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For Planned Parenthood, Justice Seldom Gets More Poetic

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency

“A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

That nugget of wisdom dates from the 1800s, i.e., decades before anyone ever heard of the Internet — much less Fox “News.”

If a lie traveled that fast in the 19th century, you can only imagine its speed in the 21st, when media and the World Wide Web have given it wings. Indeed, in 2016, the lie is so broadly and brazenly told as to cower truth itself and to render impotent and faintly ridiculous the little voice insisting, against all evidence, that facts matter.

It seems increasingly obvious that to many of us, they simply don’t. Not anymore. We find ourselves embarked upon a post-empirical era in which the very idea that facts are knowable and concrete has become quaint. These days, facts are whatever the politics of the moment needs them to be.

We’ve seen this over and over in recent years. We’ve seen it in the controversy over Barack Obama’s birthplace, in the accusations that Sept. 11 was an inside job, in the charge that weapons of mass destruction were in fact discovered in Iraq, and in the claims that there is no scientific consensus about global warming.

Lunatic assertions that fly in the face of the known are now the norm in American political discourse. So last week’s news out of Houston came as a welcome jolt.

It seems Planned Parenthood was exonerated by a grand jury after an investigation into spurious charges the reproductive healthcare provider was selling baby parts for profit. Simultaneously, two so-called “citizen journalists” who orchestrated the hoax — David Daleiden, 27, and Sandra Merritt, 62 — were indicted.

It was a moment of sweet vindication for Planned Parenthood, following months of vilification and investigation. This all sprang from a series of videos secretly recorded by Daleiden’s anti-abortion group, “The Center For Medical Progress” during conversations with officials of various Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Released last year, the videos purported to show the officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue with people they believed to be medical researchers. As Planned Parenthood first protested, an investigation by FactCheck.org later indicated, and a grand jury now affirms, the videos were deceptively edited. Tissue from aborted fetuses has been used in biomedical research since the 1930s to study everything from polio to Parkinson’s, and while the law prohibits its sale, the patient is allowed to donate it, and Planned Parenthood is allowed to recoup reasonable costs for preparation and transportation to supply it to scientists.

This is what the Planned Parenthood representatives were talking about. This is what the videos were edited to hide.

One is reminded of how, back in 2010, another activist used another deceptively-edited video to suggest that a speech by a black federal employee named Shirley Sherrod was proof of anti-white hatred. It turned out Sherrod’s speech actually made precisely the opposite point; she spoke of the need to overcome such hatred.

That video, like these, suggests that what we’re dealing with here is not “citizen journalists” — whatever that idiotic term even means — but activist zealots out to advance their agenda and embarrass their opponents by any means necessary, without regard to simple decency or plain old truth. Increasingly, that is the way of things.

So it’s welcome news that the two CPM hoaxers find themselves facing felony charges for allegedly using falsified driver’s licenses to identify themselves to Planned Parenthood. We are told that that constitutes fraud. In other words, Daleiden and Merritt were ensnared by the trap they set. Justice seldom gets more poetic.

Yes, lies have always moved faster than truth. But it feels good to see truth pull even every now and then.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: David Daleiden, American Life League via Flickr.

Anti-Abortion Activists Get Caught In Their Own Sting

When anti-abortion activists began a fraudulent “sting” operation against Planned Parenthood, they surely had no idea that it would lead to this: criminal indictments against their own plotters. This is one of the best instances of retributive justice to hit the political scene in decades.

The anti-abortion crowd who carried out this campaign certainly deserve what they got. They set out to use lies, deception and, it turns out, allegedly illegal acts not just to embarrass Planned Parenthood but also to cripple it — to turn the organization, which is one of the nation’s leading providers of women’s reproductive health services, into such a pariah that its funding would dry up. Instead, the schemers have been exposed as the liars and frauds that they are.

Their deception was in keeping with the long and tawdry history of the anti-abortion crusade, which has used falsehoods and misinformation to try to prevent women from having access to safe and legal abortions. Activists have claimed that abortion is linked to breast cancer. (It isn’t.) They have insisted that abortion leads to long-term mental anguish. (There are no data to support that claim.) And some have even said that there is no reason to include exceptions for rape and incest in any abortion restrictions, since rape cannot lead to pregnancy. (That’s just nonsense.)

This particular episode of right-wing overreach hit the airwaves last year, when an anti-abortion activist named David Daleiden, director of the so-called Center for Medical Progress, released videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees selling fetal tissue retrieved from abortions, which is illegal. He claimed the videos showed “a criminal conspiracy to make money off of aborted baby parts.”

But, like other so-called stings by ultraconservative “citizen-journalists,” this operation did not depend on fairness, accuracy or transparency. Instead, the videos were heavily edited and sometimes doctored to give the appearance of wrongdoing.

Of course, that didn’t stop conservative politicians from pouncing on the opportunity to show their support for Daleiden’s efforts. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, dove headfirst into the miasma of Daleiden’s lies, suggesting during a September debate that she had seen video footage of “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'”

No such video exists, and PolitiFact later ruled Fiorina’s dramatic tale “mostly false.”

Some Republican hard-liners in Congress, including presidential contender Ted Cruz, insisted that their party should shut down the government rather than assent to a budget that included funding for Planned Parenthood.

Meanwhile, several investigations were launched into Planned Parenthood’s alleged perfidy. Multiple states, from Kansas to Georgia to Massachusetts, conducted probes, as did three congressional committees. None — not one — of the investigations turned up any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

Indeed, Harris County (Houston), Texas, also convened a grand jury to investigate Planned Parenthood. But in a stunning irony, the grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood and instead returned criminal indictments against Daleiden on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and on a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs. A second anti-abortion activist, Sandra S. Merritt, was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record. (Both felony charges involve making fake driver’s licenses to fool Planned Parenthood employees about their actual identities.)

If supporters of Daleiden and Merritt try to persuade you this is some partisan smear, know that the Harris County prosecutor who convened the grand jury is a Republican, Devon Anderson, who has described herself as “pro-life.” “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us,” she told reporters.

Not that the anti-abortionists are giving up. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that their separate investigations would continue. They are as relentless as their partisan colleagues in Congress have been in investigating Benghazi — and similarly unsuccessful.

But finding evidence of genuine criminal wrongdoing was never the goal of these investigations. Instead, ultraconservatives who crusade against reproductive rights are animated by a desire to turn back the clock to a time when women had little control over their own bodies. Their critics have dubbed this a “war on women” for good reason.

(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Protesters stand on a sidewalk outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Vista, California August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Iowa: Hardly Anybody Votes, But Everybody Worries

In politics, it is the small things that count. In Iowa politics, it is the tiny things that count.

For all the hoopla, media attention and money lavished on the Iowa caucuses, hardly anybody bothers to vote in them.

TV reporters know that the one question they don’t want to ask a voter in a live interview is: “Did you vote in the last caucus?”

The answer is usually an embarrassed no, quickly followed by a pledge to vote this time, which happens to be Monday.

The embarrassment is genuine; the pledge to vote Monday is not.

Unless you have been on submarine duty beneath the polar ice cap this past month, you know that caucuses are different from primaries. Caucus voters all have to gather together at 7 p.m. and then go through 90 minutes of palaver before choosing their candidate.

The process can be so arduous that in 2008, when Hillary Clinton’s national headquarters chose the slogan “Stand Up for Hillary,” the Iowa staff went crazy. “We had old ladies who couldn’t stand up for 20 minutes, let alone 90,” a Clinton aide told me. “They thought ‘Stand Up for Hillary’ meant they would really have to stand up that long!”

(The senior voters were assured that chairs would be found and that they could stand up while sitting down.)

But most people still won’t show up for the caucuses. In 2012, the turnout rate in the Republican caucus was 19.76 percent. In other words, 4 out of 5 people in Iowa who were eligible to vote in the caucuses didn’t bother to.

A study by Thomas E. Patterson of the Harvard Kennedy School pointed out that in 2008, only a small percentage of voters determined the outcome of the caucus.

“The Democratic winner, Barack Obama, received the votes of just 4 percent of Iowa’s eligible voters. Mike Huckabee, the Republican victor, attracted the support of a mere 2 percent of Iowa adults,” Patterson wrote.

Dennis J. Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University and the Harkin Institute Flansburg Fellow, wrote in July 2015: “For all the attention lavished upon Iowa by presidential candidates, political activists around the country, and national and foreign news organizations, does the precinct-caucus turnout deserve such attention?”

It does, Goldford concluded, merely because it goes first in the election process. “In any sequential nomination process, any state going first will carry special weight simply because it is first, whatever other factors may add in importance,” Goldford wrote.

Which is a very scholarly way of saying: “If you’re first, it matters. If you’re 25th, you’re Nebraska.”

And the national press does not flock to Nebraska the way it flocks to Iowa. (Just two national reporters in Nebraska at the same time would probably constitute a flock.)

Iowa has 99 counties divided into about 1,700 precincts, but it is a rural state in which a majority of cities and towns have fewer than 500 residents.

Turnout in some precincts is so low that a single family can determine the outcome. It is rare, but not unheard of, for only one voter to show up at caucus. (The parties try to eliminate so-called “ghost precincts,” in which nobody shows up.)

In more populous precincts, the campaigns often will hold potluck suppers before the caucus hour. This is not just to show friendliness, but to make sure potential voters are gathered in one spot, where they then can be corralled, stuffed into cars and vans and taken to their voting sites.

Identifying who is likely to vote for your candidate and getting those people to do so is the famous “ground game” that is organized by a campaign’s “field operation.”

In 2008, Barack Obama not only beat Hillary Clinton with a more compelling message (hope and change) but with a superior field operation.

Is Bernie Sanders poised to pull off the same kind of upset over Clinton come Monday?

According to The New York Times, Sanders’ “campaign has quietly assembled an extensive ground game here, with 100 paid staff members and with trained volunteer leaders for each of the state’s 1,681 caucus precincts.

“The field team is meant to be the engine for a Sanders upset in the caucuses on Feb. 1 — the vehicle to turn out the tens of thousands of grass-roots supporters who show up for Mr. Sanders’s rallies, even if they no longer earn him headlines.”

But I talked to a senior Clinton aide Tuesday, who said: “It is unclear whether Sanders actually has a field operation in Iowa that can produce anything like what Obama did. I don’t believe so. Our people on the ground are not seeing evidence of it.”

What they are seeing is Sanders’ campaign telling its Iowa college volunteers to vote at home if they live in Iowa rather than at college, where their votes could be wasted due to Iowa’s complicated voting rules.

“You don’t want to be doing that in the last week, however,” the Clinton aide said. “To win this time, a campaign is going to need a meticulous field operation. And I’m not sure they have that.”

But how about if things go very, very wrong for Clinton and she loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, which follows eight days later? Can she still win the nomination?

“I believe so,” the aide said. “I’m never completely relaxed. But we are extremely well-organized. And I believe so.”

Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, United States, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

Track Palin, Sarah’s Latest Political Opportunity

By Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency

The police report paints a confusing and chaotic picture.

Apparently, the young man and his girlfriend got into an argument over her ex-boyfriend. At some point, things became physical. When police arrived, they say they found the young man outside his parent’s home, where he lives. He was belligerent, evasive and stank of alcohol. He had a bruised eye, which he attributed to his girlfriend throwing an elbow.

According to the police report, the girlfriend was found upstairs in the house, hiding under a bed, crying. She also had an eye injury from where she said her boyfriend had punched her with a closed fist. She also said he kicked her and threatened to kill himself with an AR-15 rifle. “Do you think I won’t do it?” he cried. The young man was arrested.

And it was all Barack Obama’s fault.

That, at least, is what 26-year-old Track Palin’s mother, Sarah, suggested to the audience at a Donald Trump rally in Tulsa last week, the day after Track, a combat veteran, was taken into custody.

“My son, like so many others, they come back a bit different. They come back hardened. They come back wondering if there is that respect for what their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military have given so sacrificially to this country, and that starts at the top.

“It is,” she continued, “a shame that our military personnel even have to question, have to wonder if they’re respected anymore. It starts from the top…comes from our own president where they have to look at him and wonder, ‘Do you know what we go through? Do you know what we’re trying to do to secure America and to secure the freedoms that have been bequeathed us?'”

Vote Trump, she said, so that, “America’s finest will have that commander in chief who will respect them and honor them.”

Someone asked on Twitter whether this meant President Obama is also responsible for daughter Bristol’s two unwed pregnancies. Probably shouldn’t give Sarah any ideas.

To be fair: The scandal over the failure of Obama’s Department of Veterans Affairs to provide timely medical care for American service personnel is a disgrace; any flak the administration takes for it is richly deserved. That said, it takes a leap worthy of Jesse Owens to suggest this is why Track Palin got arrested.

His mother’s clumsy attempt to shift blame for what he allegedly did speaks volumes about the devolution of conservatism in the last two decades. Like them or not, agree with them or don’t, conservatives used to espouse clear and consistent values, one of which was an impatience with the so-called culture of victimization. But in recent years, who has cried “victim” more than they? To hear them tell it, they are a people perennially under siege from a “War on Christmas,” a “War on Whites,” a “War on Males,” political correctness, same-sex marriage and, of course, that old standby, liberal media bias.

Now here is one of conservatism’s biggest stars claiming her son is a victim after he allegedly beat up his girlfriend in a drunken rage. What used to be a consistent principle has shrunk into the kind of situational morality conservatives once abhorred, a “say anything-ism” in which the only consistent ideal is that you never pass up any opportunity to damage the president.

Palin’s willingness to use her own son in that cause is repellent. One reads little actual concern for him — or his girlfriend — in her remarks. And that is sad. What kind of mother looks at her son’s domestic-violence arrest and thinks, political opportunity?

Track Palin is obviously a troubled young man. One hopes he gets the help he needs.

His mom could use some, too.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks after endorsing U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for President at a rally at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

This Week In Crazy: A Down And Dirty ‘Squirmish’

Did you know that you can measure your patriotism by the number of times you’ve seen 13 Hours? It’s true. If you haven’t seen 13 Hours yet, it means you hate America. 

Welcome to “This Week In Crazy,” The National Memo’s weekly update on the loony, bigoted, and hateful behavior of the increasingly unhinged right wing. Starting with number five:

5. Michael Pitts

Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for a database tracking American citizens who are Muslim is proving to be a popular notion. South Carolina lawmaker Michael Pitts perhaps took a cue from The Donald when he proposed his own nasty legislation this week that would require all journalists in his state to be entered into a “registry.”

The “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law” provides that the “Secretary of State’s Office shall create a registry for the registration of persons who qualify as a journalist,” meaning anyone “who in his professional capacity collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information for a media outlet.”

The Post and Courier writes that the bill has “virtually no chance of advancing but is meant to reflect a lawmaker’s personal political statement.”

Pitts told The Post and Courier his bill is not a reaction to any news story featuring him and that he is “not a press hater.” Rather, it’s to stimulate discussion over how he sees Second Amendment rights being treated by the printed press and television news. He added that the bill is modeled directly after the “concealed weapons permitting law.”

“It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms,” Pitts said. “With this statement I’m talking primarily about printed press and TV. The TV stations, the six o’clock news and the printed press has no qualms demonizing gun owners and gun ownership.”

Pitts, you’ll recall, is the same Palmetto lawmaker who fought like hell last summer to frustrate the effort to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. He did so primarily by introducing a host of amendments, some patently frivolous, in order to obstruct the passage of the bill that would lower the flag. The Daily Caller reported that Pitts also “stymied the debate over the bill by steering the conversation toward the ‘Trail of Tears’ and complications in his marriage, presented by his use of hearing aids.” And The State noted that, as another of his amendments got tossed out, he compared himself to General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union forces at Appomattox.

While we’re discussing his record, it may interest readers to review what I wrote back in July:

Unsurprisingly, Pitts’ voting record aligns with a constellation of far-right positions. He is opposed to all legal abortion even in the case of incest or rape; he has sponsored a bill that would prohibit any local municipalities in the state from enacting or enforcing their own gun control laws; he opposes marriage equality and the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in South Carolina’s anti-discrimination laws.

At least he’s consistent.

Next: Gary Cass

4. Gary Cass

Meet Gary Cass, founder of the disingenuously named Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, which also maintains the blog DefendChristians.org (a similarly sketchy moniker).

A writer for Patheos — one of the best online resources for those seeking reliable, reasoned writings about the world’s religions — once described Cass as “a sick individual — a little dumb, a lot dishonest, and hateful through and through,” and also a “pro-violence, pro-death guy who wants to kill a billion human beings.” That blogger was referring specifically to a piece Cass wrote in Sept. 2014, entitled “I’m Islamophobic, Are You?” which enjoined Christians to slaughter the global population of Muslims en masse.

This week, Cass is here to educate us on the Biblical underpinnings of our nation’s founding — specifically, he wants us to understand that all of our elected officials must be Christian men.

In a video released Wednesday, Cass insists that “we need a leader who is alive spiritually and who will lead in the fear of God” and also that the “biblical biological requirement for office is you must be male.” This is naturally owing to the fact that “God established man as the head of the woman and the woman as his helpmate,” and our roles in the family ought to find a mirror in our roles in society.

Cass’s brand of Christian extremism may be a step too far for most conservatives, but the notion that we are a Christian nation (or a “Judeo-Christian nation,” the shifty hedge more commonly heard on the campaign trail) isn’t a foreign one. It has remarkably insidious currency among GOP politicians, who have used their faith to bolster policy positions fighting legal abortion and marriage equality. And even a relatively moderate Christian Republican like John Kasich is guilty of making absurdly retrograde comments about “women’s roles.”

So Cass is “out there,” sure. Just not as far out there as we might like to believe.

Hat tip and video courtesy of Right Wing Watch

Next: Fox News

3. Fox News

Ted Cruz devoted his closing statement in last week’s GOP debate to promoting the latest action movie from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen director Michael Bay — 13 Hours, a fictionalized retelling of the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were murdered. The cable network Fox News dutifully picked up where the senator left off, and has been promoting the film as part of their interminable project to shock more life into a scandal that they continue to hope will derail Hillary Clinton’s prospects.

Media Matters writes:

In addition to using the movie to push the debunked “stand down order” myth, Fox has argued that Bay’s film could “pose a threat” to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Fox’s Andrea Tantaros argued, “if anyone sees this movie … and then goes on to vote for Hillary Clinton, they’re a criminal.” Prime-time host Megyn Kelly, during a segment that pushed multiple Benghazi myths, said the movie “reintroduces Benghazi as a potential campaign issue that cannot be helpful to Mrs. Clinton.”

The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple wrote on his blog Tuesday that, in their relentless (and dubious) reporting — nominally on the question of whether or not the film will influence the election — they are, in fact, transparently shilling for the film. Wemple distinguishes between the film and the book on which 13 Hours is based, which he has praised for digesting on-the-record testimony “into a format that explains a great deal, like how vulnerable Stevens and other State Department were at their Benghazi outpost and how CIA and State Department bureaucracy inhibited crisis decision-making.” The movie is another animal though, and Fox News is using its release as a pretext to inflame passions about Benghazi all over again.

“Fox News isn’t acting as a news organization, which reports events as they arise,” Wemple writes. “It’s acting as an advocacy organization, verily rooting for the movie to tilt the contemporary political debate.”

Media Matters was more pithy in their headline: “Fox Called Out For Abandoning Any Pretense As A News Organization.”

Next: Ted Nugent

2. Ted Nugent

Gun nut Ted Nugent all but suggested the president should be lynched. Oh, okay, I’m sorry — he only said that President Obama “should be tried for treason & hung. Our entire fkdup gvt [sic] must be cleansed asap.” In what court he should be tried, and by what means the “fkdup gvt” should be “cleansed,” he did not say. I’m guessing there would be a high demand for ammunition, though.

Nugent is incensed that, as he wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday, “[o]ur unholy rotten soulless criminal America destroying government killed 4 Americans in Banghazi. [sic]”

This is the same man who responded to events like the Sandy Hook massacre by insisting that the whole idea that innocent children were being gunned down was just a “Big Lie,” yet here repeats the thoroughly debunked conservative media myth that President Obama and/or then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a “stand down” order. The “stand down” order, like much of the conservative rhetoric on the subject of the Benghazi attack, does not align with reality, according to PolitiFact. Yet it does apparently make an appearance in 13 Hours, which, as I noted, conservative pols and pundits have been discussing and promulgating with the reverence they usually accord to Holy Writ (or the Second Amendment, minus the “well regulated” part).

Nugent always files his vile syndicated column from a reality of his own making: He has insisted that gun-free zones are “slaughter zones” that should be outlawed, and that living without a gun is an “irresponsible, suicidal choice that will get you killed.” So I suppose getting his gospel from the director of Armageddon isn’t a huge leap.

Hat tip Media Matters

Next: Sarah Palin

1. Sarah Palin

At the risk of giving her more attention than she deserves (which is to say, any at all), it cannot be denied that Sarah Palin is back in the limelight this week. And she has been in rare form.

After some mercifully quiet wanderings in the politico-media wilderness, the once (and perhaps future) VP candidate cannily re-entered the news cycle on Tuesday by hitching her wagon to the Trump train, in the form of a much-heralded, much-more-talked-about endorsement.

Palin’s enthusiastic (and often nonsensical) speech in support of The Donald has been the subject of much mockery, head-scratching, and literary analysis. Suffice it to say, the Hockey-Mom-in-Chief is in her element, playing some of her old ’08 hits (Remember “Drill, Baby, Drill”? How about “community organizer”?), as well as some new accidental coinages. (From the bard who brought you “refudiate,” here’s “squirmishes,” a new Palinism that she used to describe the conflict in the Middle East.)

The fact that the original Tea Party darling has wholeheartedly embraced a onetime registered Democrat from Gotham has baffled and aggravated pols and pundits of the Right, who still insist that Trump is a GOP interloper. But the truth is, their union is a meeting of the whatever-qualifies-as-their-minds: Palin’s and Trump’s brand of crazy transcends party affiliation and religion; it dissolves the cultural differences between the Big, Bad City and The Last Frontier; it’s a sad fraternity whose only criteria for admission are a thirst for violence and the cultivation of a loud, defiant ignorance.

And they’re here to stay.

Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr 

Check out previous editions of This Week In Crazy here. Think we missed something? Let us know in the comments! Get This Week In Crazy delivered to your inbox every Friday, by signing up for our daily email newsletter.

Portrait Of The Actor: Sean Penn’s Scenes In Real Life (Remembered)

Sean Penn sat in front of me in history class, junior year at Santa Monica High School — the school rising on a hill with a quadrangle you see in Rebel Without a Cause.

He kept turning around to talk, the blue-eyed boy with all the questions. The younger, brown-eyed girl had all the answers — at least in history class.

At 16, the existentialist devilish streak was already a mile wide. I got to know him well, coming of age.

Still, it was passing strange to see an old friend — my bittersweet first movie date — huddled in the jungle with a Mexican drug lord and ruthless killer: Joaquin Guzman Loera. “El Chapo” for short.

Sean roiled the rules and waters of the worlds I live in — politics and journalism — by his derring-do in getting a huge scoop by highly unorthodox means. His rambling style raised alarms and establishment eyebrows, but Rolling Stone magazine was the perfect place for his rough-cut writing voice.

The White House expressed disapproval in the words of chief of staff Denis McDonough: officially “appalled.”

So what? The shocking interview is best seen a radical extension of Penn’s powerful empathy for outsiders, outlaws and the dispossessed. Good for him for visiting Baghdad after George W. Bush’s dogs of war shed blood on false grounds, and for aiding the Haitians, hit by a devastating earthquake.

Penn also conducted interviews with President Raul Castro in Cuba and several conversations with his late friend, Hugo Chavez, former president of Venezuela, when few others could or would.

An immensely gifted Academy Award-winning actor, Penn is always smoldering, crossing boundaries in his work and life. Often he writes his own script.

We got a good fix on each other in class and spent many hours together, on the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, in tennis team company, or at parties at my house. Ping-Pong and piano songs were part of the clean fun. Sean once showed up with two friends, Frank and Joe, in a convertible Rolls-Royce. (My father has not forgot the tracks he once left on our lawn.) It was never boring when Sean was around.

Looking back, we had good times (not fast times) at Santa Monica High, surprisingly innocent. Sean liked to make a splash — literally, as when he jumped in the pool on the way up to accept a “most improved player” award at a boys’ tennis team party. He was making up time, since surfing was his sport before he seriously picked up a racket. I remember he once watched one of my singles matches, start to finish, sitting behind a fence with sunglasses. Another time, he carried a “Peanuts” lunch pail around campus.

Back to the first day of class, when I met him. Sean dared to speak a line that produced a hung jury silence. He declared he liked “history, track and blacks” as we went round the room. The teacher, Paul Kerry, an African-American track champion, smiled broadly to cut the tension.

I noticed Sean didn’t speak the usual Malibu dialect or write poems about waves. He played a stoned surfer dude in his first movie role — that history class cut-up, Jeff Spicoli — but that was not the lad I knew.

The way he called up to invite me out departed from the norm: “What time shall I pick you up?”

“Oh, don’t you know? We’re going to the movies tonight.”

We went, but Sean was never my boyfriend. The good girl and the bad boy were well-matched as friends. He became a budding actor, going to “cattle call” auditions, and I’d gone east for college. We kept in touch. I got a letter saying he had not been in one place for more than five minutes in the last 24 hours. I wrote a one-act play about us: “Table for Two.” His ears got red as he read it, but we — or David and Rachel — were a hit. My diaries tell the tale.

After he became famous, he remained a breeze on the phone: “What are you doing right now?” He invited me over to meet his children and see some cuts of an upcoming movie. Just like the old days, he asked me questions — this time about politics.

I could have dreamt this. Stardusted Sean parted waters, crossing a restaurant by the beach. There I was dining with my beau, the author Michael Lewis. Sean walked over to give me a warm hug. That was sweet, and it made Michael jealous, way out of character.

Depend upon it: Sean’s true talent for making scenes in the moment goes on. And he was the first boy I loved, as the song goes, for that.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Actor and activist Sean Penn, delivers a speech during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Rhetoric Seldom Matches Reality Of Motherhood

The one good thing about Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign for the presidency is that he provides many opportunities to point out to the rest of the country what we here in Ohio have known for too many years.

The man is no moderate. One of the ways he proves this, over and over again, is by how he talks about women. I may enjoy a little too much sharing the moment in 2012 when Kasich took the stage and offered this description of politicians’ wives:

“You know, Jane Portman, Karen Kasich and Janna Ryan, they operate an awful lot of the time in the shadows. It’s not easy to be a spouse of an elected official. You know, they’re at home, doing the laundry and doing so many things, while we’re up here on the stage getting a little bit of applause, right?”

As a full-time columnist married to a U.S. senator, I found this description of my life utterly fascinating. I do laundry, all right, but to tell the world I’m never applauded for the effort crosses a line, big-time.

If you’re one of those old-fashioned reasonable Republicans tempted to argue that Kasich is certainly more moderate than some of his fellow presidential candidates, please stop right there and think about what you’re about to say.

If it takes Donald — Round up the Muslims! — Trump and Ted — Science? We don’t need no stinkin’ science! — Cruz to make John Kasich look reasonable, we might as well move this shindig of a primary to a moisture farm on the three-moon planet of Tatooine.

Last week, Kasich was speaking at a campaign event in New Hampshire, when a man in the crowd asked where the candidate stands on paid maternity leave.

Keep in mind that we are the only industrialized country without paid maternity leave. Say that out loud, and then remind yourself it’s 2016.

Kasich is just fine with that. His response, as reported by The Columbus Dispatch:

“The one thing we need to do for working women is to give them the flexibility to be able to work at home online. The reason why that’s important is, when women take maternity leave or time to be with the children, then what happens is they fall behind on the experience level, which means that the pay becomes a differential. And we need to accommodate women who want to be at home, having a healthy baby and in fact being involved, however many years they want to take care of the family.”

I…he…but…

Sorry, so sorry, about that moment of rambling. Mine, I mean. I should have stopped banging my head against my late father’s 12-pound wrench propped up on my desk before I started typing again.

Kasich’s telecommuting suggestion would work so well for nurses, teachers, police officers, factory workers, doctors, waitresses, cashiers, baristas — you know, any woman in a job that involves something other than tapping the keys on a laptop. Did he even hear himself? I wonder that. A lot.

About those mothers who, in Kasich’s mind, could work from home: What fun for bone-tired mothers caring for newborns whose idea of sleep is a brief flutter of eyelids between feedings. Has this man never spent a day with a newborn?

As for the majority of you mothers who don’t work in jobs that allow you to telecommute: Poof. You’re invisible in Kasich Land. Problem solved.

I admit to feeling more than a little intemperate about all this because, in the past three years, our family has grown by four grandchildren. Two of them were born in the past three months.

My husband and I rushed in to help, because we could, which makes us luckier than most grandparents our age. Every time we’re with our daughters, who are fortunate enough to have jobs that let them spend the first few weeks with their babies, we leave wondering how all those mothers without their advantages manage to do it all.

We know the answer. We all do. Except John Kasich, maybe.

The heartbreaking truth is that mothers without paid maternity leave try, try, try — too often without help and without hope, too. They are never able to get ahead, and their children start out behind.

This, from the country that President Barack Obama declared during Tuesday’s State of the Union address to be “the most powerful nation on earth, period.”

Tell that to the mothers.

Better yet, prove it.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Photo: Jessica Lucia via Flickr

Why The GOP’s Fence Fantasy Is A Farce

A long time ago, in a not-so-faraway land, a civilization existed that was governed through a fairly rational political system. Even conservative candidates for high office had to have a good idea or two — and be quasi-qualified.

That land was the USA. It still exists as a place, but these days, Republican candidates don’t even have to be qualified — much less sane — to run for the highest office in the land. All they need is the backing of one or more billionaires, a hot fear-button issue to exploit and a talent for pandering without shame to the most fanatical clique of know-nothings in their party. Also, they must be able to wall themselves off from reality, erecting a wall of political goop around their heads so thick that even facts and obvious truth cannot get through to them.

Indeed, the GOP’s “One Great Issue” of the 2016 campaign for president is: The Wall. Ted Cruz practically snarls when he declares again and again that he’ll “build a wall that works.” Marco Rubio is absolute about it: “We must secure our border, the physical border, with a wall, absolutely.” And Donnie Trump has basically built his campaign atop his fantasy of such an imperial edifice: “We’re going to do a wall,” he commands, as though he’s barking at one of his hotel construction crews.

There are, of course, certain problems that you might expect them to address, such as the exorbitant cost of the thing, the extensive environmental damage it’ll do, and the futility of thinking that people aren’t clever enough to get around, over, under or through any wall. But don’t hold your breath waiting for any common sense to intrude on their macho posturing.

Trump even made a TV ad depicting hordes of marauding Mexicans invading our country — proof that a huge wall is necessary! Only, the film footage he used is not of Mexican migrants, but of Moroccans fleeing into Spain. But after all, when trying to stir up fear of foreigners, what the hell does honesty have to do with it?

A proper wall, we’re told, makes good neighbors. But an 18-foot high, 2,000-mile-long wall goes way beyond proper, and it both antagonizes your neighbor and screams out your own pitiful fear and weakness.

Besides, haven’t we been trying this for years? With the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Congress mandated construction of a wall along the 1,954 miles of our border with Mexico. A decade later, guess how many miles have been completed? About 650. It turns out that erecting a monstrous wall is not so simple after all.

First, it becomes prohibitively expensive — about $10 billion just for the materials to build it from the tip of Texas westward to the Pacific, not counting labor costs and maintenance. Second, there’s the prickly problem of land acquisition — to erect the scattered segments of the first 650 miles of fence, the federal government had to sue hundreds of property owners to take their land. Odd, isn’t it, that right-wing politicos who loudly rail against overreaching Big Government now favor using government muscle to grab private property? Third, it’s impossible to fence the whole border — hundreds of miles of it are in the Rio Grande’s flood plain, and more miles are on the steep mountainous terrain of southern Arizona.

Trump, Cruz, Rubio and the other “just build a wall” simpletons either don’t know what they’re talking about or are deliberately trying to dupe voters. Before you buy a 2,000-mile wall from them, take a peek at the small part already built — because of the poor terrain and legal prohibitions, it’s not one long fence, but a fragment here, and another there, with miles of gaps in between. Anyone wanting to cross into the U.S. can just go to one of the gaps and walk around the silly fence.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Illustration: Sam Reisman, National Memo