Be careful what you wish for

Whether you hate him or simply don’t hate him yet, it would be hard to argue against the idea that Donald Trump’s tenure as president has a better chance of ending before its printed expiration date than all previous commanders in chief. Combined, I suppose, if that made any sense. Such a declaration hardly seems controversial.

Maybe he’ll become too toxic for the Republicans in Congress (or the Democrats grab control of both houses) and he’ll face impeachment. Perhaps he’ll quit in a fit of pique when Congress, narrowly, rejects his request to send troops into CNN. Or, given his age and lifestyle, it’s possible he could be struck down with a fatal case of Acute Thumbosis, the third-leading fictional cause of death among early a.m. Twitter users.

At any rate, a premature evacuation from the White House is a distinct possibility, which makes it necessary for us to take a look at who’s poised to become 46. Unless he goes all Agnew on us, that’s Mikey Pence, who reports say is already sizing up a run for the big desk in 2020, if not occupying it sooner.

That’s where I come in. As a longtime Hoosier, and former resident of Indiana’s sixth congressional district, I have more of a firsthand look at the career of one Michael Richard Pence than your average Internet idiot.

Full disclosure here: I have met him. I asked him a few questions in a GOP debate when he was running for his House seat, and I later walked around Greensburg High School with him in a one-on-one setting, asking him about his plans for his first term. And I’ll say this, as I have since that afternoon, he struck me as a hell of a nice guy. Very pleasant, respectful. Basically decent, which made him an outlier in Indiana’s House delegation at the time. Some of those dudes were meaner than that nun I had in CCD back in third grade.

So, having established my personal fondness for the VeePee, I’ll also point out that as a governor, he was frigging abysmal. Just awful.

Obviously, he’s a devout Evangelical Christian, and his policy positions tend to derive from there. But whether you love you some Pat Robertson, Tim Tebow and Stryper, or recoil in horror at that brand of religiosity encroaching on the public sphere is irrelevant to the fact that he was simply a terrible leader who had a very good chance of losing his re-election bid in Republican Indiana.

Here are six examples of just why he belonged in any discussion with Paul LePage, Chris Christie and Sam Brownback on The Worst Governors of 2016 list (you won’t believe No. 7), none of which is directly related to his hard-right ideology.

  •  Hoosier Pravda. Midway through his tenure, Pence announced plans for a state-run news organization in the bowels of the Capitol. Across-the-board condemnation of the plan scuttled it before it got off the ground, though I suppose it might have caught some longing Manafortian eyes a few hundred (or thousand, depending on the day) miles east.

 

  • His illegal, and decidedly not Christian, approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. Already fully vetted and approved-for-relocation Syrian refugees were bound for Indiana and the Christian organization that was planning to host them. He announced they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the state, a decidedly and undeniably illegal act (and probably difficult to enforce, given the complete absence of the long-sought border wall separating us from those dirty Buckeyes to the east). The refugees ended up in Connecticut, where they have managed, as all evidence pointed, to not blow anything up.

 

  • His dreadful handling of the Scott County AIDS crisis. Yup, that’s right, we had ourselves a bona fide AIDS crisis in Indiana in the two thousand and teens. Scott County, a rural, economically hard-hit community in Southeastern Indiana was in the throes of a drug crisis, which morphed into an AIDS epidemic. Pence’s first response was to try to pray the issue away. Then he dragged his feet on even going there, as local leaders pleaded for help from the state. Finally, after weeks of health professionals and others in the community begging to initiate a needle exchange program to at least curb the spread of AIDS, he last-resort agreed. His management of the situation was blasted from all sides. Oh, and it’s quite likely that his policies helped create the problem in the first place.

 

  • Pence was given a second chance to respond to a health crisis, this time on the other side of the state in East Chicago in Northwest Indiana (my current stomping grounds), which was facing a lead crisis not unlike what happened in Flint, Mich. Pence demonstrated he had learned from his original mistake with Scott County. This time, he simply pretended the situation didn’t exist. He never visited, and barely acknowledged there was a problem. In his defense, it did overlap some with his run for vice president. You can understand how defending Trump’s latest Twitter feud on the Sunday morning shows was a little more important than sick babies in a county that always votes for Democrats.

 

  • The Keith Cooper case. Perhaps his most despicable turn as governor. In 1996, Cooper was convicted of armed robbery in Elkhart, Ind. He served nearly 10 years, before new evidence was discovered that cast considerable doubt on the case. The prosecutors gave him a choice – plead guilty and accept time served, or take a shot at another trial. Given he had a family struggling at home, and his previous luck with the justice system, Cooper took the deal (his co-defendant went back to trial, and was acquitted). Fast forward a few years, and the gentleman was finding it difficult rebuilding his life with a felony conviction still on his record, and asked for the state to vacate the guilty verdict. By now, the original verdict was not just in doubt, but was known to be a miscarriage of justice. The actual perpetrator had been located. Everyone associated with the case: the original prosecutors, police and witnesses who wrongly identified him, plus the state Parole Board, asked the governor to grant this man his freedom. Pence wouldn’t, perhaps frightened that looking soft on crime wouldn’t play well during the presidential campaign.In his first month in office, Eric Holcomb, the Republican who followed Pence into the governor’s mansion, did what Mike Pence was afraid to do. He did the right thing, and granted complete freedom to a man who spent almost a decade in our prisons for a crime he had nothing to do with.

 

  • And finally, the RFRA, the issue that first thrust Governor Pence into the national spotlight. Now, whether you side with the anti-gay bakers or the anti-anti-gay bake shop customers is kind of beside the point here. Mike Pence completely screwed that thing up. What’s often forgotten about the case is the Indiana legislature passed the bill a few days before Pence signed it. In the meantime, the outcry had begun, and was obviously going to get worse. Companies and conventions announced they would cancel plans to come to Indiana if the bill was signed into law, and business leaders throughout the state pleaded with the governor to back away, recognizing the fecal storm on the horizon. This was a forwardlash, not a backlash. But Governor Mike needed to reassure his friends at the Indiana Family Institute and all the other places they go to hate the gays that he was their man, and he signed it anyway. All hell broke loose over the course of a week, leading the state’s leading newspaper (the Indianapolis Star, a historically right-leaning publication once owned by the family that gave us the original Pence, Dan Quayle) to run an issue with three words screaming across most of the front page: “Fix This Now.” Pence and the legislature had to revamp the bill to curb the mass exodus of business ventures and travel that was taking place, so the religious conservatives didn’t even get the bill they wanted. The entire mess was predictable and preventable, and Mike Pence still blew it.

So there you go. Fills you with confidence, doesn’t it?

About that blog title

If you haven’t checked out the updated thing on the side, and who really checks out that thing on the side, you would not have noticed  there’s now a short explanation for this blog’s title. I have put together a collection of my work over the years in an ebook called, The Pursuit… (you get the picture).

The collection was prompted by a question a few years back, when a friend over at Marky Zuckerberg’s place asked me if I’d ever written a book. Now, the answer to that query was “yes,” though then as now the only potential audience for those works was any little shit who had managed to install malware on my hard drive. And, as evidence of my brilliance, I deduced the fix to this issue was to put together another unpublished piece of work.

I spent the past few years rounding up some of my favorite pieces from my nearly 30 years of writing, covering the subjects of news, sports, general interest columns, personal anecdotes, politics and fiction. My former newspaper employers were mostly receptive to me reusing my old works, except one who I won’t name here. I then put those works together in the ebook format, figuring I’d give that method of publishing a test drive to see if it was something I wanted to pursue further down the line.

Right now, the book is available only at Amazon, here. If I see any reason to expand it to other platforms, I’ll do that in time.

50 Shades of Gray Matter

I am troubled. Deeply troubled. On an almost-daily basis, I engage in self-destructive behavior. I know it’s not healthy for me. It doesn’t satisfy me, but still I can’t help myself. I’m powerless to control this insatiable demon.

I don’t know if there’s a support group for people with my addiction. So, this may be the closest I come.

My name is Dan. I am a Yahoomasochist.

Far too frequently, I defy every informed instinct I possess, and wade into the comments section of a frontpage story on Yahoo. Or, I’ll follow a not-so-helpful link from a friend into the deeper recesses of the internet, a place entirely void of any shred of humanity. The Deplorables website, for instance. I routinely check in on the Facebook updates of a former colleague who can only be described by the clinical term, batshit crazy.

I can’t say why I do it. Am I hopeful that this time, the assembled commentariat will surprise me with a lively and intelligent discussion? Or am I just looking for carnage, the accident on the opposite side of the interstate that I simply can’t avoid staring down.

In either case, the voyage only leaves me feeling angry, ill, or merely hopeless. It’s tempting to respond, as a few brave souls occasionally do, but their words of wisdom, logic or simple sanity are swept away by the tidal wave of horrific spelling, random capitalization and faulty logic. Oh, and the racism, sexism and all the other delightful isms.

Many of these commenters can only be described as professionally stupid. There’s simply no way one could reach that level of ignorance without actively working at it. This is not just obliviousness to fact and reason, but being introduced to the concepts and voluntarily and forcefully opting out.

But if they’re stupid, what does that make me? I’ve got to trudge up three flights of stairs (no elevator service here), just to reach breathtakingly moronic.

Please help.

Commenting is now open.

 

 

Back to Blackout

Over on Facebook, aka Snapchat for Old People, my good friend I’ve never met Marty Walsh opened a post about today being the 40th anniversary of the New York Blackout of 1977. It launched an interesting thread of recollections, and prompted me to delve further into the subject at my new home here.

The Blackout was a seminal moment in a seminal year in the Tri-State area. It punctuated one of the most memorable summers in New York City history, a time when the city was on the brink of insolvency, its residents were suffering through one of its worst heat waves and the boys in the Bronx wearing Satan’s Pajamas were feuding and fighting their way to their first World Series title in 15 years. Oh, and the Son of Sam was absolutely terrorizing the city and surrounding areas, forcing every woman under the age of 25 to flee in horror any time a yellow VW was spotted.

For city residents, the Blackout was the exclamation point on the chaos. When the lights went out, chaos reigned, with rioting and looting becoming the order of the day. It surprised no one. That was New York in 1977. There’s a reason Kurt Russell wasn’t trying to escape from Omaha.

For those of us in the upper reaches of Westchester County, the event hit even closer to home. That’s because it literally hit close to home. The Blackout was caused when a substation at Indian Point was struck by lightning. For me, not born for the JFK assassination and not old enough to recall the moon landing, it was my first “I remember where I was moment,” a fact I obviously shared with many other denizens of the Buchanan-Verplanck-Montrose Metroplex (we were a village, we go first).

When the lightning struck, I was with my family at Steamboat Dock. Now, anyone familiar with the beautiful, well-manicured piece of greenery on the shores of the Hudson, the 1977 version was a little different. For a 10-year-old boy like me strolling the grounds at Steamboat, my recreational options were somewhat limited. If I didn’t want to risk the subprimordial ooze that was the Hudson River circa 1977, I could frolic on the Steamboat beach, perhaps collecting the colorful shards of broken beer bottles or sucking on the creosote-soaked pieces of wood that comprised the tiny sliver of beach. Ah, nothing but the finest in family fun.

But I’ll never forget when the lightning struck. The sky, which had been approaching full darkness, lit up as if were the middle of the day. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I haven’t since. That moment of brilliance was followed by sheer darkness, with power knocked out all throughout the east side of the river.

As I recall, the Markhams did nothing, recognizing that if this was a catastrophe at Indian Point, we weren’t going anywhere. Not living as close to Ground Zero as we did. Others didn’t, with scores of people filling up their cars in a desperate attempt to escape any fallout. It would be another two years until Three Mile Island and nine more until Chernobyl, but we were already aware that if things went completely screwy at a nuclear power plant, those bastards could be quite killy.

But it didn’t happen. Instead, it just left us with memories that we’d be sharing 40 years later.

Postscript: One year after the Blackout, I was out shopping with my mom when we stumbled across veteran NBC newsman Gabe Pressman conducting some interviews in the A&P parking lot, getting locals’ recollection of the events of the previous year. When he was done, I rushed over and got his autograph, a memento I cherished for a good six hours. That was until we turned on the Channel 4 news telecast that night and noticed that when the camera panned over Gabe’s shoulder, there was my mom in the background, casually smoking a More while leaning against the exterior wall of the A&P. Yup, my mom’s visage was being beamed into homes from Darien to Nutley to Patchogue, and all I got was a piece of paper with a crappy signature from a reporter so low on the TV news totem pole he was forced to schlep all the way up to Peekskill to talk about a year-old lightning strike.