If Not Now, Then When?

Thoughts and prayers.

Thoughts and prayers.

So sick of hearing them say it like they really care.

If they really cared they’d do something about it.

How many times do we have to shout it?

If they really cared they’d do something about it.

How many times do we have to shout it?

Another of our schools shot up. Seventeen dead in Florida.

Who’s next? The most valuable lessons being taught in American schools is how to duck and run. Remember to zig zag kids. Makes for a tougher target.

America is the only country on the planet that allows – no, make that accepts – the wholesale slaughter of its people by firearms.

And no other country on the planet has so powerful a gun lobby.

Richard Burr, our Senator from right here in Winston-Salem, would love for you to believe that’s a coincidence. Burr would also like you to believe that just because the NRA and its affiliated organizations paid $5.6 million in 2016 to help him defeat democratic challenger Deborah Ross that he doesn’t owe his seat in the Senate – that he doesn’t owe his soul – to the gun lobby.

Burr of Reynolds High School, class of ‘74, and Wake Forest University, class of ‘78, was asked Thursday if the AR-15 the crazy used this week to shoot up the high school in Parkland, Fla., should be banned, or their magazines limited.

“I’ll leave it up to investigators to finish their investigation,’’ Burr replied.

Pressed if gun control shouldn’t at least be discussed, Burr ducked and covered.

“I’ll wait until they come out with their full report,’’ he said.

We’ll all wait until they come out with their full report. And then we’ll wait some more.

As mentioned before, I’m not a betting man. But I would wager anything I own except Buckshot, my guitar, that when the report is issued Burr will do the same thing he did after Sandy Hook in 2012, after Orlando in 2016, after Sutherland Springs in 2017, after Las Vegas in 2017.

He’ll extend his thoughts and prayers. And then he will do nothing.

One doesn’t get a perfect record from the NRA by beating squishy on gun-control legislation.

If now is not the time to discuss sensible measures to stop the slaughter of America citizens, then when?

Then when?

Then when?

You’ve never listened to me before on this issue, Richard, and I don’t expect you to now. But I wish you would listen to David Hogg, the 17-year-old who spent this week’s carnage interviewing fellow students holed up in their own school, wondering if they would get out alive.

“You can say, `yes we’re going to do all these things – thoughts and prayers,’ Hogg said. “What we need more than that is action.

“We’re children. You guys, like, are the adults. You need to take action and play a role. Work together. Come over your politics and get something done.’’

Thoughts and prayers.

Thoughts and prayers.

So sick of hearing them say it like they really care.

A Plea For and From My People

It was my people, sad to say, who were largely responsible for the mess we’re in.

So it might well be up to my people to get us out.

My people are the Scots-Irish, the people I knew from birth in the Smoky Mountain town of Franklin, the ones I went to school with and spent my formative years around.

But you don’t have to be from the mountains to be Scots-Irish. We’re everywhere. You may even be one of us.

All of which makes a book by one of us, James Webb, the one-term senator from Virginia, so important to knowing who I am, where I came from and the impact my people have made – and continue to make – on the great American experiment.

Webb, first off, is far too good a writer to be a politician. His work, titled Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America  is a wonderfully compelling read, one I would recommend highly to anyone interested in our country’s history and culture.

Webb traces our lineage to William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and chronicles our pugnacious past from the battle-scarred borders of Scotland and England to the embattled Ulster Plantation of Ireland and on to colonial America, where we couldn’t get along with any of the earlier settlers long enough to be even remotely welcome along the coasts or among established settlements.

So a goodly number of us ended up in the borderlands of the New World, where, originally we were seen as a convenient buffer between those Native Americans disgruntled by the encroachment of Europeans and the colonies’ more refined society. What quickly became evident to those in the power centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Raleigh and Charleston was that we, the Scots-Irish, could be a bigger pain in the posterior than the Cherokee, Shawnee or Chickasaw.

If you don’t believe it, just read up on the Whiskey Rebellion. Nobody tells a Scots-Irish they can’t make corn whiskey for their own consumption, at least not without a good fight.

We’re, as a people, really good at fighting. It’s in our DNA. Webb, a decorated Marine officer who did himself, his family and his country proud in Vietnam, makes the point repeatedly how an out-sized percentage of Scots-Irish have served in our nation’s military – so often with the kind of distinction Webb himself served.

But what we’re best known for is our independence, self-reliance, strong work ethic and absolute refusal to “bend a knee’’ to an authority we, ourselves, don’t consider worthy of honor or respect. We’re a head-strong breed, one that will follow a leader we trust and respect to the ends of the earth through hell and high water. But let some king, or some lord, or some governor who we don’t know and have never met come along and tell us what we can and can’t do, and they had best be loaded for bear.

Sadly, we can also be known as narrow-minded, jingoistic and even bigoted. All cultures have their unappealing characteristics and it can safely be said that, at least until recent times, education was not one of the Scots-Irish’s priorities.

That’s largely because the Scots-Irish were for the longest time preoccupied with fighting off hostiles in order to scratch out a living in flinty soil.

The conclusion that my people were largely responsible for getting us in the mess we’re in comes from the one of the best magazine articles I’ve ever read. And what makes the 5,000-word piece, written by George Packer and titled Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt so amazing is that it was published in The New Yorker a full month before the 2016 election and basically predicted the outcome.

Packer chronicles how the White Working Class, once the traditional base of the Democratic Party, flocked to Donald Trump because it felt abandoned by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic politicians who came before her. Some might feel I’m taking liberties to equate the White Working Class with the Scots-Irish, but I would argue that the overlap of the two entities is such that it makes for a difference without a distinction.

Packer makes the case of how the Democratic Party, my party since birth, lost its moorings after the McGovern debacle of 1972. Instead of continuing to stand up for the working men and women, it hitched its wagon to the rise of the affluent professionals in America, known collectively as “Atari Democrats.’’

By the emergence of Bill Clinton, the center of power in the party had become a coalition of cosmopolitan elite and diversity, one far more concerned with identity and other forms of single-issue politics than how the working people of our country are going to keep a roof over their heads and feed their family.

Even then, plenty of my people, the Scots-Irish, might have remained in the Democratic column if not for the condescension and denigration they felt drizzling down on them from academia, Wall Street and such high concentrations of the cosmopolitan elite as to be found in the publishing, entertainment and media industries.

Packer makes the point that by the 21st century, the only slur acceptable in “polite society’’ was redneck, or perhaps, Bible-thumper. Condescension is toxic to my people. We can smell it from a thousand miles away. When we get spit on, we’ve been conditioned since time immemorial to respond the best way we know how.

Hillary Clinton spit on my people when she complained about the baskets of deplorables. We can debate what exactly she meant, but not where she said it. She said it at a fundraiser on Wall Street, in front of her people.

And as much respect as I have from Barack Obama, clearly a trans-formative figure of American history, he stepped on my people as well with the comment about bitter folks clinging to their guns and their Bibles.

We respond by fighting back. And in 2016, the weapon at our disposal, unfortunately, was the most flawed man in America, Donald Trump.

Today’s Scots-Irish feel abandoned and, worse, roundly denigrated. But I also have to feel that many of my people can see Donald Trump for who and what he is. And I have to feel that if they could see any other politicians as being the least bit concerned about who they are and how they’re doing, then they could be persuaded to vote for their own interests and not those of some fat-cat hedge-fund manager on Wall Street.

Like the one who married Chelsea Clinton.

Not all of them, of course, are gettable. There are those Americans who vote Republican because of Donald Trump. I don’t see many of them changing their stripes. But there are also plenty of Americans who voted Republican despite Donald Trump. And many of them, I have to think, are Scots-Irish.

If even a percentage of them can be peeled away, then I can see a landslide that would deposit Trump and those of his persuasion in the dust-bin of history.

But the last way to convince any of my people to go along is to look down on them, denigrate them, spit on them, call them names.

The Democratic Party has already tried that, and we all see how that worked out.

Show a little respect, the same any culture or people should expect. Otherwise, the only thing you have to lose is the country we’ve always known, one for the people, by the people.

Introducing My Friend A.B.

Operator, can you help me,

Help me if you please,

Give me the right area code,

And the number that I need.Operator by the Grateful Dead.

My buddy Advanced Being dropped in the other day, as he has been known to do.

A.B., as I call him, never knocks. He doesn’t even enter the room the way you or I would. He simply materializes, and I’ll look up from watching a basketball game on TV or reading a book, and there will be an Orangutan or Gryphon or maybe some figure from popular culture or history such as Ben Franklin or Genghis Khan or Wink Martindale sitting across the room.

As an Advanced Being, A.B. can assume any form he wishes. And what I love best about my buddy is his sense of humor.

On this latest visit, he showed up as Ron McKernan, A.K.A. Pigpen, the original front man of the Grateful Dead who blew his liver out  on rot-gut wine. A.B. even had his harmonica with him, and I talked him into doing a spot-on rendition of “Turn on Your Lovelight.’’

If I could tell you where A.B. was from, I certainly would. I’ve asked a couple of times, whether he was from some other galaxy or plane or dimension, and his answer is always the same.

Don’t worry about it. You wouldn’t understand.

So I don’t.

As for why he chooses to visit me, of all people in whatever galaxy, plane or dimension he traverses, he’s equally succinct. He feels more comfortable in homes that appear “lived in,’’ and I’m prepared to say no place around looks more “lived in’’ than ours.

Plus, he likes Bud Light, and knows I always have a cold 12-pack or two in the refrigerator.

Being an Advanced Being, he could easily be hypercritical of all he sees from humans on the planet earth. But, thankfully, he’s beyond the need for derision or rapprochement. Instead, he’s just curious about our species and why we solve, or attempt to solve, our own particular set of challenges and problems the way we do.

On this latest visit, after he put away his harmonica and popped open another Bud Light, he started quizzing me about how we power our society and way of life.

A.B.: So humans, by now, do know that water can be a source of energy, right?

C.D.C.: Yeah, I think the Greeks figured that out sometime around 300 B.C.

A.B.: And you know that energy can be produced by wind, right?

C.D.C.: Indeed. The Chinese were hip to that by around 200 B.C.

A.B.: And you know that by harnessing the power of the sun, you can have all the energy any society would ever need.

C.B.: We’ve been a bit late to that one, but by the late 19th century, a scientist named William Grylis Adams discovered that exposing the mineral selenium to light can produce electricity. We needed another 75 years or so, but by the mid-20th century we’d gotten around to solar cells driven by silicon. Solar power is still a nascent industry today, but it has its champions and it’s picking up some steam – so to speak.

A.B.: So if you know your energy needs can be met with water, wind and sun, why are you still powering your automobiles and lighting your homes with coal and oil? Can’t you recognize the environmental problems caused by fossil fuels?

C.B.: If you’re talking global warming, some of us believe in what the scientists are telling us about that, and some of us don’t.

A.B.: Some of you don’t? Those people have to be living in remote third-world nations, right?

C.D.C.: Well, actually no. One is currently residing in the White House.

A.B.: If you know energy and electricity can be produced without resorting to coal or oil, why are you still so reliant on coal and oil?

C.D.C.: I would say it’s complicated, but it’s really not. The most powerful people in our society are those with the most money. And the ones with the most money derive much of that wealth from the coal and oil industries.

A.B.: What about the elected representatives responsible for the good of all of society, and not just the richest and most powerful?

C.D.C.: You can find them in the back pockets of the richest and most powerful.

A.B.: Don’t the richest and most powerful have to live in the same society that they’re doing grave harm to with their assault on the planet?

C.D.C: Personally I never see any of them, except on television. They live in these special enclaves, called “Gated Communities.’’

A.B.: And they’re allowed to live there in peace, without everyone else calling them out for who they are?

C.D.C.: Some do call them out. But the loudest voices in our society, the media, are also controlled by the richest and most powerful.

A.B.: Like your elected representatives?

C.D.C.: Exactly.

A.B.: Well it’s your planet, as long as it lasts. You guys kill me.

C.D.C.: Unfortunately A.B., we’re doing a good enough job of that ourselves. Need another Bud Light? And how about pulling out your harp and laying a little “Operator’’ on me.

Let Mueller Do His Job

There are 62,984,825 reasons I’m not, at this time, in favor of the impeachment of Donald Trump.

For that’s how many Americans voted for him.

Go ahead and tell me how Hillary Clinton actually got 65,852,516 votes, almost three million more than Trump. And you would be right. But your point would be irrelevant.

Presidents are elected in our country not by popular vote but by getting 270 votes in the electoral college. Trump got 306, so he’s our president.

And as much as I despair over the direction Trump is taking our country, and as much as I detest being led by a President with all the maturity of a 12-year-old with ADHD who misplaced his Ritalin months ago, I also know how I would feel if a person I voted for was removed from office before the completion of their term.

I would be, to put it politely, rankled.

Make that extremely rankled.

So it’s hard for me to expect others to accept what I never would. In this instance, I would need to know why my guy (or gal) was being kicked out of office and the evidence would have to pretty damn compelling.

Folks on my side of our nation’s great political divide are convinced that Trump should be removed from office for conspiring with Russia, our long-time adversary, to rig the 2016 elections.

They point to all the times that Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions and others in Trump’s orbit have had to “amend’’ the information they gave on security forms for not including contacts with Russians or those with Russian interests.

They point to the guilty plea of Michael Flynn, hired by Trump to be our nation’s security adviser, for lying to the FBI about, among other things, his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

They point to the recently released book, Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, which quotes Steve Bannon, Trump’s former “chief strategist,’’ as opining that the meeting of Flynn, Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr., in Trump Tower with a lawyer linked to the Kremlin was “treasonous.’’

If they were trying to convince me of Trump’s complicity, they’d have an easy sell. Personally I feel pretty sure Trump was involved in Russia’s efforts to disrupt our electoral process.

But my opinion, by itself, doesn’t matter. This country is not ruled by fiat.

Again, for Trump to be removed from office, someone needs to get the goods on him. Fortunately for our nation, someone is trying.

I long ago gave up any hope for the investigations being conducted in Congress. In these partisan times, each side is going to protect their own. That’s pathetic in my mind, choosing party and president over country, but that’s where we are in American in 2018.

All along I’ve been patiently awaiting what special counsel Robert Mueller uncovers in his Justice Department investigation. From everything I know and have read about Mueller, he is the ultimate Boy Scout who is extremely thorough and good at what he does. I have confidence that if there’s fire kicking up all this smoke, he will find it.

And if I didn’t have confidence in Robert Mueller, I could no longer have any confidence in our American electoral process.

I shake my head in wonder every time politicians or pundits start drawing conclusions over whatever reports have leaked out of Mueller’s investigation. This means Mueller is looking into this area. That means the investigation is nearing an end.

Listen, I wrote sports for a living for 40 years. To attempt to determine what’s going on with Mueller’s investigation would be like trying to write a story of a football game without knowing what quarter we were in, and without benefit of a scoreboard.

I don’t know that Mueller’s investigation is going to uncover, but I’m willing to wait. And I’m willing to abide by his conclusions. For the sake of our country, we need to.

But for the sake of our country, we also need to allow Mueller’s investigation to continue unimpeded. Otherwise those convinced that Trump was indeed involved will have no way of knowing whether they’re right or wrong.

Sadly, that’s becoming difficult as Republicans throw more and more roadblocks in Mueller’s way.

Instead of rallying around our country, they’re rallying around their party and president. Instead of wanting a fair and thorough investigation, they want to investigate the investigators.

My question to them is, why do they hate America so bad that they’re willing, if not hell bent, on looking the other way when a foreign adversary does us wrong?

Let Mueller do his work, and then let the chips fall.

As hard as it has been for the likes of me to have Donald Trump in the White House, it might have been harder for our country to have Hillary Clinton as our president. The rabid right has been on her trail now for 25 years, and they were never going to let up long enough to allow her to lead the way our nation needs to be led.

As hard as it has been for the likes of me to have Donald Trump in the White House, at least everybody can now see who he is and what he stands for. I sense a national revulsion to his presidency. I see it every day I pick up a newspaper and read the letters to the editor and when I scroll my Face Book page.

I believe in shining a light in our nation’s darkest corners, in order for all to see. We’ve seen Donald Trump and who he is.

Now let’s go to work and make sure our nation never makes such a calamitous mistake again.

Seeing him get swept out of office by a blue tide in 2020 might, in the long run, be the best resolution.

Infrastructure Blues

There’s a consensus in our country that an investment in our infrastructure is long overdue.

It didn’t take another derailment of an Amtrak train in Washington state to convince me or anyone I know.

But instead of investing the amount of money it would take – money that according to that bastion of liberal orthodoxy, Forbes, would provide an immediate and dramatic boost to our economy – the Republicans in Congress have decided to cut taxes on the richest of the rich among us.

That’s the same tax cut that independent analysts say will add more than a trillion dollars to our existing debt.

That’s the same tax cut that will reward the donor class – the Kochs, Adelsons and Mercers – for their donations as a required return on investment.

And, to be sure, that’s the same tax cut that will almost certainly benefit directly, as well as indirectly through continued donations, those voting for it.

People who know economics far better than I have noted that this is a curious time for a tax cut. Our economy, for the most part, is cruising along pretty well.

But the modern Republican party has become, on economic issues, a one-trick pony. Cutting taxes, particularly on the wealthy, is their answer — regardless of the question.

Meanwhile all this brave talk our president made about investing in the infrastructure has been pushed to the back burner, where, my guess is it will sit until it long after the election of 2020.

We don’t need the tax cut, at least not the one currently being pushed down the throats of the American public.

We do need an investment in infrastructure.

If only our politicians truly cared about all the American people instead of just the ones rich enough to put them in office and keep them there.

An Open Letter to Richard and Thom

Dear Senators Burr and Tillis:

Throughout your respective political careers, I’ve heard you repeatedly describe yourself as conservatives.

I, respectfully, beg to differ.

What, may I ask, is “conservative’’ about supporting a tax bill that independent non-partisan analyses from both the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation have concluded will, more than likely, pile more than a trillion dollars on our existing deficit?

Why do deficits only matter when a Democrat is in the White House? Or do you agree with former vice-president Dick Cheney, that “deficits don’t matter?’’

What is “conservative’’ about the process deployed to pass the bill in the Senate, a 500-page bill with handwritten amendments in the margins voted on at 2 a.m. that you and your fellow Senators had only hours to read and analyze. If you are proud of your vote, why did it have to be cast in the dead of night?

What, may I ask, was the rush to vote on a bill that will have such far-reaching consequences for those you represent?

What is “conservative’’ about regurgitating the time-worn chestnut that tax cuts will trigger enough growth to pay for the tax cuts to corporations and the richest of the rich among us? Forbes, hardly a bastion of liberal orthodoxy, disagrees with your conclusion. Bruce Bartlett, who helped shepherd a tax cut through Congress during the Reagan administration, said your contention that tax cuts spur growth is a myth.

Why should we believe you and not a real, practicing conservative such as Bartlett?

The bill you both support is not conservative, it’s radical. It’s a radical redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest among us at a time that the rich have never been richer while the wages of the middle class have remained stubbornly stagnant. I challenge you to identify one tax cut that has benefited the working and middle classes instead of the donor class you rely upon to keep your precious seats in the Senate.

It’s funny how you never hear the term statesman used anymore. The definition is a “skilled, experienced and respected politician,’’ but in my mind it also denotes a political figure more concerned with the common good of their state and nation than with their party or personal career.

How nice it would be if the state of North Carolina was represented in the Senate by statesmen instead of individuals so bent on protecting their own party and political careers.

Respectfully yours,

Dan Collins

Return on Investment

The latest polls I could find on the tax bill the Republicans rammed through the Senate in the dead of night are running about 32 percent in favor, 46 percent against.

The analysis released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill will add $1.4 trillion to our deficit.

History informs us that in every tax cut over the past 50 years has resulted in the richest of the rich getting ever richer and the wages of pretty much everyone reading this remaining stagnant.

Like-minded friends are wondering, `Why are they screwing us again? How do they think they can get away with it?’

The answer folks is as obvious as the nose on Cyrano de Bergerac’s face.

They’re doing it because they were ordered to do it. They were directed to do it by the richest of the rich of our society, the Charles and David Kochs, the Sheldon Adelsons, the Bob and Rebekah Mercers.

They were required to do it by the fattest of the fat cats demanding a return on their investment.

When congressman Chris Collins called them donors, it’s pretty obvious who he meant.

“My donors are basically saying, `Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’ ’’ Collins said in the most impressive lapse of honesty I’ve ever known to come out of Washington.

There have to be Republicans who know there will be a political price for passing the bill – especially in the manner in which they did, cobbling together cutouts and loopholes and exceptions hastily scrawled in the margins of the text. And they have to know how hypocritical they look railing against deficits whenever a Democrat is living in the White House, and then reaching ever deeper into the pockets of our children and grandchildren as soon as a Republican is elected president.

But their calculation is that as bad as they get hurt by voters, they still need the money from the richest of the rich to get re-elected. That’s just the way the game is played today in America’s Age of Plutocracy.

Every independent look at the bill has deemed it another redistribution of wealth from the middle-class (again, you and me) to the richest of the rich among us.

In this case, however, the Republicans who voted for the bill had no choice.

They did only what they were ordered to do.

They’re doing it not for you and me or for the good of the country.

They’re doing it for one reason and one reason only.

They’re doing it for political survival.

The shame of doing it will not be easily erased. It’s up to you and me to make sure it’s not forgotten.