Sunday, September 11, 2016

The “vast right-wing conspiracy”

When Hillary Clinton, then “first lady,” complained about a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband Bill, who was about to be impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, probably most people laughed or reacted with scorn.

I didn’t, because I knew it to be true. For that reason I don’t take seriously the notion that she, now running for president in her own right, is singularly corrupt.

At the height of the “Vince-Foster-may-have-been-murdered” controversy in 1995, CBS’s ”60 Minutes” did its own investigation and found that Christopher Ruddy, then a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, had done a politically motivated hatchet job in trying to prove that Foster hadn’t actually committed suicide.

Soon after that, Frank Rich and Howard Kuntz both published pieces in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal respectively about the involvement of Richard Mellon Scaife, the late billionaire and publisher of the Trib who had bankrolled numerous conservative causes, including media committed to getting out the “truth” about the Clintons.

Later that year I wrote a piece for The Pitt News, for which I was a columnist, in which I used the word “conspiracy.” Because it sure seemed that way to me.

It wasn’t until 2002, when the book “Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative” was published, that I understood fully about the conspiracy. Author David Brock, formerly a reporter for the right-wing American Spectator, wrote that Scaife had given the magazine $2 million to dig up dirt on the Clintons in what became known as the “Arkansas Project” (it turned out that making up stuff about public officials in that state was somewhat of a tradition in that state).

Brock would write a piece about Bill Clinton using state troopers to get women, for which he was praised in conservative circles, James Dobson even saying that Brock was doing “God’s work.” (Which turned out to be ironic, since Brock later came out as gay.) He also wrote a book “The Real Anita Hill,” which slammed the accuser of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who in 1991 was in the midst of hearing amidst accusations of sexual harassment.

Brock wrote a biography, “The Seduction of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” that was published just before Bill’s 1996 reelection campaign and in which he told the truth about her — but since it contained little if any red meat he ended up being kicked out of the conservative movement.

Anyway, with the impeachment pending he decided to come clean as to what he knew, first to Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, and then later to numerous media as to what really was happening. (And of course, the impeachment failed.) Brock, who founded the left-leaning watchdog Media Matters for America, is now a Hillary supporter.

Something that Brock brought out that I didn’t realize: The strategy on the part of conservative media was to spread unsubstantiated rumors to get the mainstream media to investigate. I suspect this was done for two reasons: 1) The conservative media’s ratings and circulation would, and did, increase: and 2) The mainstream media would be, and still are to this day being, accused of “protecting” the Clintons for not finding anything (which in fact there was essentially nothing to find).

That’s the context to what we’re seeing today with the opposition to Hillary’s campaign.

I’ve always believed that the Clintons were indeed singular political figures in that they had the power to cause major political change — which represented a major threat to the power of the people who hated them for whatever reason. Bill would have done so had he been able to keep his pants on, and Hillary might finish the job because she has coattails that no other candidate does.

So if you’re trying to convince me that she’s so horrible, save it. It just isn’t true.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The day I stood up — by NOT standing up

In 2008 I attended a concert by the U.S. Army Field Band’s Jazz Ambassadors in Greensburg, a 45-minute drive from Pittsburgh. The last song was an arrangement of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and everyone in the hall stood.

Except for me. It was nothing planned — given the history of racism in this country, I just couldn’t do so, not even for the military.

I thought of that in reference to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who announced that he would no longer stand for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games due to the racism that he sees as still being unaddressed. While he recognized people who served in the military, he just didn’t see the justice in it. His stance has upset a lot of people, especially military supporters

Indeed, he said,  "This stand wasn’t for me — this is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice. People that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and affect change. I’m in a position where I can do that, and I'm gonna do that for people who can’t.”

And I get it, really.

You see, Kaepernick's biological father is black, and he says he's seen oppression of people of color.

More to the point, however, it's been my contention that the true patriot doesn't simply glorify his or her country; he or she points out its flaws so that they can be corrected.

Not for nothing does the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance read "with liberty and justice [emphasis mine] for all."

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dance: Part of my masculine journey

Those of you who know me know that over the last seven years I’ve gotten involved in the local social dance scene. And I’m growing as a man as a result.

In fact, in the process I’ve found a piece of me that had long gone undiscovered until then — it seems as though everything I am and have can be wrapped up in dance of late. I’m a former basketball player who retired a decade ago from competitive sports, primarily basketball, and have also been a musician since I started taking piano at age 7. Basically, not only can I hear and feel the music but I can move to it as well.

So what does this have to do with the masculine journey that my favorite Christian author, John Eldredge, often refers to? Several things.

One, it’s a skill that needs to, and can, be learned, which means you need someone to teach you; fortunately, at least in my case, my teachers have been good and patient and will tell me exactly what I do right and where I can improve. I’ve been taking lessons in West Coast Swing, my favorite dance, for about two years, and last month the instructor was showing us how to get out of a certain position. I did something different than what he was demonstrating, but he told me that what I did was simply another way to do it. (In WCS there’s a lot of leeway.)

Two, done properly dance is elegant, with elegance being one of my weaknesses, so to speak, and I’ve come to appreciate watching couples on the floor who’ve been at it for a while. At some point I’d like to develop a routine with a regular partner; while I don’t see myself as a competitor it’s something to look forward to. Eldredge has consistently said that appreciating beauty is part of the journey.

Three — and I’m seeing this more and more — it really is a way to impress women, who appreciate a man who knows how to take the lead. While attending a birthday party in November I spotted a woman squirming in her seat to the Earth, Wind & Fire song “September” so, seeing an opportunity, I offered my hand, lifted her to her feet and led her in some basic WCS steps. At the end she grabbed my arm and, nearly in tears, said to me, because I knew how to dance with a partner, “You made my day!” (And in photos I saw later I noticed the delight on her face.) Thinking about it now, I’ve always been attracted to dancers — during my first romantic relationship, in the summer of 1988, when I was visiting her at her apartment my girlfriend often wore ballet slippers, which I found incredibly sexy.

Indeed, many of my fondest memories of late have involved dance. Last month I wrote a tune inspired by another regular at an East Coast Swing (jitterbug) dance, and after I presented her with the lead sheet she was moved to tears. She even told me that not only did she want to hear the tune performed by the 16-piece band that plays there — I also do arranging — but that she wanted to dance with me when it’s played. (Needless to say, I’m working on that now.)

Here in Pittsburgh ballroom dancing has become quite popular, and while I’m not nearly as accomplished as I am with swing dancing it has a similar effect on me. Learning gives a sense of accomplishment, and I hope to keep doing it as long as I live. Which is the point.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Democratic Derangement Syndrome?

I must admit that I’ve always been mystified by the pure hatred displayed over the years toward Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I really am, especially now.

At this point it can’t simply be about policies, especially since current Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump isn’t, and never has pretended to be by anyone’s standards, a true conservative. Indeed, a number of evangelical Christians have pretty much ignored his flip-flops on abortion and embrace (at last publicly) of gay rights. It can’t be about “truthfulness,” since Obama and the Clintons don’t lie more than anyone else.

It seems to me that the situation comes about because, and only because, a Democrat targeted for defeat just won’t go down. And that’s juvenile.

In 1999 Bill Clinton of course beat the impeachment rap not simply because the charges were bogus, which they were, but also because he was able to talk his way back into the good graces of much of the public. Of course, Obama would have been impeached were his enemies in Washington able to find charges to do so — but they couldn’t.

And with Hillary Clinton, she’s had eight hearings on “Benghazi,” the last one going 11 hours. What’s worse from the perspective of her enemies, she seemed to be the only one standing after they tried to punch her lights out (figuratively); if anything, she’s emerged stronger than ever. And except for a choice few words, she’s pretty much ignored Trump, who’s called her “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and “the devil.” (And Trump’s base eats up those epithets.)

I’m forced to conclude that their critics want only someone to hate. Trouble is, such a hunger can never be sated because it’s all-consuming — even at the cost of their souls.

That’s what concerns me about this election, that if Hillary is elected, and at this point the odds strongly favor her, we’ll see four more years of sabotage. I don’t suspect that the people who don’t want her back in the White House will suddenly call off the dogs and accept her — I see them fighting her at every turn. And she has to know that as well. This appears personal, not just political — and won’t stand.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What will we talk about on Nov. 9?

This general election season, especially with Hillary Clinton running against Donald Trump for the presidency, has promised to be to be entertaining and it’s certainly been that.

But of course, like all campaigns, it will end in November. And then what will we do?

If recent history is any guide, people will still be fuming that their person won’t get to the White House. And that’s sad because we have only one president per country.

It also speaks to the focus on the presidential race; while certainly important, we also need to consider the “down-ballot” races, for Congress, both in the House and Senate.

And here I’ll say that the only way we’ll have any substantive change — assuming that’s what people want—is if Secretary Clinton wins. And it will have little or nothing to do with her.

Why? Because of all the candidates she’s the only one with coattails — that is to say, people voting for her will also likely vote for House and Senate Democrats. Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson don’t have that kind of pull, and numerous other Republicans are running away from Trump due to his intemperate statements. (Of course Trump supporters are already complaining that the media are giving him a raw deal. If you’re one of those, give it a rest because it isn’t true.)

I guess it reminds me just how many people wrongly put their trust in the presidency to enact substantive change. Yes, he (or, come next year, likely she) does have a lot of power but needs to work with Congress to get anything done. Trump said at the Republican National Convention said that he alone understood the system and thus could push his program through, which said plenty.

That being said, however, over the past few cycles families have been divided and friendships lost over politics, which ironically should represent compromise. It will be sad to see if we’re unable to pick up the pieces come Nov. 9.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Now that it's official ...

We now have our combatants for the presidency — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump; the former was expected but the latter wasn’t. Whatever, it will be another hard-fought campaign to become what some say it the leader of the free world.

I’m asking my fellow Christians one thing: Whatever you do, don’t trash Hillary. Oppose her policies if you must, but don’t start using nasty names — no “Hillary Rotten Clinton,” as Trump said earlier this week, and no vulgar T-shirts as were sold at the Republican National Convention last week.

I ask that for two reasons. One, it’s not going to work because she’s been through this before, with the persecution of her husband Bill during the 1990s. When she complained about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” right before he was impeached, she was telling the truth (I knew that because I’d done my own research years before). Bringing up “Benghazi” or emails won’t have any effect either, since it’s been clear from the start that it’s politically motivated.

The other is that much of the opposition to her is based purely on envy in that the focus is not so much on getting someone in the White House that folks like but simply keeping her out because they don’t. That’s no good reason because you have to have a positive — someone to vote for. Besides, hating her is bad witness in that some will say or do anything that’s against whether true or false, with most of what’s being said about her being false.

But what about the “judgment of God” on our nation? I’d first worry about the judgment of God on the church because He hasn’t executed that yet—and when He does it won’t be pretty. Indeed, He may be doing that now, with Christian influence being diminished because of our desire for power rather than our willingness to serve, essentially knocking God off His throne.

Remember, even if Hillary Clinton becomes president Jesus is still King. Remember.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A "listening tour"

In my off-hours I’m a jazz musician, and any jazz musician will tell you that if you want to sound good you need to listen to the other players around you.

That metaphor also goes for a nation, especially now that we’re so divided politically, more so at any time that I recall in my lifetime. And I think a lot of that is connected to the “siloing” of people according to race, class, culture, ideology or whatever. We don’t live in the same neighborhoods, work together, eat together, worship together — we don’t have those connections.

I know what it’s like to lose friends over politics and it does hurt; in some cases (but not in mine, fortunately) even families have been fractured. And do you know what it would take to change that?

Listening. It’s really that simple. And in doing so, not thinking that you have all the answers.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been excoriated, and rightly so I believe, for his crassness, bombast and constant badgering of those he doesn’t agree with. Why would anyone support him? Because he’s brought up issues of economic hardship in the “Rust Belt” brought on at least in part by globalization. Had people listened to his supporters then he might not be where he is today.

The group “Black Lives Matter” has been denounced as racist and anti-police, among other things. But their critics don’t understand that many, if not most, African-Americans have felt abused by police. Lately, BLM activists have held meetings and even picnics with police officers and got together in a number of cities, including Dallas, where the five cops were shot to death; and here in Pittsburgh.

That may have gone a long way toward defusing tensions. Let’s keep that going.