Category: politics

Sage Leopard News Read Roundup: Remote Work, China, Venezuela and Quarantine

Do you work remotely? Some days, it’s just better to be off the roads, such as today outside Houston, where a major highway is closed in one direction because of a hazmat spill of… wait for it… pig parts. Mmm, did you have bacon at breakfast today? On a larger scale, the coronavirus has curtailed business trips and other travel. This would be an instance where access to the internet can save the day.

Speaking of China, kudos to the Houston Chronicle for launching a series examining the economic model of the Communist state. The series, dubbed Rising Star, opens with “For Texas, promise and pitfalls in China.” A good read on a crucially important question: just how much will China’s economy continue to grow and at what pace?

Speaking of business trips, would you believe the Citgo 6 are back in prison in Venezuela? These oil execs were called from Houston to a meeting in Caracas in 2017 and are still captive (Citgo is part of the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, but control of the company is tied up in disputes with creditors and the question of who will control the government itself). The Citgo 6 have been accused of corruption by the Maduro administration and had been under house arrest. Meanwhile, the opposition leader of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, just met with President Trump.

Ah, Trump. Do you know anyone who was surprised by his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast or at the White House yesterday when he lit into his political enemies and celebrated his acquittal from his impeachment? Apparently, some people are still waiting for him to become magnanimous and what used to be called presidential. Frankly, I was surprised he didn’t deploy t-shirt cannons at the White House reception where he thanked Republican leaders of Congress, his legal defense team and supporters. News flash: Trump’s personality is not going to change. He is a brash fighter. As he said it himself of House Democrats and apparently others: But I’ve beaten them all my life, and I’ll beat them again if I have to.” In his comments from the White House yesterday, he went through the Ukraine call, raised the question of Hunter Biden’s foreign work, praised his backers, lambasted Democratic policies and called the impeachment unfair. He used the word unfair or unfairly 10 times, according to the White House transcript. Whether you love or loathe the man, you must know, his persona is not going anywhere.

Finally, I’ve been wondering how life is treating the American coronavirus evacuees upon their return home, where they are currently under quarantine on military bases. They are making the best of it and are grateful, according to this Washington Post article.

The Sage Leopard,

Sage Leopard News Read Roundup: Biden, Coronovirus, Sanctuary

So much for Joe Biden 2020? The delayed Iowa Democratic caucus results revealed that former VP Biden is decidedly not the front-runner some (including Trump?) had believed him to be. The New York Times is out with a piece strongly suggesting Biden’s Iowa game was lame. Apparently. My concern had been that if Biden became the Democratic nominee, all we would hear about in the election buildup would be about Hunter and Ukraine. Maybe that won’t happen after all. I certainly hope not.

Speaking of Ukraine, former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch has left the foreign service and reminds us in an op-ed in the Washington Post that a new wave of diplomats are coming in. During these “turbulent times,” she notes that the Constitution and its protections, including the First Amendment, are still with us.

I never understand why people watch scary crime or disaster TV and films, when you can watch the news. See coronavirus. Just do a search for coronavirus and drones and you’ll see footage of Chinese authorities telling citizens via drone to put on their face masks in public as well as surveillance of the empty streets of Wuhan. The events unfolding are disturbing and, frankly, somewhat frightening. Ideally, public health officials – with a cooperating public – will be able to box in this thing before it gets worse. Meanwhile, a Japanese cruise ship full of passengers is under quarantine offshore because several passengers have the virus.

Speaking of travel, the U.S. is moving to limit the Global Entry program, which expedites re-entry to the country for pre-cleared U.S. citizens, in New York to put the squeeze on state and local officials for so-called sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants, according to the Wall Street Journal. This seems to typify the transactional approach to policymaking under the Trump administration. I’m not following the logic of, in effect, punishing law-abiding U.S. citizens because of illegal actions of others. But, it might have to do with the state of New York blocking the feds from seeing driver’s license information of immigrants, which an administration official says hampers ICE and CBP’s ability to screen people. The administration says that is precisely the problem. Last month, my boyfriend and I drove through a border checkpoint just north of Laredo, Texas, on our way back to Houston and were impressed with the equipment pointed at the vehicle, which we presumed might include license-plate readers and heat-sensing technology. The Border Patrol also had an equally impressive looking dog. We didn’t have any unannounced passengers or contraband, answered we are U.S. citizens and were waived through, per usual. To read more about our experiences near the border, read the Sage Leopard’s account of a deer hunt in Arizona. If you’re wondering why we were back in Laredo, read about our latest deer hunt here.

I hope you enjoyed this brisk roundup of my thoughts on the news of the day and welcome feedback on what might become a regular feature. Let me know what you think.

The Sage Leopard,

The Others, Reverse Provincialism and the Prospects for Provisionalism

How easy is it to put down others for their viewpoints, especially when we can slap a pejorative label on them? This is exemplified by the blue vs. red state, urban vs. rural and woke vs. unwoke stereotypes. None of which are particular useful. Still, allow me to make a generalization: a lot of urbane, well-meaning, educated people suffer from what I call reverse provincialism.

They are so convinced that fellow Americans in rural areas, or states with large expanses of rural areas, are all a bunch of rubes who are incapable of critical thinking. Ironically, people making such determinations may be doing so based on little or no real information, purposely relying on little splices of information to fill out an entire picture that makes them feel superior.

For many white Americans, the way to do this without being called a jerk or bigot is to simply make fun of other white Americans from another region. This is nothing new. But, for some the Civil War has hardened an attitude that borders on animus (in either direction). It certainly is dismissive. One does not want to allow the possibility that others, the others, could be equally well-ensconced in their lives or even better off in their lives. Case in point: we a couple of years ago were seated in a craft beer and burgers bar in Vermont in a state of foodie bliss when the complainers sat down at the next table. They complained about the weather, about a persistent headache, etc. Soon enough, it turned time to complain about other people.

They got on their topic with Atlanta. How horribly hot the weather is, how it is “landlocked” and sweltering (nevermind that enormous body of water to its north, the recreational haven of Lake Lanier). The whiniest and eldest of the bunch dismissed everything about Atlanta, “those people” (God only knows what he meant) and that suburb “Buckhead County,” which he misstated is a suburban county and not really Atlanta. It was hard to tell which he thought was worse Atlanta or this place he falsely described as separate. The man next to him announced that Houston is only strip malls and skyscrapers, and based on his two days’ experience there, utterly lacking in anything else. Adding to my mystification, a lady at the table related that Laredo, Texas, is stifling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. I’ve spent time hunting in Laredo in January and February, and can attest it is not cold there.

As a native Northerner who lives in and loves the South, I wanted to correct them on all counts, but decided I could not stand their ignorance and attitudes, so I returned my attention to our table. As I gathered up my coat, I heard the complainer in chief, bitching about how he really doesn’t care for beer (then, why are you in a craft beer bar?) and stating his preference for wine. Clearly, he again felt the need to put down others and launched into a diatribe about people who waste good wine pairing it with ethnic food, specifically, such as Mexican, Chinese or Thai. I wanted to scream, have you ever been to Bangkok? Eaten at a very nice Chinese restaurant? Have any idea about the varieties of Mexican regional cuisines? This guy would hate hanging out with us, especially as two of our favorite foods are tacos and beer. But, I also think a Pinot Noir would go really good with Penang curry. Jackass.

It didn’t take long for me to find these know-it-all-not-really types quite annoying. And, yes, I take a dim view of people with these viewpoints and attitudes. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. Should I have tried to engage them? Would I have sounded defensive? “Say, we live in Houston and love it, especially the parks and trails.” Or, “Laredo is not freezing in winter.” Or, “wine is great with so-called ethnic food!” It is difficult to bridge a gap with strangers. This brings me to provisionalism, in contrast with provincialism. What is provisionalism? It’s the concept that people do not need to hold onto ideas when better ideas can come along. Provisionalism is the opposite of certainty. It’s about being open-minded. It’s also really difficult. We generally like the idea of the competition of ideas. We typically just don’t like to see our ideas defeated. Provisionalism means you are willing to consider another idea. It also suggests one should subscribe to that better idea once it comes along.

Ah, but it’s so hard. Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” statement is a case in point. She actually said half of Trump’s supporters fall into a basket of deplorables. In the next breath, she said, the other half are “people who feel that government has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they are just desperate for change… Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

Yet, even when she tried to repeat the need to empathize and be inclusive, or as she campaigned be “stronger together,” it was too late. All anyone remembers, understandably, is the basket of deplorables. Why? Because it is a label. It’s an effective label. And, its counterweight is the people who embraced it in defiance. Why? Because people often mock negative stereotypes by embracing them. And, that leaves all of us going around and around and getting nowhere. Are we even capable of provisionalism?

The Sage Leopard,

Dear RNC: What I Wished You Asked Me in Your “Census”

Perhaps you’ve heard the controversy about a so-called “Congressional District Census” sent out by the Republican National Committee ahead of the U.S.’s national census in 2020. As a recipient of this fundraising letter and political survey, I must say it is obviously a political document and obviously not an official government or legal document. It’s chock full of questions about how to support Trump, and, I am so glad they asked.

This shoring up of support for Trump is apart from any impeachment inquiry. It’s simply a survey of Republican voters, accompanied by a standard fundraising ask. While the letter and attached survey questions are vociferously pro-Trump, the survey questions leave options for non-Trump voters. First, the survey asks, who are you and the options are:

  • Conservative Republican
  • Independent Voter who leans Republican
  • Moderate Republican
  • Liberal Republican
  • Democrat

I could have thrown up my hands here because who knows any more what these modifiers mean anymore. Reflecting on my adult life and world view with Texas as my adopted state (fiscally conservative, socially liberal, pro-Second Amendment, pro-legal when it comes to accessing women’s healthcare) and my leanings coming up in New Jersey (I like the Tom Kean and Christie Todd Whitman-types of Republicans), I opted for “Moderate Republican.” I don’t view Trump as a true conservative, so I am not sure how he or a supporter of his is supposed to self-identify among the options listed above. The second question on this survey expands on how conservative-leaning voters break out; it asks, are you a supporter of Trump, but not the Republican Party, or are you a supporter of the Republican Party, but not Trump?

Bravo to the RNC for still seeking to recognize such key distinctions. The other options were to be a supporter of both or none. Fair enough. The important thing is the party is not demanding fealty. Question #3 is simple: do you plan on supporting Trump in the 2020 election? No, I do not. That said, I’m not thrilled about any alternative.

Next, the RNC wants to frame up just about everything as Trump vs. liberal socialists. Hmmm. I don’t think it’s that simple, but I plowed ahead with answering the survey questions as accurately as possible.

Fiscal Responsibilities

For instance, what to make of this one: “Do you agree with President Trump that fixing our nation’s inner cities and working to rebuild our crumbling highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools and hospitals must be a top federal priority in the next few years?” No. Whatever happened to local control? I believe state and local governments are responsible for their bridges and hospitals, and can float bonds to pay for them, if approved by local voters. Granted, there are forms of federal assistance and funds, including Medicare and Medicare for covering hospital costs, and tax revenues for highway funds, that are added to the mix, but that question is phrased in such a way that it connotes an out and out federal takeover of “inner cities,” bridges, airports, tunnels, etc. Yikes! How much would that cost? And why on Earth would the Republican Party advocate for such broad federal overreach? We have already seen a rather significant blowout in the federal spending deficit since Trump became president, which is already, ahem, ironic compared to the party’s historical calls for fiscal responsibility and federal deficit reduction. (Scratch your head here.)

Race Relations

Kudos to the party for asking this, though: “Do you think race relations is America are getting better or worse?” I answered worse. This is not because I think we’ve reverted to the sin of slavery, but we have seen our own president stoke racial antipathy (see calling for kneeling NFL players to be fired for peaceful protest, saying members of Congress who are women of color should “go back” to foreign countries, calling white supremacists “fine people,” etc.) and that seems to have invited all manner of racist jerks to crawl out of the woodwork and rant against strangers who are going about normal business while black. It would be nice, in the alternative, to have leadership that speaks up to say something like this: stand up because we stand with you and recognize that police brutality, where it does exist, is falling disproportionally on black people, and we can all work together to eventually cast out racism and toss it on the ash heap of history. Yeah, well, it would be nice to hear something like that from a president from any party.

But, wait, another question delves into illegal immigration, which for many, is really about nativism, which is an extension of racism. The question seems straightforward enough, perhaps: “Do you support canceling all federal funding to sanctuary cities that fail to enforce U.S. immigration laws?” Hold up; only the federal government is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, so this question is specious and deceptive. This also speaks volumes as it echoes a Trumpian notion that any political disagreement becomes transactional and punitive.

This comes as U.S. Attorney General William Barr warned local governments that they will lose federal funding if “communities” protest against law enforcement. Here is what the AG just said: “They have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need.” Hmmm, what exactly does that mean? Well, Michael Steele, a former chairman of the RNC had this take on Twitter: “Exactly what do you mean by “communities”? And to secure future protection do those communities need “to do [you] a favor though” and not protest police behavior that stand in violation of the rights of the citizens in those communities and under the law?

Foreign Relations

Oooof. Good point, Mr. Steele. He managed to point out that the attorney general seems to be discarding our First Amendment right to seek redress against the government when the government fails in its responsibility to serve the people while invoking the politically disastrous July 25 call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine. Sigh. Whether Trump’s words and actions amount to impeachable offenses or just mind-bogglingly inept foreign policy is a whole can of worms that I am not opening in this blog, but at the very least, the episode underscores that Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign policy is counterproductive. Which brings me to another RNC survey question: Do you support President Trump negotiating with Kim Jong-un to try to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons? No, not at the rate Trump is failing in this endeavor. News is breaking now (again) that North Korea is calling Trump a dotard and demanding the U.S. back off on sanctions. Call me unimpressed with Trump’s work here. I would prefer he let diplomats work on this without his ineffective theatrics.

Realistically, barring Trump being removed from office via that constitutional mechanism known as impeachment, he is the 2020 Republican candidate for president and the survey results will likely wholeheartedly support him. But, would the RNC ever release the survey answers? How many respondents support the party, but not the president, or vice versa? The fact that the party even bothered to ask makes me wonder if some within the party are looking ahead to a time beyond Trump. Regardless of what happens this month, next year or over the next four years, the GOP should recognize a need to change, even if that means returning to move conventional, traditional forms of conservatism.  

Here’s what I wished the survey also asked:

  • Do you believe the Republican Party’s current platform planks are fully representative of your viewpoints?
  • Do you think the Republican Party should canvass independents to see what viewpoints it might consider adding to the platform to draw more voters into the party?
  • Do you think the party is balanced when it comes to religious freedom and tolerance for all religions?
  • Do you think more inroads can be made to stem gun violence without curbing the Second Amendment rights of lawful citizens?
  • Do you support expanding legal immigration for a variety of worker skills and educational levels?
  • Would you support providing for abortions that are performed to protect a mother’s health or in cases of rape and incest? Do you support expanding reproductive health educational initiatives that have helped reduce abortion rates to historical lows? Do you support the idea that people (men and women) should be encouraged, in the spirit of personal responsibility, to use birth control to protect against unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs?
  • Are you concerned that certain factions within the Republican Party are coming across as anti-education and anti-science at a time when we should be supporting STEM education and specialized government agencies to face a host of national security concerns, ranging from climate change to modern warfare?
  • Would you like to see the GOP offer a proposal for replacing the Affordable Care Act rather than simply repeal it?
  • Do you think the federal government should look to significantly cut spending?

Those are just a few off the top of my head. My point being is that the GOP seems to be digging itself into a potentially self-defeating Trump rut and this cannot last forever. My hope is that there will be more questions, more surveys and more openness to a wider range of viewpoints under the conservative rubric.

The Sage Leopard,

Is Trump Climbing the Learning Curve of “The Wall”?

Trump opponents are gloating that he has caved on “the Wall” he has long called for on our southern border with Mexico. But, what if we celebrated that he may have come up a learning curve as to what is cost-effective and politically viable.

In announcing the reopening last week of the government after the partial shutdown caused by a political impasse over this issue, Trump said something that gave me pause.

“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea — we never did; we never proposed that; we never wanted that — because we have barriers at the border where natural structures are as good as anything that we can build.  They’re already there.  They’ve been there for millions of years,” Trump said in reopening the government.

That probably came as a surprise to voters who agreed with his repeated calls for “the Wall” that Mexico would pay for. This is very different that the imagery he campaigned on:

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

Living in Texas and having camped out on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona in the presence of Border Patrol, I always thought that vision seemed impractical.

We all have heard the “build the wall” refrain from Trump and his backers for a long time. His message became somewhat more specific of late. On Jan. 2, he tweeted that the idea is to build upon what we already have in place.

“Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal. Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built. We have done a lot of work. $5.6 Billion Dollars that House has approved is very little in comparison to the benefits of National Security. Quick payback!”

Now, at that time, he was asking for $5.7 billion for the wall. What were the specifics? As USA Today reported before the government reopened, the Trump administration’s plan called for 100 miles of new fence and replacing/strengthening 215 miles of existing barrier. Currently, the paper noted, 654 miles of the border is fences and 1,350 miles is open.

In his reopening remarks, Trump said the idea is to place barriers at locations determined by the Border Patrol and to enhance manpower and equipment, especially at ports of entry where drugs come through. The details are now in the hands of congressional negotiators and they face a deadline.

Now, at the end of his remarks, he revived some of his older wording.

“So let me be very clear: We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.  If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

Yes, he is still saying build a wall, but he’s not saying build the wall, which was typically understood – by his proponents and opponents – as some monolithic barrier across the entire border with Mexico. Ideally, by February 15, a very specific border security plan will come out that can be agreed to and we can eventually proceed to arriving at policy and spending decisions the old-fashioned way: with hearings, so the American People understand all the facts and the cost-benefit analyses that apply, rather than rhetoric. Moreover, let’s hope we really do put in place enhanced border security.

Identity Politics and Tribalism: What If You Don’t Belong?

Why do we Americans keep damaging our political process by perpetuating a false choice between liberal and conservative, otherwise known as Democrat versus Republican? In the same vein, why are people not allowed to change viewpoints without being cast a turncoat? Do identity politics and parties leave us trapped in political boxes?

Even Ronald Reagan, the Republican icon, switched parties. “I didn’t leave the Democratic party,” Reagan said. “The party left me.”

Upon first meeting a member of the extended, blended family, I was asked if I was also a conservative. Why,  yes, I believe in individual freedoms and keeping the government out of people’s private business. My questioner cut to the chase by asking about abortion. Turned out, we agreed it should be legal, medically-performed and ideally, rare. Because of this position, we would both be characterized as Democrats by some conservatives. Not so.

My Democrat sister and brother-in-law have repeatedly asked me and my boyfriend about gun control. In response, I question why there seems to be a notion that banning certain guns is better than banning certain people from buying them. I applaud Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, for getting his Fix NICS legislation across the finish line as part of a spending bill signed into law in March. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s not the be all, end all. Such incremental steps are better than doing nothing, which is what would likely happen if some comprehensive gun law reform was attempted.

How did a girl who grew up playing lacrosse in suburban New Jersey come to have different views on gun ownership than many East Coast denizens? One aspect obviously is how we obtain information? This video includes the claim by a California lawmaker that the automatic rifle gun in his hands can release 30 bullets in half a second. That simply is not true. While the video is from several years ago and widely mocked, I bet that most people who have never fired any kind of gun would think the claim is true. Similarly, do you know what an ArmaLite Rifle is? You may have heard is mistakenly referred to as an assault rifle. To learn more about gun definitions, I commend you to read this Guns & Ammo article.

How did I begin to familiarize myself with guns? My boyfriend in Texas introduced me to hunting, for which I use a rifle or a shotgun, depending on whether I am hunting four-legged creatures (deer, hog, javelina) or winged-creatures (duck, dove). I have taken lessons and hunters education. I still have more to learn. What is the point of me telling you all this? Because I am in favor of gun ownership for people who are not criminals or otherwise demonstrate a danger (e.g., people convicted of stalking), then I must be a no-holds-barred Trump supporter, right? Totally wrong. The problem is we make these leaps and false assumptions about people all the time.

Let’s do a word-association game. Fill in the blank after each of the following: free trade (wait, that’s hard because conservatives favor free trade but the Republican president is the self-proclaimed “Tariff Man”); gay rights (wait, that depends, Dick Cheney has supported gay unions, although a subsequent dispute between his daughters, Mary, a lesbian, and Liz, a Republican member of Congress, was a bit of a head-scratcher); fiscal responsibility (whoops, this is a doozy because Republicans used to care about balanced budgets but they cut taxes without significant cuts to spending). In other words, the stereotypes are out the window. Put another way, I do not agree with all women on politics, or all white women, or all Christians, or all hunters, or all Texans, or all college-educated people, etc. Enough with identity politics and stereotypes.Identity politics and escaping political boxes

And that is a good thing. Let’s stop blind adherence to talking points and bumper-sticker politics. Take immigration. Many liberals and many conservatives fully support legal immigration. The issue of caravans approaching the border, however, brought about issues that do not address how to process people claiming asylum.

We found ourselves questioning whether soldiers should be at the border in a support function and how was it that tear gas was fired into Mexico. Those are valid questions, yet we should be questioning how we can process asylum claims by thousands of people with 400 immigration judges. How we will keep track of people who are awaiting resolution of their immigration cases? What happens to the tens of thousands of people who illegally cross our southern border? Sticking to the old scripts won’t work to solve our problems. If I am concerned about illegal immigrants, I am not a xenophobe. I am someone who wants comprehensive immigration reform so the people we want to come here to work and be free from persecution can do so, and the people that we don’t want coming in illegally are limited from doing so.

The Sage Leopard,
Substance, Not Sloganeering

Holiday Survival Guide for Hearthside Political Chats

The holidays bring great tidings of joy, family time and, of course, the dread of painful political discourse. The Sage Leopard too will be traversing the rivers and woods to gather ‘round the table and has no doubt that current events are on the menu.

Before you gnash your teeth in anticipation of a clash over whether the blue wave really occurred in the mid-terms, take a moment to reflect on the meaning of the holidays. The original Thanksgiving was a prayer of thanksgiving to God that the settlers were surviving and thriving in the New World. Wait, that whole narrative is rife with post-Columbus jingoism. OK, never mind.

If you are Christian, please share with me a moment to reflect on some of the lyrics of my favorite Christmas hymn, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which celebrates the birth of our Lord. “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”

Remember the spirit of those lines when you are in the throes of a raging argument with your crazy drunk uncle. What would Jesus do? He probably wouldn’t try to shout down your crazy drunk uncle. And neither should you. A suggestion: offer to refresh his drink.

During political debates around the holiday table, we tend to form teams. For example, during the Christmas of 2004, my Dad and I sat on one side of the dining room table, next to a crackling fire, while my brothers in law sat across from us. Dad and I maintained that Bush was reelected because voters did not want to change presidents after the invasion of Iraq. The brothers in law were equally firm that social conservatism, including opposition to gay marriage, carried the re-election of George W. Bush.

Nowadays, a great conversion has taken hold of our family. Instead of a cadre of Democrats with the rigor of a rugby team vs. a couple of country club Republicans, we are unified with a single, unwavering disdain of The Donald. There is little risk that a Trump supporter could slip into our midst. But, if a MAGA-hat wearing adherent got lost in a blizzard and followed the wrong star to our cabin in the woods, he or she would still be warmed and fed (even if upon seeing the red hat we were tempted to say there is no room at the inn). Once we were assured the guest was comfortable, we’d lay in with concerns about incompetence in dealing with North Korea, disrespect of the military by of all people the president, question the efficacy of trying to unilaterally go after Iran, disregard of the First Amendment protections for freedom of the press, not to mention issues with emoluments and poor management of illegal immigration. And condemn false allegations of election fraud, etc. You know the list goes on.

But then what? This is where we are as a society. The Trump backers are unmoved by any and all criticism. The critics’ concerns are continually mounting. (They are not mad about the election; they are mad about this president’s on-the-job performance, by the way.)

What if we all received a gift to share? It seems elusive, if not impossible now, but what if the gift was agreement on what constitutes the truth? How do we get to the truth?

I previously expressed concern in my communications company blog about whether the truth still matters and how that came up during an alumni weekend gathering. Another alumnus said he thought Trump won because he appealed to people who wanted to be heard. There is certainly truth in that observation.

If you want the world to receive that gift of universally accepted truth, you may have to give a little by listening to the uncle or guest with whom you disagree. Now, I didn’t say capitulate. Listen. Better yet, ask questions such as, why do you think that? How do you know that? How does that make you feel? Why? When did you first notice this? How did this happen? To what do you attribute this change? What does it mean?

These queries are not styled to sound like a therapist. They are the more like reporters’ questions. Oh, and all I want for Christmas is for the president to stop calling the press “the enemy of the people.” Maybe if I had a crazy uncle and he asked me the above questions in this regard, he might come to see why I have a certain opinion. And, maybe I could better understand him. Maybe we could gain each other’s perspectives. And maybe get close to agreeing on what is the truth.

Happy Holidays,

The Sage Leopard

P.S. I rather enjoyed writing this while listening to this Christmas music selection on YouTube.

Who’s Afraid of a Centrist in American Politics?

When then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 characterized small-town voters in Pennsylvania as embittered, gun-toting religious zealots, I thought, mistakenly, this candidate is toast. (Maybe that was the centrist in me talking).

I figured a lot of Christians would be offended. I figured responsible gun-owners would be offended. I believe in hindsight Obama actually helped lay some groundwork there for a subsequent presidential candidate to woo people who had been caricatured as well, frightened, dumb hillbillies. Trump refers to these folks as the “forgotten people.” The Obama slam is not forgotten:

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

In fact, seems a lot of liberals take that view today of anyone who is conservative. Well, I don’t think Trump fits that stereotype, yet he certainly knows how to harness the anger of the disrespected.

A term bandied about a lot lately is that our politics have become tribal. There is a lot of truth to that, but these tribes have limits. What if a tribe has say, 10 identifying attributes and you agree wholeheartedly on say seven of the positions, but disagree strongly with the others? You are a person with a country, but without a tribe.Are centrists still welcome in politics?

Others join their tribes, relieved to receive support from like-minded thinkers. You know the respective stereotypes about both liberals and conservatives and they are often supported in part by reality. If you are conservative, you must be anti-abortion and the reverse holds true: no upstanding liberal would be pro-life. The lines are drawn on gay marriage, prayer in schools and climate change, etc.

But, what about the “EcoRight”? (Yes, such a thing exists.) And, the Log Cabin Republicans, who are LGBT advocates? Are there Democrats who own guns for self-defense and hunting? What if you believe in fiscal conservatism, but it’s not happening in practice from the party that claims such a principle?

Tribes seem to stoke mob mentalities and rage. There is a lot of rage on display. A Republican state senator in Texas made sure to put this video from UT on his Facebook page with young conservatives having their pro-Kavanaugh signs shredded by other students, who were labeled a “leftist mob” by the young conservative who posted it. Then, of course, are the people at Trump rallies who menace the reporters in the press pool, at the president’s urging, or scream at a senator in an elevator. What if you don’t want to join a mob or a tribe? Is anyone allowed to be a centrist?

The tribes are inefficient and pointless when you consider that as many people are not politically affiliated as those who are. Perhaps this is one reason voter turnouts are relatively low; people who are not 100% with either tribe do not like the tribe’s candidates. Also, even if you are in a tribe and proudly so, what happens if you don’t want to toe the line on a particular issue? Are you voted off the island?

Yes, people have staked out partisan lines over the pending vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, to the point of absurdities. If any woman has been sexually abused, then he must be guilty of many assaults, or, conversely, because he is a good judge, we cannot acknowledge that his post-Blasey Ford testimony was intensely partisan and not a good look for a Supreme Court justice. Note: during the first round of hearings for this nomination, Sen. Ben Sasse correctly noted that it’s the fault of Congress that the Supreme Court is viewed as a partisan institution. His speech can be watched here and I highly commend it. (The Kavanaugh vote is a subject for a later blog.)

A natural question when trying to solve a problem is to reverse engineer – how did we get here? We could go back and point to events like Newt Gingrich’s Contract for America and its attendant disdain for the Clintons or people mocking Jimmy Carter for donning a cardigan for the malaise speech, which infuriated people for making America sound weak and effete. I remember the Thanksgiving after George W. Bush’s reelection, which a very liberal relative attributed to anti-gay sentiment. I thought that response was wacky. I attributed his reelection to people not wanting to switch horses midstream after the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Our polarization seems to be getting worse and it’s likely creating more and more candidates who position themselves as the archetype of the respective tribes. And, that I believe led to people voting against Hillary Clinton or against Donald Trump. We ought to have candidates that inspire respect and votes from either party. We need a truce on the Culture Wars. Let’s work toward what we actually agree on first and learn to like one another again. We will never agree on everything, but we can try to compromise on some things. I promise it will be more productive than what we have today.

The Sage Leopard

Sex Robots, Porn and Rape Culture

The City of Houston is seeking, by ordinance, to bar sex robot brothels. Yes, you read that right. A company that sells sex dolls wants to offer a rent-before-you buy option and the city council and mayor will vote tomorrow on that idea.

Sex dolls are creepy looking. Scarier than clowns. Why? Because they represent some horrifying objectification of women. Think I am overreacting by clutching my pearls? Well, perhaps my viewpoint is influenced by the following:

  • having a group of boys grab my behind while laughing as I tried to make my way down the hall in a Colonial Williamsburg costume dress ahead of a class history project performance.
  • having my breast grabbed by a man who was walking in a group in the opposite direction as me on a city street and then having a cop who witnessed this event shrug his shoulders
  • experienced, shall we say, a bad date (I am not comfortable sharing this story at this time; I will note that I was in a ball gown and in a consensual act, I remove clothing). Anyway, this kind of list goes on and one. See the #WhyIDidntReport thread on Twitter for more.

Similarly, porn grosses me out. It too portrays women as vessels, much like a sex doll. The first time I saw a porno scene, I winced because the woman looked really uncomfortable, especially the way her breasts were shaking. It was horrible.What amazes me is how porn is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Look around where you shop; in Houston, you are likely to see brothels disguised as spas. These brothels have real-live humans, who may be the victims of sex trafficking. Demand is high, but how any john finds this scenario appealing, I don’t know. (For more information on sex trafficking in Houston, see Elijah Rising.)

The connection between porn and rape culture is clear to me. Inform young men that females are sexual objects. Portray men dominating females in porn. Does this point of view make me a prude? Nope. It makes me someone who thinks sex should be a private matter between two consenting adults.

It should not be confused with violent acts, such as a man forcing himself on someone. Or, someone simulating a sex act with a doll (you need help). Or, grabbing women or girls’ private parts on the street, in school, in a club, at the office, etc. You cannot vote in for president of the United States a man who boasted of grabbing women by the [expletive], mock the woman who testified against a nominee to the Supreme Court (which he certainly did not do; Kavanaugh spoke with respect regarding his accuser, reserving his anger for certain senators), and then deny rape culture exists.

It is a very real, not imagined, experience for many women and girls. The only way to change that culture is to see it for what it really is: license to harm. Instead, teach to love.


Can You Hear Me Now? No, So Please Stop Screaming

If you’ve watched any stretch of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, you’ve heard a lot of shouting interrupting the proceedings. If you’ve been able to make out any of the actual words being shouted, then good for you.

If you’re watching a hearing, it is because you want to hear what the senators and witnesses are saying. Not because you are interested in the rantings and ravings of people opposed to the nominee. Note that there are witnesses called by the committee who are testifying against him. They were invited because they had very specific concerns and informed viewpoints, not because they are loud.

Years back, I was a reporter in Washington and sat at the press table at many, many congressional hearings. The most important thing at any given moment is to be able to hear the words spoken by a witness or member of Congress. Each word matters. The full context of their entire comments is important. Why would an individual think their right to scream outweighs the rights of everyone else to hear testimony?

One time, in a crammed hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a man sat down at the press table and started muttering criticisms of an industry perspective while a witness was testifying. It was difficult to hear the witness and the chairman of the committee, who was leading the questions at that moment. I was getting really frustrated in my ability to do my job, which was to report on what was being said. A bunch of reporters kept shushing this jerk and eventually, the majority staff press secretary came over and confronted the loud mouth. Because he was not a member of the credentialed press, she told him to leave the press table. What a relief.

Right now at the Kavanaugh hearing, a panel of witnesses – for and against the nominee – are giving compelling, thoughtful and intellectually persuasive arguments. The committee chose their witnesses for good reason. And, these witnesses are respectively listening to each other. This is a democratic ideal. The senators are elected to make informed votes and the panel is bringing them a diversity of viewpoints.

Do the shouters really think that their assertions could sway a vote? Has any shouter spoken as eloquently as any of the witnesses, either for or against Kavanaugh? The shouters have plenty of opportunity outside of the hearing room to voice their opinions. Their antics in the hearing room are counterproductive and annoying.

The discussion in this hearing is fascinating. Some highlights for me include listening to Kavanaugh and Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., discuss semi-automatic weapons as well as hearing Theodore Olson, who served as solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, praise Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in response to a question about Trump accusing her of having an addled mind. While there had been some political posturing, most of the discussions between the senators and the nominee were very in depth. That is the purpose of such a hearing. The shouters are welcome to scream from the highest mountaintops. Just take it outside.