison)––is not going to evaporate any time soon.  Our best option, then, as a society, is to limit the opportunities for carnage.  Crimes in general are crimes of opportunity; reduce or remove the opportunity and the vast majority of crimes, lethal and otherwise, are thwarted.  This is why I also support something no politician is talking about, better methods of gun storage, at least for those weapons that go beyond a bedside handgun.  Locks with timers, locks that require two people to operate, etc.  Methods such as these could save a great many lives while causing only minimal inconvenience.


...and here’s my 1/1/20 take on Mr. Donald Trump

Once in a while, the sun rises on a day where I think, President Donald Trump really isn’t so bad. After all, I know a great many people that like him a lot, who support both his policies and the man himself. I take these friends seriously; it’s not in my nature to dismiss others’ opinions out of hand.

That said, one must have standards, so, to pulse-check myself here at the dawn of this Grand New Year, I decided to write up a list of what I do not like about our current president. It turns out to be a very long list.

First (but in no particular order), Trump's tendency to keep cabinet officials in an “acting” capacity takes Senate oversight out of the loop, and gives more authority than is healthy to the Executive Branch.

The tone of Trump’s re-election campaign emails (all focused on fund-raising, and which I receive at the rate of, often, six a day) is insulting, histrionic, and mean. The president should lead from the high road, not sling mud from the ditch.

Trump's policy of cutting off funds to Central American countries as a punitive measure designed to prevent migrants from those nations arriving at our border is entirely backward. He (and the U.S. government in general) should be looking at increasing funding and building strong, self-perpetuating societies in these nations (which the U.S. destabilized many times already thanks to a bizarre loyalty to the whims of United Fruit, and continuing through a Cold War mentality of toppling any elected government that was seen as too far left, i.e., too close to socialism or Communism). 

The family separation policies at the border have been and remain inhumane and cruel. No more need be said.

At Trump’s direction, two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, were reduced by millions of acres. It is the first time in history that a president has undone monument status accorded by a predecessor. The legal battles (expensive for tax-payers, i.e., you and me) continue.

In 1989, the case of the so-called Central Park Jogger made national news. Five young men of color were accused of raping a female jogger in Central Park. Donald Trump, as a private citizen, took it upon himself to take out a full-age ad in The New York Times (apparently, he thought highly of it back then) in which he asked the state of New York to bring back the death penalty. In the ad, he never named the five young men, all wrongfully convicted in a case that was overturned years later, but his intent was clear: “I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” He is entitled to his opinion, of course, but what happened to the presumption of innocence? What happened to letting the justice system do its due diligence rather than trying to influence a case with money and advertising? Trump has never apologized for his having assumed, incorrectly, that the accused were guilty.

Trump's photo-op diplomacy with North Korea is a charade. His achievements there began with insults and remain tenuous. “Rocket Man” is still launching rockets, and every signal from the PNK indicates they are preparing to restart their nuclear program.  Trump is not the first U.S. president to fail at reigning in PNK nuclear ambitions, but he is the first to declare that he’s won even when he has absolutely nothing on paper to fall back on.

Trump University was a sham that defrauded its students. That alone should have been enough to disqualify Trump from higher office. Fraud is not a good starting point for leading, in honest fashion, any nation.

More fraud: Trump Charities was a lie that funneled donations from and for veterans to various Trump projects, including purchasing artwork for his walls and funding his presidential campaign. The fine of $2 million levied against Trump did not begin to cover the amount he actually mined the charity for in the first place.

Being president is stressful. Nobody begrudges a round of golf now and again. However, no president has spent more time out of the office  and no president has spent more on travel to and from a resort––usually a resort that Trump himself owns and benefits from financially whenever his entourage descends upon it. How many days spent golfing in 2019? Eighty-six, or approximately 20% of the possible 365. He could at least have the decency to visit courses not owned by himself.

Because his business interests are so broad, nearly everything Trump does brushes perilously close to the emoluments clause in the Constitution, beginning but by no means ending with the Washington D.C.-based Trump Hotel. Especially tricky are all the patents and licenses his companies have applied for in China. How do you negotiate with the Chinese state in good faith when it has so much impact on the future of one’s personal business?

Continually referring to the media as an enemy of the people destabilizes the entire project of Democracy. Yes, there are unreliable news outlets, but most of these places don’t hire actual investigative reporters. Instead, they tend to reprint select articles and opinion pieces that they like, and then bring on endless pundits and “reporters”

to spin facts they didn’t have the temerity or infrastructure to dig up on their own (take a bow, Huff Po and Breitbart). Actual journalism is crucial, difficult work, and a good many much-maligned publications practice it, including (domestically) The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and dozens more. The two top wire services, AP and Reuters, do similarly excellent work. On the radio, NPR digs deep and widely, and hosts officials of all persuasions to speak, all without shouting and putting others down. On television, I’m not convinced that any news outlet is worthy, but even so, the media is referred to as the Fourth Estate for a reason. When we have an independent media that is free to criticize the government without fear of repercussion, we have a free populace. If we lose that, most likely by getting people to uniformly distrust and dismiss what the media reports, then we have a government that can do as it wishes, unchecked.

Trump has emasculated the mission and personnel of the EPA. Oversight when it comes to environmental regulation is no longer a priority. This is a mistake. Trump’s attitude toward both expertise and scientific inquiry is one of hostility and suppression. Such an approach is the hallmark of greed and the opposite of what an educated thinker would do.

Trump’s refusal to accept that the climate is changing, and that humans have a massive role in this, will cost trillions and kill many. Other presidents have been nearly as bad, going back to Reagan at least, but Trump is loud and proud in his scoffing denials. He’s wrong, and that’s dangerous, to me, to you, and to our children. The science has been here a long time, but never has it been so patently obvious. Only an enemy of the state, and of the planet, battles against the difficult work ahead.

If Trump wants to sleep with prostitutes, that’s his business (although his multiple wives might say otherwise). But, when Trump pays his sex workers hush money so he doesn’t look bad in the eyes of his supporters, then we learn what he really thinks of prostitutes: that they’re shameful, and need to be pushed out of view. Please pass the double standards.

Trump’s reliance on conspiracy theories to direct both foreign policy and his own security branches is juvenile. Ukraine is a bit player internationally, with no history of seriously opposing the United States. (How could they? Ukraine has spent much of the past hundred years under the heel of the Soviet Union, and only gained its independence in 1991; they haven’t had the resources to do much since then besides consolidate, and oppose their much larger neighbor.) Every Republican and most Democrats used to recognize that Russia (and the Soviets before them) is actively interested in destabilizing U.S. influence around the globe. Turning Ukraine into a boogeyman aids the Russians in that it plays into their exact chosen narrative, that they’re an innocent third party, blameless and harmless. In fact, Russia is conducting a covert war on Ukrainian soil aimed at securing, as always, a permanent warm-water port for the Russian Empire. Republicans used to agree on that, too.

Suggesting that a political rival, especially one recently deceased, is in hell, is simply going beyond the pale. Even Lindsey Graham drew this line.

In general, Trump tries to bully those he believes are against him. Would any parent suggest that their children behave this way? Questioning the family of a (Muslim) gold star soldier, or belittling prisoners of war (notably Senator John McCain)? Making fun of the teeth or hands of opponents? It’s all very childish, and has opened the door for left-wingers (who purport to know better) to make fun of Trump’s skin tone and hair. Base immaturity now rules the day on all sides. Let’s close this door once and for all. “Teach Your Children Well.”

Both parties are guilty of ballooning our national debt (or are they? The dispassionate work of the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, suggests otherwise), but the current version of the GOP, with Trump at the helm, wins the prize. True, tax revenue under Trump has actually increased by 4%, but spending is up by 8%. This is a recipe for short-term popularity and long-term disaster. The GOP used to be the self-proclaimed party of fiscal responsibility (Trump himself promised to eliminate our nation debt in eight years). They can’t claim this mantle any longer, and Trumpism is to blame. In three years, Trump has added more to the national debt than George W. Bush did in eight.

Related to the above point, Trump mightily resists any taxation on the wealthy, both individuals and corporations. Many studies have found that the wealth divide in this nation is at its greatest in well over a century. When corporations (and not just Amazon) effectively get a free ride on taxes and then also receive government incentives for doing business (ranging from local incentives on up to federal), we’re all just shooting ourselves in the foot. How about we give incentives to small operations, “Mom and Pop stores” and “Main Street shops" instead of the large enterprises that have already succeeded, and bloated themselves into corporate behemoths?

Tariffs. History is clear, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Tariffs are hugely unpopular, and for good reason. They hurt consumers and manufacturers, also farmers, right here at home. In the past two hundred-plus years, tariffs have led to all sorts of discontent and unrest, including (in part), the American Revolution. Trump uses tariffs as a lever, and has had some success. He does not demonstrate enough success to justify his continued reliance on this risky, uncertain, and economically damaging stratagem. The Hill, via the Federal Reserve, reports the whole policy backfired.

Need I even mention the Access Hollywood tape in which we learn that Trump believes it’s the basic, inalienable right of any male star or tycoon to grab a woman’s genitals?

As a second “Need I mention?” I bring you the ludicrous claim that Mexico will be paying for a border wall. At the very least, such a bond is unenforceable unless it’s been negotiated in great detail, which it has not been. I wonder, also, about the long stretches of the Texas-Mexico border where the Rio Grande forms the boundary. If we put the wall our side, Mexico inherits this precious water resource. If it’s on their side, we get it. If it’s down the middle, well, the river floods every year. Water is one of the most erosive forces on earth; that’s a wall that won’t stand long.

Trump demonstrates loyalty to family, but hardly anyone else. One associate after another tumbles into disgrace and / or the prison system, each one cut loose with distancing statements sometimes only weeks or days after protestations of support. Michael Cohen is the most obvious but by no means the only example. Remember Steve Bannon? Who’s next?

To this day, Trump’s equivocating comments about the white nationalists in Charlotte stick in my craw, despite his post-hoc claims that he was referring to the fate of a statue of Robert E. Lee. (Watch the complete video and, in the context of the whole, judge for yourself.) Trump seems to truly not understand what might be wrong with “white power.” Nationalism itself is anathema to the U.S.-as-melting-pot, as Stephen Miller already knows. Miller wants to exploit this natural antipathy, make it a federal shadow policy. That Trump continues to rely on Miller suggests he either supports Miller’s agenda, or doesn’t comprehend it. Either one is unacceptable.

The boasting. Ugh. What happened to the value of humility, or even, “Walk softly but carry a big stick”? An actual “very stable genius” would never need to announce those attributes. A genuine leader has no need to proclaim that he’s drawn the biggest inaugural crowd ever (especially when he hasn’t). And who on earth ever describes a phone call as “perfect”? Are there judges? Can I get a merit badge for best phone call?

Given this list, Trump’s attempts to extort the Ukrainian government in order to dig up dirt on the Biden family is the least of his sins. If anything, he’s guilty there of being clumsy––of thinking no one would notice, or care. The relative moral cleanliness of the Bidens isn’t the issue. Foreign governments will of course attempt to influence U.S. elections, but our own leaders shouldn’t be inviting them to do so. If the Bidens need investigating, work through established domestic channels. It’s what they’re there for.

There. In the immortal (?) words of Nick Nolte in The Mandalorian, “I have spoken.”