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Alabama Senate Race, Obamacare Repeal, Puerto Rico, Russia and the NFL

In these last few months, blogging has been my outlet.  I have no illusions of grandeur; my friend Susannah is convinced that I should work for Rachel Maddow.  I am thrilled when my margins align and my tenses are used correctly.  I have just upgraded to a “search engine optimization” (SEO) plug-in which is supposed to help me write in a way that my posts will be displayed higher in search engine results.  We shall see how that works.  If you begin to notice that I awkwardly repeat certain keywords throughout a post, just be aware, that it is in an attempt to “practice” SEO.  Apparently, all the millennials know how to do it.  

I have a number of topics swirling in my head and have taken to going old school.  I have a small Moleskine reporter’s notebook that I carry with me so that when I have an idea, I jot it down.  There is a long list, most of which require some level of research and reading.  

But not this one.  

I had planned for my next post to reflect on Evangelical Christianity and Politics in America, specifically a review of a couple of books I have read recently.  But that one will have to wait because while I have been outlining it in my head, our political environment has continued to erupt in a way that I am not sure anyone quite understands.  Jon Meacham was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning.  Meacham, a famous historian, and author said that we were living through the political equivalent of climate change.  We are experiencing “extreme” politics.   I was not reassured.  It is so unbelievable that blogging is all I can do to ensure that I am not crazy or having a wicked nightmare.  

Let me start with context.  Like 80 percent of the population (I made up that statistic), I have allergies.  Not the “anaphylactic shock” kind of allergies, but the kind that makes me sneeze when I do not clean my house and makes me dread spring.  For the last couple of months, right on schedule, I have had that annoying feeling in both of my ear canals.  It feels like I’m underwater and when I talk, I sound to myself like I am in a tunnel.  My doctor suggested a combination of over the counter nasal spray and the decongestant you have to buy from the pharmacist because it can be used to make methamfetamine.

So every two weeks, I stop at the pharmacy, hand the pharmacist my driver’s license and buy my 15 days worth of Claritin-D.   But this morning, the CVS computers were not working correctly and the verification process (the one that checks that I have not purchased anything in the last 7 days) was not coming back fast enough.  I could tell that the pharmacist did not want to ask me to come back later; you never know when a customer might get irate and Connecticut is an open carry state.  I politely agreed to return later but as I walked out to the car, I laughed and thought to myself, “I would burn my house down trying to make meth.  We are on the verge of a nuclear standoff with North Korea, a theocrat just won the Alabama Republican Senate primary, Republicans came within a hair’s breath of passing a law that only a minority of their base supports, 60 percent of Puerto Rico does not have electricity one week after a category five hurricane crashed into the island, the country is ablaze in a debate over the national anthem and the NFL but despite all of that the government has it together enough to prevent me from buying more than 15 days worth of decongestant.”  

And yes, I absolutely did think all of that on my way to the car.  

Alabama Republican Senate Primary – Judge Roy Moore

This is not the time to sit idly by and watch the meltdown.  What happened in Alabama this week is significant.  If we dismiss it as a one-off or worse, a “what do you expect, it’s Alabama,” we would be making an incredible mistake.  We need to treat Judge Roy Moore’s victory in the Republican Senate primary runoff as “canary in a coal – mine” signal of hazardous waves ahead.  For you the reader and perhaps the non-political junkie, I would like to put the race in context as only Amy could. 

  • President Trump nominated Jeff Session, Alabama Senator and vehement conservative and anti-immigration zealot as Attorney General.  
  • Sessions, in his confirmation hearings before the Senate, lied (although he would disagree) about his interactions with the Russians during the Trump campaign and failed to disclose those meetings on his application for security clearance.  After those meetings became public, Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russian investigation, putting his deputy Rod Rosenstein in charge of the FBI Russia probe. 
  • Upon FBI Director Comey’s firing and after President Trump’s apparent admission that it was due to the FBI’s Russian probe, Rosenstein appointed the special prosecutor – Bob Mueller to head the Russian investigation, which reportedly infuriated the president who in an act of anger, insulted the Attorney General and repeatedly publicly admonished him.  Sessions offered to resign and Trump had to be talked out of accepting said resignation several times because it would have been politically foolhardy and potentially administration ending.  

The Sessions history is significant because it was his vacated seat that led to last night’s Republican primary.   The fact that his nomination as A.G. was not without controversy is just gravy on an already mushrooming drama.  But before I introduce you to the primary winner, I want to outline how we got here.  

  • Starting in March 2016, Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley, two-term Republican official became embroiled in an ethics and sex scandal in which he was recorded using explicit terms with his mistress, a former campaign aide.  He was later accused of using campaign funds to further the illicit relationship.  In April 2017, after the Alabama legislature began impeachment hearings, Bentley resigned and plead guilty to misdemeanor charges.
  • But while he was still governor, Bentley appointed Luther Strange, Alabama Attorney General to fill the post until a special election could be held in December 2017.   This is where the Governor’s legal issues come into play.  As State Attorney General, Strange asked for impeachment proceedings against the Governor to be delayed.  The request was made prior to the November election and thus before the Senate seat was vacated.  But there was still a sense of collusion. 
  • In August the Alabama Republican Party held a runoff between Senator Luther Strange, Mo Brooks (Congressman) and Roy Moore (more on him below).  You may remember Mo Brooks as the Congressman who said this about the House bill to repeal Obamacare:

“My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, you know, they are doing the things to keep their bodies healthy,” the Alabama Republican argued. “And right now, those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

Mo Brooks came in third in the runoff but I doubt it was because of this quote.  It was likely because Trump did not endorse him.

By now, you know that Luther Strange did not win the primary and the media is aghast that Trump’s “guy” lost, thus ‘Trump’ lost.  I could care less about Luther Strange but I care a great deal about the candidate Alabama Republicans DID choose to face the Democrat in December and you should too.  Alabama’s next U.S. Senator may well be this guy:

  • Roy Moore was expelled – TWICE – from the Alabama Supreme Court. 
    • In 2003, Moore used state funds to place a 5,200-pound statue of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the state judicial building thus violating the law and separation of church and state.  
    • Alabama voters re-elected him to the state supreme court in 2012.  He was expelled again in 2016 (permanently) when he urged the state supreme court to defy SCOTUS’s ruling on same-sex marriage – legalizing it.  Moore refused to obey the rule of law.  Why?  Because Moore believes that the Constitution is subservient to God’s law.  
    • Let’s repeat that.  Roy Moore believes that the Constitution is subservient to God’s Law and more specifically, it is subservient to Roy Moore’s interpretation of God’s Law.  

But wait, there’s more.

God’s Law According to Judge Roy Moore

Where to start.

All of this is easily verified and fact-checked.  I would encourage everyone to Google.

  • Moore compared homosexual activity to bestiality (having sex with animals) and believes said activities should be illegal.  This is actually a benign description of his statements.  There is no need for me to re-document what other reporters have cited so many times.  I would suggest that you read through his insane comments here with citations noted.    
  • Do note however that he believes that 9/11 was God’s punishment for things like “legitimized” sodomy.  
  • Moore refers to Islam as a “false religion” because it is “incongruent with the United States Constitution.”  
    • He has stated that Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MI) should not be allowed in Congress because he is a Muslim.  
    • He has stated repeatedly that there are communities in the United States under Sharia Law.  When pressed by reporters, however, it became “I heard it was up in Illinois somewhere.”  Politifact called this statement a “Pants on Fire” statement.
  • On Birtherism:  Obama is a secret Muslim who was not born in the United States.  

Moore’s Supporters

Alabama Republicans,  Christian Evangelicals, Steve Bannon, and Breitbart.  Oh, and now establishment Republicans.  

Let’s think about this for a moment although thinking should not be necessary.  Setting aside considerations of religious objections which may or may not be valid (there will be further posts), in the United States of America, we live under the rule of civil law.  Civil law is the law of man, not the law of God.  In your home, and personal space individuals may practice religious freedom and God’s Law to the extent that it does not infringe upon the rights of others.  However, it is unconstitutional, I repeat, it is unconstitutional to legislate or use the power of government to codify your definition of God’s Law into temporal legislation.

Passing off Moore’s victory as “what do you expect, it is Alabama,” is unacceptable.  Judge Roy Moore should not go anywhere near a position of power and yet, given that it is deep red Alabama, it is very likely that he will be the next Senator from the state.  And despite his outward hostility toward Congressional leadership, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and all of the establishment, Republicans in office seem to be embracing him.  The man and his views are unfit for office.  He has the right to have and to express those views.  But voters – any voter – should know better than to want him as their representative.

At some point, the Republican Party will become Roy Moore’s party.  And at some point, the Republican Party is the party of Trumpism.  I think we are already there.

Obamacare Repeal Failure Part?

While Alabama offered up a throwback to an unknown century, Senate Republicans were trying once again to repeal Obamacare; this time in the form of Graham-Cassidy.  I will not regurgitate the detail here but rather point out the obvious which has not been discussed nearly enough.  That is, Republicans came dangerously close to passing several bills that enjoyed historically low approval ratings.  Prior to Graham – Cassidy, Republican repeal and replace bills polled at less than 20 percent approval.  I heard rumors that Graham-Cassidy polled higher at about 30 percent but I wonder if those higher numbers came from simply hearing that money would be returned to the states.  There tends to be enthusiasm and an overall belief that states can figure out how to solve problems when the federal government cannot.  That rarely happens but still, the myth continues.

Republicans even came close to passing something called the “Skinny Bill” which was marketed to their caucus as something to keep the process moving.  It was as if the GOP leadership honestly believed that what could not be solved in the individual chambers could somehow be solved in Conference.  When has that ever happened?  So a major political party attempted to roll back two entitlements (Medicaid and Obamacare) that polled poorly with those who would be most directly impacted and was popular only with those who donated to their re-election campaigns.  And then, of course, there was the misdirection (lies) regarding protections for pre-existing conditions.  Yes, insurers had to offer coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.  But those same insurers could charge as much as necessary to cover that risk.  Not much of a guarantee.

Of note, if you have listened to President Trump today, you would be led to believe that the Senate has the votes to pass Graham-Cassidy.  They do not, but Trump continues to state that they do as if saying it repeatedly will make it so.  Then again, he is giving the excuse that Senator Thad Cochran is in the hospital and unable to cast a yes vote and one of the reasons why Graham-Cassidy will not make the September 30 deadline, messaging that is contrary to everything coming from out of the Senate including the bill’s sponsors.

Puerto Rico and Hurricane Relief

A week ago Puerto Rico was hit by a Category 5 hurricane, the worst that the U.S. territory had seen in decades.  I have added “History of Puerto Rico as a U.S. Territory” to my topic list because to too many Americans it seemed a surprise that Puerto Rico belonged to the United States.  Further, it seemed many were surprised that Puerto Ricans and those living in the U.S. Virgin Islands were indeed American citizens (how did the “U.S.” in front of the ‘Virgin Islands” not give it away).  Pundits blame education for people not understanding or realizing that America has territories.  No!  If you did not know that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were American held territories, then shame on you.  I suggest that you bury yourself in anything and everything possible to save face and to not make the same mistake twice.  Further, donate to hurricane relief.

I would question – highly question – whether Trump belongs on this list.  He has said relatively (stress relatively) nothing about Puerto Rico and when he did, he victim blamed the island for its poor economy and bad infrastructure.  After that, he congratulated himself repeatedly for doing such a good job on the relief effort.  Meanwhile, it has been reported that yes, relief supplies have arrived at the ports and that there are resources on the ground, but no method or organization to execute distribution of those supplies.

I read a few posts on my Senator’s Facebook page yesterday.  Chris Murphy posted comments regarding the need to help Puerto Rico and the bill that he was introducing to do just that.  I was glad to see that most of the responses were positive.  But there are always one or two that wanted to let Senator Murphy know that supplies had arrived, relief was on the ground and that he was feeding the liberal hysteria.  I always find it fascinating that people think that their third and fourth hand observation trumps (no pun intended) those who are actually experiencing the hardship.  Those on the ground are simply dismissed as liberals and leftists.

Let us fast forward a bit here.  If safe food and water are not restored and electricity and transportation are not repaired, all of Puerto Rico risks humanitarian disaster.  Disease, looting, violence and other avoidable effects are inevitable if we do not get a handle on the situation.  Now consider the federal response through the eyes of the Hispanic community.  The size of the Hispanic population in Houston and Florida will not matter.  In our current political environment, the response to Hurricane Maria could very well be seen through the racial and ethnic lens.  And our country does not handle those issues very well.

The NFL, the Flag, the National Anthem and Trumpism

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the country exploded over black professional football players kneeling during the National Anthem.  The country exploded, as Trump knew it would when he attacked NFL players during a Luther Strange Alabama Senate campaign rally.  There has been too much noise about body gestures.  I am done after I make this statement:  I agree with what these players are doing.  I too would kneel or refuse to stand for the national anthem.  Police brutality against young black men must be called out and it must stop.  These protests will not solve the problems by themselves, but they will force conversation and continue to draw visibility to the problem.

But I will discuss the following in this post.  The Republican Party has embraced an ideology that we now call Trumpism.  It is anti-immigrant, anti-internationalism, anti-trade, isolationist, intolerant, Christian evangelical (a potentially extreme form), anti-reason, anti-science, hatred of government and xenophobic.  Note that Trumpism has not permeated the entire GOP, but it is now well within its ranks.  What is frightening is that Trumpism does not seem to be controlled by Trump.  It is not controlled by anyone.

Russia and North Korea

All of this noise is happening against a backdrop of Russian intervention in our politics and brinksmanship with North Korea.  We continue to learn more about the Russian influence campaign on the American electorate and realize that it was so successful that the voters they influenced continue to disbelieve that they were in fact manipulated.  And every time Trump needs to distract from a domestic policy defeat or a Russian bombshell, he issues a baiting comment or ‘tweet’ toward the North Korean dictator.  The rhetoric is so high that we could, in fact, trigger a nuclear exchange and yet the public seems relatively unconcerned.  It is truly a surreal moment.

What does this mean?

People, this is a call to arms.   The media always reserves a small segment of their coverage to discuss the Democratic Party’s message; the conversation is always framed as, “Do the Democrats have a message other than, ‘We are Against Trump.'”  Ok.   Ordinarily, I would agree that an opposition party should be “for” something in order to get elected rather than simply being the minority.  But that is a rule of thumb for ordinary times.  These are not ordinary times.  These are “hang up,” “lock the door,” “draw the shades,” and “hide” times.  Read through the Roy Moore profile again.  As a Democrat, do I really need anything other than “I am not that?”  As a voter, if you pull the lever for a party the supports Trumpism, and that includes Trump, then I question all sorts of things about you and your thought process.

We have to get serious about public policy.  I cannot stress this enough.  It is not sufficient to watch the evening news and believe that makes you informed.  No matter how old you are, you have to be alert and knowledgeable.  You have to care about immigration and health care reform; and you have to care about how public policy affects everyone – not just you and your family.  We get into trouble when we vote on tribal instincts.  When we vote based on what is best for our community, state and country, we succeed.

Roy Moore represents the future if he is not defeated in December.  And the road is going to be tough for the Democrat Senate nominee Doug Jones.  Alabama is deep red.  Moore represents a wing of the right that has not been in American national electoral politics for a very long time.  I cannot think of a parallel.  If he is not stopped, there will be others.  And then there will be a reaction from the left – an equal and opposite reaction.  We could see real socialists emerge from the progressive left, especially if this Republican majority succeeds in any way to disassemble the social safety net.

Roy Moore does not belong in the Senate.  He does not belong in elected office.  If he wants to be a minister, then he should minister to his flock.  But he needs to stay out of politics and Alabama voters need to step up and send a message.  I have very little hope that that will happen because I have no faith anymore in the voters.

In the meantime, there are a few things that we can control.  We can tell those around us that their derogatory comments about “illegals” and “leftists” are unacceptable at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  We can make it clear to our kids that we support multi-culturalism and equal access to opportunities.  We can oppose refugee bans and reductions in legal immigration.  We can join civic organizations and donate to worthy charities.  We can volunteer and give to the local food bank.

Not everyone has the means to donate monetarily and that is okay.  But everyone can pay attention to events around us.  We can all read a few online article about Judge Roy Moore and be appalled that this man is accepted into the Republican Party ranks.  Everyone who is of voting age should be registered and you should have a reminder to vote on their calendar.  Remember that all politics is local but that your vote influences public policy.  I really do not understand why people hate politics so much.  Identify an issue or two that really interests you.  Decide where you stand and then align it to a party.  But right now, most importantly, make sure you get what the Republican Party emulates and who the party leaders are supporting.  Understand what their platform will do to the middle class and the poor.  The GOP’s platform is not new – it is a regurgitation of platforms from prior decades.  Those plans did not work out in the long term and they will not work out now.

This week was insane.  I barely remember the week before last, and the week before that.  The world keeps spinning and it does feel that it is spinning out of control.  I really wish I would wake up from this nightmare.


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