TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Things That Puzzle Me

Admittedly, I’m easily puzzled.

Therefore, I ought to be able to come up with a column on that topic. Even if I’m trying to write next to a guy noshing airport sushi while I’m waiting for a flight back to North Dakota.

The first thing that puzzles me is why I’m leaving Los Angeles this soon, knowing full well I’m flying back into the teeth of a northern Plains autumn —  which in the perspective of Californians is Antartica in the dead of winter. They think we raise penguins. We should consider it. The pheasant count is down.

Had the Dodgers actually won Game 7 of the World Serious, I might have been tempted to stick around, so I could help tip over cop cars on Rodeo Drive.

After my visit, I’m also thinking about investing in Dow Chemical. Facts I made up show that a full 20 percent of your average Californian’s body mass is silicone. The balance is a combination of botox, Perrier and arugula. The only other place that has bigger boobs and more fake smiles is Washington, D.C.

I kid. As eclectic as California is, it’s a sane asylum compared to the rest of the world. I did check the news while I was gone and that led to a good deal of confusion.

Like why Donald Trump Jr. had to drag his daughter, Chloe, into a discussion about economics. All the kid really wanted to do was to go trick-or-treating on Halloween in her Marie Antoinette costume.

When you’re a Trump kid, it’s complicated enough. You end up with things like Krugerrands, Faberge eggs, caviar, covfefe and truffles in your Gucci bag — a serious bummer when you’re 3.

On the bright side, at least she isn’t saddled with having some weird name ending in “-vana” or “-vanka.” Unless her full name is Chlovanka, which sounds like a trendy social disease. Or the perfect place for a nuclear accident. Or a country bordering Nambia.

Inexplicably, her father used Halloween as an opportunity to disparage liberal kids who aren’t working hard enough. “I’m going to take half of Chloe’s candy tonight and give it to some kid who sat at home,” he tweeted. “It’s never to [sic] early to teach her about socialism.”

Uhh, I’m not an economist, but isn’t socialism like when you knock on doors and ask for a handout? Some people call it Halloween, others call it tax reform.

Speaking of which, I’m puzzled by the almost patriotic fervor among paycheck-to-paycheck Republicans in the Heartland who support the desperate need to eliminate the estate tax.

It affects just 5,000 millionaires and billionaires a year. I guess this is a minority outreach program. Well, you gotta start somewhere.

I’m puzzled, too, by the contradiction that some economic philosophers in Washington want a new tax “reform” plan that would offer an increased child tax credit, while simultaneously cutting safety net funding that feeds and insures children. How did they decide which one is welfare and which one is not?

The sales pitch on this tax plan is that it’s about job creation. But isn’t unemployment already at a 17-year low, at 4.1 percent? The only people not working are liberal children who are too lazy to even ask for a mini-Snickers bar at the neighbor’s house.

If we create any more jobs, everyone will have to start working two jobs. Hold it. I think that’s already a thing. Anyway, as a liberal slacker, I don’t want another job. My plan if things get tough? Go Fund Me.

Ultimately, I just don’t think I’m ready for America to be too great too soon. Maybe we ought to just ease into it — you know, do a little economic foreplay. I’ll leave it to you to continue the analogy.

Every tax cut from Kennedy to Reagan to Bush II has added to the deficit, but this time they say it’s going to work. Absolutely. No doubt. Pinky promise.

Even though Wall Street is roaring, I guess we need even more stimulus.

Personally, I’m worried. What’s this much stimulus going to do to Mike Pence? He may start calling his wife “Baby” instead of “Mother.” The good news is he probably won’t have to arrange conjugal visits through Bob Mueller.

Equally puzzling to me about this rush to tax “reform” are the Tea Party congressmen who were against deficits under Obama. Most have apparently signed on for $1.5 trillion added to the national debt. We could rename it the T.P. Party because that’s what you need when you’re so full of … of … tax reform, I guess.

My guess is the tax cut for the rich will just add to the debt. In a few years, Republicans will start wringing their hands and blaming the working poor on food stamps, who just aren’t Halloweening hard enough.

Maybe I’m too skeptical. Perhaps a few days in California has addled my once sound judgment.

I bet someone put something in my wine spritzer.

© Tony Bender, 2017

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No, The Checks Aren’t In The Mail

Sorry to disappoint you, but no checks are in the mail.

A standing-room-only crowd showed up for Rep. Kevin Cramer’s Fargo “Coffee with Cramer” town hall last week. Let’s call them “lively.” Trouble was clearly brewing. They packed a local coffeehouse to pepper him with comments and questions about health care, the bungled travel ban, the Great Wall of POTUS and the Cabinet’s billionaire assault on everything from public education to the environment.

And they left later that afternoon with exactly the same change in their pockets that they’d come with -— less the cost of a cup or two of coffee. Contrary to rumors right-winging their way around the media and Facebook, no one was paid to be there …

… except, of course, Rep. Cramer himself.

This ludicrous preoccupation with “paid protesters” seems to be a standard response whenever Republicans face constituents who disagree with them. We heard it used — with no evidence whatsoever — to damn the opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We heard it used to dismiss the millions who stepped up — in pink pussyhats, no less — for the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches from coast to coast.

We’ve heard it announced as fact, in the most authoritative of tones, by everyone from POTUS and Wayne LaPierre of the NRA (who asserts *someone* is paying protesters $1,500 a week) to State Rep. Randy Boehning, who wondered on Facebook how many of those who came to Cramer’s kaffeeklatch were “bought and paid by Obama’s new organization.”

No, they weren’t. But no wonder right-wingers are dreaming up conspiracies. Members of Congress and the Senate faced unheard-of crowds when they went back home during last week’s recess, and to their horror, they weren’t full of smiling faces. Some politicians ducked and ran, like the Texas tough-talker who canceled the meeting in his home district because he feared he’d be shot like Gabby Giffords. Others blustered their way through, complaining mightily of an insidious and unfair plot against them.

What just happened here? It says a lot about the majority of embattled Republican politicians that the first question on their lips was, “Who paid them?” Those who showed up here in Fargo have been having a good laugh at that one.

I wonder if that suspicion isn’t what psychologists call “projection” — the urge to defend yourself against your own worst impulses by blaming them on others. (Which raises an interesting point of speculation: How do those Republican crowds get there?)

To his credit, North Dakota’s Cramer added an unplanned date to his schedule and met them face to face. He seems to relish the give-and-take … make that, “push and shove” … far more than his senatorial colleagues. Neither Sen. John Hoeven nor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has shown any appetite to date for hearing what their riled-up voters have to say.

No nefarious billionaire pulled strings to turn Cramer’s town hall — normally a more congenial snoozer where he does most of the talking, in person or on the radio — into an all-out news-making fracas. No one had to organize their wrathful minions and direct them to bedevil poor, innocent congresspersons. It blossomed spontaneously.

Indivisible F-M is nothing like a tight-knit army of hard-core political strategists that Republicans invariably blame. The local contingent began with a Facebook page set up by one Fargo woman a couple of days before the inauguration, inspired by a 24-page Google document, widely shared online, titled “Indivisible: A Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” While several former Democratic staffers composed the little guide, it’s squarely based on the playbook pioneered eight years by a very different grass-roots movement -— one the Republicans know a thing or two about: the Tea Party.

“Indivisible’s” key advice: One thing is ever foremost on politicians’ minds — re-election. Showing up in force scares them, and numbers count as much as content. That certainly worked before, when unexpected hordes of Tea Party activists turned the tide of public discourse starting in 2009.

The writers behind “Invisible” were watching back then from their posts on embattled moderates’ staffs. Tea Party techniques, they know too well, do work … do work both ways.

When Nicole Mattson of Fargo couldn’t find a local chapter on the website, she started one herself on Facebook. In its first week, Indivisible F-M gathered 700 members. In the six weeks since, Nicole estimates it’s grown to 3,500 or so via closed groups on several social media platforms. Almost all, she says, are from the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Nicole is no hardened political operative. Her partisan involvement was, and is, minimal. Nor is some shady megabucks mastermind pulling Indivisible F-M’s strings. It’s loosely run by an all-volunteer, all-local organizing team. Beyond urging members to contact their representatives on pressing issues, they seized upon the suggestion to talk to them face to face.

They started by reaching out to North Dakota’s congressional delegation to request town hall events in Fargo. “So far, the only one who has responded is Rep. Cramer,” Nicole says. Team member Lisa Cook worked with his wife, Kris, who manages his schedule, to set up last week’s gathering. “Mrs. Cramer went out of her way to make time in his schedule to come to Fargo last week,” Nicole reports. “She has been nothing but kind and gracious to work with.”

That brings us to Thursday. The smallish cafe was mobbed, inside and spilling out onto the sidewalk. Retired folks stood crowded together with much younger activists; the timing — 1 p.m. on a workday — perhaps minimized middle-aged participation.

While some media later characterized it as a hostile group of raucous, revved-up liberal opponents, the crowd also included a generous number of equally rude and highly vocal Cramer and POTUS supporters. The ruckus was clearly bipartisan.

Talking afterward on WDAY, Rep. Cramer — who does adore a good fracas — conceded that actions like the discordant Fargo town hall may, in fact, affect the national GOP agenda. “I think it does have some impact,” he said. “In some respects, it should. If people are genuinely concerned in large numbers and their members of Congress are listening to them, it should inform how the congressman thinks. It did inform me.”

He added, “Some members of Congress get squishy easily. They forget that their context should be the 700,000 people they represent — as opposed to a loud minority. The loud minority matters, but you need to put it in perspective.”

Perspective, though, is a shifty platform for prediction. Eight years ago, a strident, angry minority of voters field-tested these very same tactics. As the Tea Party coalesced, it was ultimately able to stall an earlier president’s agenda. Then, as a different horde of angry partisans with Lipton’s Tea bags dangling from their brims outshouted the majority, they took on a far more popular president. No. 44 had been elected the previous November by the greatest number of American voters in history – 69.5 million – and with 365 electoral votes. Today’s Indivisibles take on the popular-vote-losing POTUS 45, who managed to amass only 63 million votes for a nonlandslide Electoral College win of 306.

So, can sincere grass-roots passion succeed again? That was tea. This is coffee. We’ll see.

One thing, though, is dead-on certain: Republicans, you can lay to rest your fetish of for-profit protesters. No checks are in the mail, and no one is cracking open the champagne.