The GOP’s Trump problem

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersSo, you’re a once-respected national political party — the party of Lincoln, the party of Eisenhower, the party of Reagan.

What do you do about Donald Trump?

After his sweep of the latest round of primaries, it is a near-certainty that he will go into the convention with the delegates needed to win on the first vote. There will not, as establishment Republicans have hoped against hope, be a second vote or a brokered convention.

So, what you do? Accept Trump? Accept a man so clearly and monumentally unprepared to serve as Commander-in-Chief, to sit in the Oval Office, to represent America at home or abroad?

Do you suck it up and support the nominee, even if it’s obvious he will lose in November, and probably hand Democrats the Senate and possibly even the House in the process? Or worse, he’ll somehow defy expectations yet again and win? Donald Trump in the Oval Office would be a disaster for America. A disaster for the Republican Party. A disaster for the world. He has no coherent philosophy, much less a coherent conservative philosophy. He has no understanding of the intricacies of governing or foreign policy or foreign trade — and no apparent desire or capability to learn them. He is all bluster and bully, and he would disgrace the party and the nation that elects him.

So, what do you do?

I say, if you’re the GOP, you do whatever you can, anything you can, to deny Trump the nomination. Even if he goes in with a majority of the delegates.

This is, I’ll admit, a horribly undemocratic idea. But the GOP’s primary voters have failed the party — and those voters are really only a small subset of Republican voters. (Though, yes, the party itself, having fed the angriest, least informed portion of its base a steady diet of anti-Obama red meat for the last seven and a half years bears its share of blame.) If the idea of the Republican Party is to mean anything moving forward, the party has a responsibility to itself to not allow Donald Trump to be its standard bearer.

Because of the way delegates are selected, even if Trump has won a majority of delegates, there’s no guarantee that a majority of the delegates themselves support Trump. In fact, it’s highly unlikely. And the rules governing a convention and how delegates select the nominee are fluid. The delegates could sit down before the first vote and release themselves to vote for anyone, not just who primary voters preferred. A fly in that ointment is that about 95 percent of delegates are bound by state party rules or state law to vote as they were assigned during the primary or caucus on the first vote. Who knows? Perhaps the margin will be thin enough that the 5 percent of unbound delegates can prevent Trump from winning the first round, releasing all the delegates. Or maybe one of those smart elections lawyers who helped secure George W. Bush’s victory in 2000 could figure out a way around the bound delegate problem.

However it worked, it would be a messy process that could anger a lot of voters and seriously undermine the party well into the future. But, guess what? A Trump nomination will also seriously undermine the party well into the future.

But if this doesn’t work — or the party doesn’t have the guts to even attempt it — then what? Donald Trump becomes the nominee.

Then what do you do?

This is when serious Republicans have to decide whether they will vote for anyone with an R after his name, or if they want their party to have some minimum standards.

There have been a lot of Republican leaders who go on and on about how unacceptable Trump is, what a disaster he would be as president. But, then, when asked if they’ll support him if he’s the nominee, they meekly say yes.

If Donald Trump actually becomes the nominee, that has to stop. Republican congressional leaders — who know how awful Trump is — should refuse to endorse him. The party apparatus should refuse to support him. Super PACs loyal to the party should refuse to fund him. Take the lead of the Koch brothers, who have indicated they’ll pour their resources into trying to blunt the down-ticket damage of a Trump candidacy.

donald-trump-has-surged-to-the-top-of-2-new-2016-pollsThe burden is not just on the Republican leadership, such as it is. Serious Republican voters need ask themselves if that is the face of the Republican Party they believe in and support. As much hatred as there is for Hillary Clinton on the right, serious Republican voters will need to consider either voting for her or, if that’s a bridge too far, staying home on Election Day.

I am not a neutral observer, I admit. I think the Republican Party has already fallen far. Congressional leadership has earned its 11 percent approval rating. The rank Republican obstructionism and refusal to govern if it meant cooperating in any way, shape or form with a duly elected president has done much to poison our political system. The fact that Republican leaders came this close to tanking the economy and faith in the U.S. to repay its debts by refusing to raise the debt ceiling earned them, in my estimation, a generation in the political wilderness.

But, liberal that I am, I do want to see a functioning, functional and coherent conservative party in the United States.

Such a party does not nominate Donald Trump, or support his candidacy if he does somehow win that nomination.

The Republican Party may not be able to save itself, in the end. But it can save America and the rest of the world from the disaster of a Trump presidency.

Really, America?

“This is not a long shot. This is something that is going to be really amazing … We’re going to have a lot of success, and everyone’s going to enjoy it.”
 
This is real video of Donald Trump launching a multi-level marketing scheme in 2009. (Youthful indiscretion is not, in other words, a valid excuse.) These are almost always scams (which is why when you type “multi-level marketing” in Google, it autocompletes “multi-level marketing scams”). He promised great things, but now his attorney says his role was limited to licensing the ‘Trump’ brand and providing motivational speeches. In other words, he lied about his involvement in the scam. Er, scheme.
 
He lied then; he’s lying now. Wake up, America. You are THIS close to nominating a man who would make snake-oil salesmen blush in shame as a major-party candidate to be PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
 
Stop it. Go home. Sober up. Think about changing your life. If this isn’t a wakeup call, I don’t know what is.

What are Republicans thinking?

I really don’t know what Republicans think they are gaining from the unprecedented shirking of their constitutional duty in refusing to even consider a nominee from a sitting president to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

Their nominee is almost certainly going to be Donald Trump. He will almost certainly lose. At which point, Garland’s nomination will be withdrawn, and the appointment will become Hillary Clinton’s to make.

In November, the GOP will be attempting to defend the gains it made in the Senate in 2010, largely in blue-leaning states. Republican senators are already extremely vulnerable, and thumbing their noses at their constitutional responsibility and attempting to deny a democratically elected president the right to nominate a Supreme Court justice will only make them more vulnerable, increasing the likelihood of the Democrats retaking the Senate.

It seems to me, Senate Republicans have a clear choice: They can do the right thing and get the most moderate candidate imaginable (far more moderate than Obama’s liberal supporters would prefer). Or they can act like petulant children, refuse to do their jobs, and face the likely prospect of a far more progressive nominee from Clinton being confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Has the Republican base really become so unmanageable that Republicans feel they must choose political suicide over the far more reasonable course of action?

Kim Davis is the face of religious persecution in America

150903-kim-davis-mug-535p_2a10fb4a29fd25fb6bf13a4680f1087c.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Kim Davis, the infamous Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court ended bans on same-sex marriage across the nation, has been called a martyr by some. Her faith-based “persecution” has been compared to that suffered by the Jews in Nazi Germany, and evidence, according to Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee of the “criminalization of Christianity in our country.”

Her supporters have it backwards, though. Kim Davis is the face of religious persecution in America, I agree, but she is the face of the persecutors, not the persecuted.

She went to jail not for practicing her faith, but for persistent efforts to shove that faith down the throats of those who don’t share it and deny basic constitutional rights to a minority population because her faith tells her they are undeserving.

Davis is not a martyr. She is not embodying the values of Jesus. She is not the second coming of Martin Luther King Jr. No, she is, if anything, merely the frumpier face of the firehose-wielding sheriffs who stood blocking King’s path to Birmingham. Though she is not resorting to violence, she is blocking the rights of others to live their lives in freedom and happiness, because she believes her faith is more important than their civil rights.

This woman should be scorned, not celebrated. She has used her public office to flout the law. She says she has acted under “God’s authority,” but her God does not have jurisdiction over who is issued a civil marriage license in the state of Kentucky. She was elected by the people of that state to serve the people of that state, and follow the laws of the state and the nation.

If she cannot do that, she should resign immediately, and quit persecuting those whose faith differs from hers.

Davis was jailed after being held in contempt of court for refusing to accept court decisions all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court that she was in the wrong. She was released yesterday because her office had begun issuing licenses in her absence. As long as she doesn’t interfere with that, she will remain free.

If she chooses to impose her religious beliefs on others and refuse to allow her public, secular office to do its job because it opposes those beliefs, then she will rightly end up back behind bars.

But she is not the victim, and she never was. Hers is the face of the persecutor.

The downfall of a blogger

Don Surber’s firing (or forced resignation, or whatever it was) is a shame. Not that it wasn’t deserved. The Daily Mail was doing the right thing by distancing itself from Surber’s caustic commentary that culminated in him referring to Michael Brown as an “animal” who “deserved to be put down” on his personal blog.

I say it’s a shame because Surber used to be a decent human being. I knew him years ago when I worked for The Charleston Gazette. We were competing editorial writers, and I rarely agreed with what he wrote, but he had a sense of humor and we got along pretty well, in a distant sort of way.

Then he started blogging. It pretty much went downhill from there. He earned the attention of some popular national right-wing bloggers, and, I think, began writing more for them than for his West Virginia audience. His point of view became more and more radical, and he was rewarded with the currency of the blogging realm: hits and visitors. I commented occasionally on his blog, at least until he banned me.

At some point, The Daily Mail shut down his official blog. The line he gave was that he was too busy for it. But I noticed that he had time to put as many items up on Facebook as he had been on the blog. I wondered (and still do) if his editors had become wary of his radicalization. The Daily Mail was always a conservative counterweight to the Gazette’s liberal editorial page, but it was far more moderate than Surber had become.

I hope this is a wake-up call for Surber. I don’t know if he actually believed half the crap he wrote on his blog, at least in the beginning, but I know he used to be a better person. Maybe losing his job will make realize he had already lost his journalistic soul.

Beth Macy’s ‘Factory Man’ deserves every accolade

The beer is excellent, too.

The beer is excellent, too.

Beth Macy has received too many thumbs-up reviews of her new book “Factory Man” to count. We’re talking not one, not two, but three glowing mentions in The New York Times alone. This book is on fire.

And the attention is so well deserved. This is an important piece of journalism on many levels.

First, Macy tells the story of Bassett, a company town in rural Virginia whose trajectory was inevitably linked to the family who named it — and for a good part of its history owned everything from the bank to the hospital. That family at times rivaled the patriarchs of Dallas for soap opera-worthy drama, and Macy chronicles much of it, in note-perfect prose that preserves respect and dignity for every well-drawn character.

Next, Macy paints a rich, layered portrait of JBIII, the black-sheep son of the family denied his feudal right to the CEO’s chair. John Bassett III is a character whose story needed to be told. When speaking at the “Factory Man” launch at Parkway Brewery Co. in Salem, Bassett seemed to revel in  a former employee’s description of him: “He may be an asshole, but when he’s your asshole, that’s a very good thing.” Strong-willed, hard-working and much smarter than even his own family gave him credit for, JBIII didn’t fade away when his brother-in-law took over the company and made it clear that the prodigal son’s role would be as minor as he could make it.

Instead, John Bassett took over another company in nearby Galax, Va. He turned it around and, when the illegal dumping of Chinese exports threatened the entire domestic furniture industry, he fought back at the International Trade Commission. He didn’t stop there, though. He made sure his company and his factories were nimble and smart, and he did everything he could to maximize the advantages of domestic production. The portrait painted by Macy is every bit as complex as the man must be.

What drove him? Resentment over his treatment by his own family? A burning desire to prove himself? Concern for the hundreds of workers he felt responsible for? Or the stubborn, cantankerous inability to back down from a fight? A bit of all, most likely.

Finally, “Factory Man” is the story of free trade’s losers, from  factory workers nearing retirement when Bassett shut down most of its domestic production to workers in China who would see themselves priced out to cheaper labor in Vietnam and Indonesia. Macy makes much of the fact that she’s not a business writer. And she talks quite a bit about her own upbringing as the daughter of a factory worker in a town not unlike Bassett. It’s no secret where her sympathy lies, though she is clearly not naive about the stark, painful realities of a global economy.

But where she succeeds beautifully — and where a business writer steeped in years of conventional economic wisdom might have never tread — is her vivid look at those left behind by the “rising tide” of free trade: older workers who can’t afford to leave but can’t find new jobs; younger workers who hired on as call center workers, only to see those jobs also outsourced; parents who must watch their children move away, with nothing to keep them at home.

“Factory Man,” in its depiction of JBIII’s determination and drive, makes clear that not all of this pain was necessary. If other owners had found John Bassett’s faith in and compassion for their workers, and fought both harder and smarter to keep American factories working, the flood of imports might not have washed away so many jobs, and so many lives.

American manufacturing is dying, and, as Macy writes, many economists and other big thinkers believe that’s just fine. But it isn’t. Unthinking devotion to the bottom line has robbed America of a great strength, stolen the economic vitality of a broad swath of the middle class, and made the economy exceedingly vulnerable.

For the most part, this is not the fault of American workers, but of  business owners and shareholders who, for all their talk of being job creators, have overseen a decline we may never recover from.

JBIII is far from a perfect man. He and his entire family became enormously wealthy thanks largely to the sweat of others. But no one can doubt his own work ethic, and his drive to keep his business going, not just for his own sake, but for the sake of the hundreds of others whose livelihoods depend on it.

There’s a lesson there, if anyone out there is willing to learn it.

“Factory Man” is an enormously important book. May the accolades keep coming.

Worst phishing attempt ever

I received an email today purporting to be from Bank of America asking me to reconfirm my account information for online banking.

Naturally, I would have approached such an email cautiously in any event. I’m familiar with “phishing” scams: Someone sends you an email that appears to be from a trusted institution with a link that appears to be to that trusted institution’s website, and asks you to log in and provide some essential security information. Only the email’s actually from an identity thief and the trusted institution’s website is a clever phony. After you plug in your information, the identity thief will use it to log into the real site, or others, and engage in all sorts of mischief.

But this is the sloppiest attempt I’ve ever seen. The punctuation and formatting were awful, to begin with. How awful? Here’s a sample:

Dear Customer,

Account Requires Complete Profile Update, 

We have recently detected that different computer user had attempted gaining 
access to your Online account, 

and multiple password was attempted with your user ID. 

It is now necessary to re-confirm your account information to us. 

If this process is not completed within 24-48 hours. 

We will be forced to suspend your Account Online Access as it may have been used 

for fraudulent purposes. 

Sentence fragments. Strange line breaks. Strange capitalization. English-as-a-second-language phrasing. Nothing about the email seemed legitimate. The phisher didn’t even bother to download a Bank of America graphic to give the email the slightest hint of authenticity.

He couldn’t even use a real copyright symbol. The last line read: (C) 2014 Bank of America Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

But the real topper was this: There was no link to a phishy website. Instead, there was an attachment called Secure Form.html. Because, yeah, that’s how a multi-billion-dollar company like Bank of America rolls.

Yep. This was a complete and total phishing fail.

Al Bedrosian and the politics of ignorance

Roanoke County Supervisor Al Bedrosian has every right to his ignorance, but if other supervisors allow his views to win the day, the entire county will be poorer for it.

At a recent meeting with the  members of the Roanoke County Citizen Leaders Environmental Action Roundtable, Bedrosian’s ignorance was in full bloom.

“You’re about pushing man-made global warming, and I don’t believe in that,” he said. When RCCLEAR chairman Jesse Freedman informed Bedrosian that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and pollution from human activity is the driving force, Bedrosian said he was mistaken.

That, again, is Bedrosoian’s ignorance speaking. The scientific consensus is undeniable. The vast majority of climate scientists have no doubt that rising temperatures across the globe are due to the enormous amount of carbon pollution human industrial activity pumps out.

This is not a matter of opinion. It is the truth. It is not subject to political debate. It is a fact.

Bedrosian wants to ignore that fact. He wants to pretend it doesn’t exist. He would rather believe in some far-flung United Nations conspiracy than attempt to comprehend what thousands of scientific papers have concluded.

It was a sad day when Bedrosian was elected to the commission. What’s worse is that two of his colleagues appear ready to appease him, though they don’t share his rabid beliefs and ignorance.

Bedrosian won only one seat. That shouldn’t be enough to poison the entire Roanoke County Commission, even with Commissioner Butch Church in his corner.

But if, as appears likely, supervisors Jason Peters and Joe McNamara, side with Church and Bedrosian to end the county’s involvement with the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, which helps the county track and find ways to reduce carbon emissions, and disband RCCLEAR, ignorance will have won over common sense.

Peters and McNamara are better than that, and the people who elected them to office certainly deserve better.

 

Getting the feedback I need

The cover for "Ghost in the Machine."

The cover for “Ghost in the Machine.”

I imagine that whenever any writer hands over a piece for feedback, he’s wanting (and probably expecting) to hear back just how great it is. It’s wonderful! Perfect! Ready for publication!

That’s what writers want to hear, but it isn’t what we need to hear, not if we’re going to make it better. (Still, if that’s what you want to hear, try your mom; that usually works for me.)

I’ve been putting out some early chapters of my novel to a few writer friends. Today, I got feedback from one. She said the bones are good.

Which is, you know, what you say when you’re house hunting and you come across a wreck of a fixer-upper. And as we talked, I wondered, is that what my novel is, a wreck of a fixer-upper?

But as we talked more I realized that, no, the novel’s not a wreck. But, as exhilarating as it was to finish the first draft, I do realize that I’m still in the early stages. It’s like building a house (or finishing a basement). The first draft lays out the framing. So, if I’ve got good bones, then I’ve done the framing right. Now I’ve got to wire it for sound and electricity to give it life. Put up the drywall and paint that make it look polished and finished, then install trim to hide any rough spots that remain.

In other words, it was a great feedback session that gave me what I need. Even better, she sparked an idea to transform the prologue into something that will involve the reader in the story more quickly and deeply. The idea was so inspiring, that I got right to work and rewrote the prologue. I’m going to let it sit for a day or two before I look it back over, but I think the idea worked.

This has been a slow process. Almost as slow as the basement. Since finishing the first draft nearly a year ago, progress has been sporadic at best. But I’m getting back on track, and now that I have a framework for approaching the revisions, it will go better.

And that’s a wrap

I’ve been waiting a very long time to write these words: The basement is finished.

Construction actually wrapped up on Feb. 8, but I’ve been waiting to post this until I had pictures of the basement complete with furnishings (see below). The rest of the flooring went down as easily as I had hoped. The plumbing was a bit more problematic, but not much. The main issue I had was working out all the leaks in the drain under the bar sink, which ended up having way too many joints and sections. One joint would stubbornly leak — about one small drop every three or four hours. Maddening. I finally replaced the gasket and put a small bead of plumber’s putty on both sides. That took care of that joint, but then two others started with the slow leaks. It took a lot of tightening to finally lock them down.

Once the floor was down, I painted and installed the base trim and quarter-round. That — counterintuitively, at least to me — ended up being more difficult in some ways than the crown moulding, mostly because the quarter-round needed angle cuts at every doorway. And then … that was it. Construction was complete. We still had things to do: Glassware to transfer to the backbar. Sweeping and mopping the floors. Moving office furniture from the makeshift office in the dining room down to the basement. Deciding on furniture for the theater. Deciding how to finish the stairway to the basement, which we’re still pondering.

But the basement itself? Done.

It took just over two years. And it was a learning experience. As I’ve said before, prior to this little adventure, my only real exposure to power tools was a cordless screwdriver. Now, I’m comfortable using a compound miter saw, an impact hammer drill, a nail gun, reciprocating saw and more. Some blood was spilled during the course of the remodel, but there were no major injuries, and all my limbs and digits remain intact. I learned how to use a coping saw to make fairly exact, detailed cuts to trim. And, with the help of my DIY mentor, I’ve learned a lot about problem-solving. Most important, I’ve learned that most problems can be solved, one way or another. When I first started framing, I was nearly paralyzed with fear that something I’d do wrong would spell disaster later down the line. And there were things that caused problems. For instance, my spacing was off on some of the studs, meaning drywall sheets fell short or was too long. That was a hassle, but it could be overcome. I cut a couple of studs too tight and forced them into place, causing them to bow out under the pressure by the time the drywall went up. That, too, could be overcome (you cut the stud at the high point of the bow, then attach a two-foot length of stud to the side with eight screws so the stud is straight).

But nothing was insurmountable. I didn’t screw up anything so badly that there wasn’t some sort of fix. There was no mistake that meant, as I irrationally feared, that I’d have to tear everything down and start over.

I also learned that estimates are for fools. Looking back over these blog entries, probably the most consistently used phrase is: “Such-and-such took much longer than I anticipated.” I started out thinking this would be a six-month project. Often, I told myself I was within a month or so of completion, only to be tangled up in something that took much longer than I anticipated. In the end, it took two years — two very long years.

There were times as the project dragged on that I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew (see ceiling). There were times when, if we’d had the money or won the lottery, I would have gladly paid someone else of finish. But I saw it through, and, I think, the end result was worth the effort.