Archive for the ‘Politics 2016’ Category

The Thinker

Are Democrats making an enemy of the good?

My wife and I rarely disagree but lately we have been disagreeing on Senator Bernie Sanders. I’m pretty sure we both voted for Bernie in last year’s Massachusetts Democratic Primary, as in fact did most of my neighbors. (Bernie signs were everywhere.) Of course, Sanders ultimately lost the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Sanders has hardly gone away, which doesn’t surprise any of us who have been following Bernie. He’s as opinionated as ever and remains basically the point on the spear of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This is in spite of the fact that Bernie is not a Democrat anymore and is back to being an independent senator from Vermont who happens to caucus with the Democrats.

Still, when Democrats campaign for public office, they are usually trying to get Sanders’ endorsement. This is no surprise because even as an ex-candidate Sanders can pack them in. When he endorses a candidate, legions of Bernie fans contribute small amounts of cash to that candidate. In April as part of a joint “unity tour” with DNC chair Tom Perez, Sanders campaigned for Heath Mello, the Democratic candidate for mayor in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sanders and Perez took a lot of heat for their endorsement of Mello. While a member of the state senate Mello supported a 20-week abortion ban. He also supported restrictions on telemedicine that affected rural access to Plan B, an over the counter abortion drug. This disgusted many Democrats, particularly those Democrats that are prochoice. One of them is my wife, who sees it as sexist. By supporting Mello, Sanders and Perez appeared to give tacit endorsement to his antiabortion views, at least in the eyes of many Democrats.

Mello went on to lose handsomely, which was not a big surprise in a red state. It’s not too surprising that Mello would be opposed to abortion, as he is a devout Catholic. So perhaps the real issue is whether opposing abortion should be disqualifying to any Democratic candidates. For my wife, it appears to be a red line that no Democrat should cross. That turned out to be true for Tom Perez, who subsequently said that all Democratic candidates should be pro-choice. Not all Democrats agree. My senator Elizabeth Warren took exception, as did Bernie Sanders. Neither Warren nor Sanders are antiabortion, but both believe the Democratic tent should be big enough to welcome views that many inside the tent don’t approve of.

So do I. It may be true that as Will Rogers said that Democrats are inherently disorganized. The same is less true with Republicans, although it is not obvious that they are as factionalized as they are. Still, all parties draw boundaries somewhere and those boundaries can be murky. Many progressive Democrats like me are uncomfortable with the many Wall Street Democrats inside our party. But I would not kick them out, just as I could not kick out Heath Mello for his views either.

There are a couple of reasons why I feel this way. First, to govern you need a majority, and to get a majority usually means that you have to include groups of people that you would prefer not to include. Within the Republican Party, the fiscal conservatives tolerate the evangelicals for this reason. Second, it’s not necessarily true that ideological purity is a good thing for any party. Ideology tends to block common sense and hearing alternative points of view, views that might be entirely valid if you can keep off the ideological blinders and have real discussions. By putting some like Heath Mello outside of the Democratic Party those discussions aren’t possible. In addition, you lessen the likelihood of gaining a governing majority.

I can certainly understand why my wife like most women would find it hard to stomach a Democrat that would restrict their reproductive choices. I’d likely not vote for Mello if I lived in Nebraska and there was a more progressive alternative on the Democratic Party primary ballot. On the other hand, Mello does live in Nebraska where liberals are very hard to find. His chances were slim to begin with, but they would have been slimmer had he campaigned as a prochoice progressive. Moreover, while Catholics have a few bees up their bonnets (exclusively male priests and abortion views, to name a few), overall Catholics are reasonably progressive and champion the needs of the poor in ways that most Protestant denominations ignore. That’s good!

Every party struggles between its inherently selfish desire to want to govern and ideological purity that tends to leave a party in permanent minority status. The primary reason why Republicans are governing now is not because they represent the majority of voters, but because they have disenfranchised so many voters who would vote for Democrats. When in a majority status again Democrats could try a similar strategy. They could try gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws to try to maintain their lock on power too. It would be wrong for the obvious reason that the broadest principle among Democrats is that voting should be as wide and inclusive as possible. Excluding citizens with sincerely held beliefs about the sanctity of life from governing is no way to govern. Reaching out to them and finding areas of common overlap and exercising powers in those areas amounts to effective governing, because such actions tend to embrace a widely-shared public consensus.

In my mind the true difference between Democrats and Republicans is Me vs. We. “We” means that Democrats aspire to be a party that lifts all boats by recognizing that we are all interdependent and empowering this philosophy through government action. We support policies that reduce misery, try to give everyone equal opportunity and in the words of our constitution “promote the general welfare”. Republicans are all about “me”. They want the government to lift the boats of people exactly like them, and no one else. Effectively they do this by taking resources away from those not like them. This is written all over their version of health care: the so-called American Health Care Act. There is nothing in the bill that really makes health care better for anyone, but it does give huge tax windfalls to the richest.

I don’t see this in Heath Mello. I see a man who is very much in favor of lifting all boats. He has areas of sincere disagreement, but Democrats are better with him in the party than out of it. Out of the party, Mello really has only one party to turn to. Do we really want to turn him into a Republican? Granted, it’s a party that needs huge doses of humanity. Maybe if it got it, the party would resemble the respectable party I voted for in 1976, but not since then. I do think if ideological purity is going to be the test for being a true Democrat, we as a party are hacking off our own limbs and making Republican rule that much likelier to hang around.

Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Let us Democrats disagree at least among ourselves without being disagreeable. Maybe in doing so we will more truly represent the values to which we aspire as a party.

 
The Thinker

Attention Donald Trump: Here’s what life was really like in the United States in 1953

Over the last few days I’ve learned that President Elect Trump wants to take us back to 1953. That apparently was when American was last great again. Trump was also seven years old in 1953, so it probably did look pretty good from the childish eyes of a boy of privilege. In 1953, the Trump family was living in a faux two-story Tudor house in Jamaica Estates in Queens, New York. At the time of the 1950 census, Queens was 96% white. It’s likely that his house on the Midland Parkway was even more so white, if that’s possible.

It should be obvious that we can’t rewind this country sixty-three years. In 1950, there were 161 million American. Today there is nearly twice that many. In 1950, whites were 87% of the population. The 2010 census puts whites at 64% of the population. Curiously there are some parallels between 1953 and 2016. Democratic president Truman had retired and Republican Dwight Eisenhower came into office. Republicans controlled 48 seats in the Senate, which gave them the majority since Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states. Republicans also controlled the House by a margin of eight seats. With Eisenhower’s election, Republicans had a lock on Congress, but not a filibuster-proof Senate, just like today.

Eisenhower of course was no Trump, except in the sense that neither had held elective office before. However, Eisenhower had been the Allied Supreme Commander in Europe during the Second World War, so he was hardly unfamiliar with government. In 1953 though Republicans were anxious to reassert power, having been out of the White House for twenty years. Still, 1953 wasn’t quite as wonderful and conservative as Republicans would have you believe. It was the year of the first sex reassignment surgery (Christine Jorgensen).

In 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for alleged spying for the Soviet Union, charges still in dispute. The Korean War ended in 1953, but was never settled. It ended only when President Eisenhower, channeling a war-weary America, threatened to nuke North Korea if they did not agree to end it. Other signs of the new more liberal age on the horizon were easy to find. The second Albert Kinsey book (on the sexuality of women, which was news to many that women were even sexual creatures) was released. Hugh Hefner released the first copy of Playboy magazine.

On the international front, the spread of communism was a huge concern in 1953. Truman, as one of his last acts, announced that we had developed the hydrogen bomb. This one-upped the U.S. in the nuclear arms race, at least for a while. Joseph Stalin, the dictator running the Soviet Union died in 1953 to be succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev. We were in the middle of the second Red scare, which put the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee into overdrive, the latter chaired by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Mere allegations of being a communist sympathizer were enough to get you blacklisted, which ended the careers of countless people. Today now that Republicans are in charge again some in Congress are calling for the resumption of the HUAC.

With Trump’s election of course concern about communism, or at least about Russia as our foe, seem to be over. This is despite evidence that Russia interfered with our latest election. Trump seems anxious to close this chapter in our history. It’s unclear if he will succeed, as at least some Republican senators want an inquiry into their hacking. Given Trump’s protestations it’s much more likely than not that there is a roaring fire under this smoldering pile.

Was America great in 1953? The Cold Wars with the Soviet Union and China were the major problems of that time as was checking the spread of communism. In that sense with the Cold War’s end in the 1990s America was more ascendant than in the 1950s. By empowering Russia, Trump risks starting it all over again. It’s completely fair to criticize Trump for this initiative, as it is likely to fracture NATO and potentially end the peace Europe has known since the Second World War. In 1953, the Marshall Plan was ending. Our investment in Europe brought it not only a Cold War peace but also prosperity to a rebuilt and newly democratic Europe. Our troops in Japan ensured it did not become a rival power again. Troops in Korea checked the spread of communism there. Today Trump wants to withdraw our investments in foreign countries. Our lessons in 1953 suggest this would be deeply counterproductive.

Segregation was a fact of life in 1953, something Trump tacitly approves of. The Brown v. Board of Education decision that would declare that separately funded schools for minorities were unconstitutional was still a year away. President Truman integrated our armed forces before leaving office. The Ku Klux Klan was ascendant, and not just in the south. The headquarters of the KKK was just eight miles from where I live now, in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The John Birch Society was on the rise as well, an organization that would not look unfamiliar to the Tea Party.

Both women and blacks could vote, but voter suppression of minorities was extreme, mostly in Southern states. It would take more than a decade for the Civil Rights Act to pass Congress. Women were more likely to be home raising children than in the workplace in 1953. This was not true though if you were a single woman or poor. You worked, mostly at menial jobs that paid far less than what a man earned. But the Rosie Riveters in World War Two planted the roots of women’s liberation in the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s pretty clear that neither Trump nor Republicans in Congress want to revert to the tax rates of the time. Our enormous prosperity was powered by tax rates that now seem astounding. The top tax rate was 92% of income, and corporate tax rates reached 50%. Eisenhower and Republicans were successful in cutting the top tax rate … to 91%. It was this redistribution of wealth that really powered America in the 1950s. It did things like build our interstate highway system by unleashing this money for productive uses. If Trump were serious about making America great again, he would be raising tax rates, not cutting them.

America was certainly a whiter place in 1950, but hardly a happy place. There were two major recessions in the 1950s. Pollution was unchecked. Some Americans escaped by toking on marijuana, but it was more of a fringe activity. Alcohol was the escape of choice for most. Chastity was hardly the norm in the 1950s, but illicit sex was more discreet. Homosexuals were largely in the closet but had learned to congregate in gay bars. AIDS was unknown but syphilis and gonorrhea were common. The extent of birth control was largely the condom, if you could find any. Abortion was available, just illicitly.

TV was something of a novelty in 1953, but those who had one were tuned into watching The Lucy Show. More people were listening to radio. PBS was not a thing in 1953. Cable TV did not exist. If you had TV, you were limited to ABC, NBC and CBS stations and sometimes not even those. Transistors were still in the lab; vacuum tubes were the state of high technology.

By most metrics the United States today is a much better place than it was in 1953, just a lot less white. Americans were more prosperous in general back then, largely because high marginal tax rates meant income inequality was not much of a thing. About 25% of workers belonged to unions. Just 10% do today.

It’s quite clear that Trump’s plans are likely only to bring back some of the worst aspects of those times, and little of its best aspects. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 
The Thinker

The real war on Christmas

Always eager to draw attention to himself, our president elect has embraced the meme that there is a War on Christmas. Specifically, he hates “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”. To fight back he is going with “Merry Christmas” and let the non-Christians and their stupid feelings be damned.

Non-Christians like, well, Donald Trump? This is a man who pretty much never goes to church. It’s clear he actually worships at the Church of Mammon. He’s got plenty of company there, including most Republicans. But maybe he has a point. What do we really mean when we say “Merry Christmas”? It suggests to me that we want people to be happy because it’s the Christmas season. That works pretty well. Most of us are merry when we are getting free stuff. That’s what Christmas is really about these days: a chance to maybe feel happy with a sudden influx of stuff, usually on Christmas Day. Sometimes it’s actually stuff we want! And if there is anything Donald Trump likes, it’s the accumulation of more stuff: money, property or the real thing he values most: attention and adulation.

Trump though can’t wait until Christmas for attention. He demands it all year round. If he feels he’s not getting enough of it he’ll post something outrageous on Twitter to make sure people are talking about him. What a blessing then to be POTUS come January 20, because people are always interested in what the president says. They have no choice. The attention cycle will be nonstop!

Of course a lot of it will be negative attention, something Trump will discover soon after getting into office. Like it or not the president is perceived responsible for everything. A good carnival barker like Donald Trump though will keep the public distracted by sideshows, which is a pretty good strategy as long as it works. At some point though too much real life will interfere and at that point being POTUS will cease to be fun.

Meanwhile, he’ll use memes like the War on Christmas to lead us around like circus animals under the big tent. It succeeds in not only drawing attention to himself, but also in getting his supporters enthused. This is important because he will soon be picking their pockets. With enough War on Christmas-like gimmicks they may not notice when their Obamacare or food stamp benefits go away. It’s clearly an effective strategy for now as it pushes just the right buttons that Republicans like to have pressed. Because you see they are so oppressed being Christians in their own country! And they’ve had being politically correct up to here.

In truth most Christians are not Christians. They are certainly not the sort of Christians that Jesus envisioned, you know the kind that live without possessions and give the shirt off their backs to strangers. The accepted alternative for first world Christians is to do token acts of charity around the holiday season. Mostly this involves writing checks to their churches or politically compatible charities. But sometimes it involves some actual in-person demonstrations of what Jesus might have done, such as serving meals in a soup kitchen to the homeless. It’s a faint echo of what Jesus had in mind for his church, but at least it’s an echo. Don’t expect to see Donald Trump in a soup kitchen. It’s not clear he knows how to use a ladle or clean a pot. No one ever taught him how these things are done.

Saying “Happy holidays!” is certainly not anti-Christian, as there are plenty of holidays this time of year. Only two are Christian: Christmas itself and the Epiphany, which literally is Christmas if you are Eastern Orthodox. There is also Thanksgiving and New Years, which are secular holidays and in Great Britain there is also Boxing Day. And, oh yes, there are those other you know second-class religious holidays that also happen this time of year, helpfully captured on Huffington Post. Hanukkah happens to fall Christmas week this year, which may be a reason for Trump to draw attention to it. (It doesn’t hurt to have a Jewish son-in-law.) But we also have Bodhi Day on December 8 (Buddhists), Mawlid an Nabi on December 18 (Muslims) and Winter Solstice on December 22 (Pagans).

If you say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” what you are really saying is that Christian holidays matter and those others don’t. And the reason they don’t matter is because the Merry Christmas crowd doesn’t give a crap about the non-Christians among us. The president is (or should be) expected to speak for all Americans, not just the Christians among us. Also the president should not favor one religion over another, as our government is secular by design. What Trump supporters hear when Trump says, “Merry Christmas” is “White-Christian America matters, and those others don’t.”

So no wonder they are enthusiastic about promoting a War on Christmas. What they don’t see is that when elected officials keep the holiday generic is not a bad thing; it’s there by design. It’s a statement that government operates in a religiously neutral environment. And that’s what really gets their goat. They don’t want it to be that way. They want a government for White Christians only. And by refusing to be politically correct, this is what Trump is tacitly telling them he’s going to deliver.

Unsurprisingly, they love him for his clannish behavior. As for Jesus’ call to love all, including the non-Christians (see the Good Samaritan parable), well, clearly not so much.

Happy holidays, everyone.

 
The Thinker

How the working class will be fleeced again

Stocks are up! Pundits (like me) were obviously wrong that Trump’s election would depress the stock market, at least in the short term. Trump’s threats of a trade war with China, dissing Lockheed Martin for its F-35 cost overruns and Boeing for bogus inflated costs to make the next Air Force One should have had the markets concerned. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have taken hits but overall the stock market keeps cranking up its share prices. By one measure, the S&P 500 is up 13.04% for the year, and 6.39% of the gain has been since the election.

Will these gains continue? In the short term it seems likely. Wall Street is betting that Republicans (who spent eight years trying to stop more federal spending) will agree to deficit spending for infrastructure initiatives that Trump has proposed. There are also those juicy tax cuts, principally for businesses. However, if Obamacare is repealed, the principle beneficiaries will be the rich, who won’t have to pay extra taxes to subsidize health care for the poor and middle class. (In case you were wondering, this is Republicans’ biggest grief with the ACA, not the mandate. They just won’t admit it.)

While this sucks for those who depend on Obamacare, all this should contribute to growth, at least until Trump starts his promised trade wars. What it won’t do is lower the deficit. In fact it will increase it. Most likely Republicans will lose their deficits-are-evil mantra again, at least until we have another Democratic president. Then of course it will become the most important thing in the world again. Lowering businesses taxes of course simply adds to shareholders’ bottom lines and thus share prices. This comes at the expense of depriving the government of revenue foisting yet more of the tax burden on individuals – well, except the rich, of course.

What this amounts to and what the stock market is telling us is that income inequality will increase again. To put it another way, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. This should be very alarming because democracies are more vulnerable when income inequality is high. But in the short term those with money are likely to do better. Rising stock prices are a reaction to this anticipated future. Since Wall Street generally doesn’t look past the next quarter you can’t read too much into it for the long term.

For now, continuing rising U.S markets are not an unreasonable proposition. Trump is stuffing his cabinet with not just millionaires, but billionaires. His cabinet will be the richest ever. In fact, Trump’s proposed cabinet’s net wealth is equal to one third of the wealth of all American households. He thinks that wealth indicates not only success but also an ability to get things done.

Since Trump is picking people that are at odds with many of his stated goals (like bringing back manufacturing jobs in the United States) it’s likely that a lot of his campaign promises in these areas are simply bluster. I would not hold your breath for a wall on our southern border, for example and I would definitely not expect Mexico to pay for it. I do expect that the working class that voted for him will be disappointed where it counts: in the pocketbook. Here’s why:

  • Blue-collar jobs that pay decent wages aren’t coming back – at least not in the volume our parents knew them, and they likely won’t be union jobs or with pensions. Even Trump knows this. The robotics revolution will continue meaning those manufacturing jobs that are created in the United States will be relatively few and those that get them will need higher skills.
  • Despite a “hydrocarbon heavy” cabinet, fossil fuels won’t be making a resurgence either. It’s cheaper to get hydrocarbons through fracking than through coal mining and a fracking well largely runs itself. But there are other reasons. Generating energy through solar power is now as cheap as fossil fuels, and it should get cheaper. Trump of course could be promoting these green technologies. Putting solar panels on all the roofs in this nation could keep hundreds of thousands of blue-collar employees employed and productive for decades, while helping the environment. But don’t hold your breath on this one (pun intended).
  • Trump is hostile to increases in the minimum wage, and his Labor department secretary would prefer no minimum wage.
  • As the stock market demonstrates, to build wealth you must save and invest. If you are not seeing wage growth, you probably won’t be able to save or invest much so you likely won’t be building wealth.
  • Removing subsidies for health care will move the costs of health care on those least able to afford to pay them. If there is no mandate to have health insurance, of course those opting out save money in the short term. But it will likely be wiped out when a serious illness occurs. Not only will the uninsured be asked to pay the costs of getting well, they will be paying a list price instead of discounts that the insured get.
  • If Trump and Republicans are further successful in reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits, they will disproportionately affect those with fewer assets and depend on these safety nets. Their reduced incomes will also depress the economy.
  • If welfare and food stamps are cut back, people will eat less, starve or eat cheaper and unhealthy food. This increases the risk of health issues and shorter lifespans.

So what’s really going on on Wall Street is a “party while you can” mentality. Those partying have every reason to party, since they will be sucking yet more money from those least available to provide it. Like all parties this one will end and probably sooner rather than later. Those whose wealth is being tapped are already mostly tapped out, which means there is no source of sustainable growth for the economy.

Smart partiers should realize this and turn their profitable assets into fixed income while they can. The smartest partiers will realize all this is counterproductive and that real growth depends on lifting everyone, and work to make this a reality. As for the working class, don’t be a fool and think that a new administration is going to save you. They’ll do their best to save those who they really care about: the wealthy.

 
The Thinker

What to expect from the Trump Administration

There are reasons so many of us are alarmed by the upcoming Trump administration. Certainly we are concerned about the direction he and Republicans in Congress are likely to take the country. His picks detail the wreckage they hope to create, from loosened environmental laws, to mass deportations, to the implicit if not explicit favoring of whites over others. As alarming as these things are likely to be, there are far bigger areas of concern. What is more alarming than all of that? Well, there’s Donald Trump himself!

If there is something good to say about Trump it’s that he’s quite transparent and thus easy to understand. Normally this would be good, but it’s bad in this case because we know pretty much how he will behave and thus govern, and this part is awful. Trump has many issues but what is most likely to hobble him is his inability to concentrate on anything for more than five or ten minutes. This is the reason he is spurning national security briefings. He is constitutionally unable to cope with them, so he copes by refusing to get them because they are full of detail and nuance. This means he will get periodic bullet summaries at best, handled and filtered by aides. From imperfect knowledge he will make life and death decisions affecting us all, probably impetuously.

Republicans like principled conservatives. However, Trump is wholly bereft of principle. All that really matters is being noticed. He thrives on attention. He prefers positive attention but as he demonstrated during the campaign negative attention will do too. Attention is what matters and his craving for it is insatiable. He feels validated when he is talked about. One way to be more talked about is simply to be outrageous. And when you are outrageous, it’s easy to succumb to impulse. And so he does day after day. His tweets are collections of sophomoric “Hey, look at me!” thoughts. Rarely are they coherent or even consistent. Yesterday he was tweeting that Russia did not interfere with our election, contradicting our best intelligence assessments. He said if this was a problem, why wasn’t it brought out during the campaign, where it was repeatedly. You can see his general problem rather clearly: short attention span. (Curiously, these tweets have been deleted.)

In the 2008 campaign Sarah Palin was lampooned when asked which newspapers and magazines she read. She replied, “All of them.” Donald Trump barely reads. He doesn’t read any books and at best he scans newspapers. Most of what he consumes is on conservative TV channels. He’s basically friendless and it’s pretty clear he is emotionally distant with his spouses and at least some of his children. Those who complained about Obama’s religion should be outraged by Trump’s lack of morals or religious convictions. He never attends church. He has no history with faith communities. He’s clearly not a Christian. It’s doubtful he could define what empathy is, simply because he can’t understand the concept. He feels closest to those who are a lot like him, which is why he is populating his cabinet with mostly rich white guys, but these relationships are invariably ephemeral and are discarded when no longer of use to him. What matters to him are wealth and an endless need to be validated.

So what does this say about how his administration will govern? First, he will delegate a lot of stuff because it simply doesn’t interest him. Second, he’s going to piss off a lot of the people he picks to help lead the country, because he will spontaneously contradict them whenever it is convenient or gets him some attention. Doing so makes him (in his eyes) look superior and/or increases attention/adulation. No one will be allowed to outshine him and if they do they are likely to be undermined or replaced. This will mean that staff like Steve Bannon will become powers behind the throne, feeding him bullets and sound bites as it serves their agendas. They will also dish out plenty of red meat for him and his supporters that will serve the dual purpose of validating Trump’s enormous ego and the convictions of his supporters.

If Trump is playing his supporters for fools, Putin is playing Trump for the fool that he is. Both cold and real wars are very inefficient ways to extend power. It’s much easier if you can get your enemies to undercut themselves, but it doesn’t hurt when you have a sycophant like Trump who is already indebted to you.

Trump will be keeping us outraged and his supporters happy while the biggest dangers are really elsewhere. He’s already starting to make a wreck of our foreign policy: pissing off China, validating the Philippines’ dictator Duterte, undercutting NATO and even going off after our defense contractors.

We’ll see how this plays off. Trump is a true Shakespearean character that will likely wreak massive havoc unless/until forces manage to stop him. This process looks like it is already underway. Congress will be looking into how Russia influenced our election. Trump’s fervent and repeated assurances that there is nothing there somehow makes it much more likely that there is. Unless things change quickly, his businesses from which he profits will be accepting money from other countries, which would put him in violation of the Emoluments Clause of our constitution. This alone is impeachable. Given all the other baggage he’s been carrying it’s likely a number of these could be impeachable. It all depends though on if/when Republicans in Congress decide to proceed with them. As a master bully with supporters willing to literally take up arms to defend him, it’s likely they will be cowed instead.

We live with the curse of interesting times and our country is its nexus. I find that I cannot allow myself to think too much about it, simply for my own sanity. We are about to go through the most dangerous time for our country, certainly since the Cold War and likely since the Civil War. It’s unclear to me if we can rise to this occasion. If we cannot, Vladimir Putin will be ecstatic but you sure won’t be.

 
The Thinker

Trump is playing his supporters for fools

Has anyone noticed that the people Trump is picking for his administration are pretty much doggedly determined to work against the interest of those who voted for him? Okay, there are plenty of people, but the inconsistencies are so galling you would think his supporters would be up in arms. But there are few complaints from supporters so far.

Trump infamously promised to “drain the swamp”, but he’s apparently set on picking the wallets of those who voted for him instead. In other words, they’ve been masterfully played.

Sadly, this is the Achilles Heel of the white working class, which Trump understood. Racial pride comes before everything for them. You just have to pull the right strings. Trump is hardly the first to do it, but the first to do it so brazenly and completely. You have to play into the lie that white people are somehow special and better than others. And you have to look to scapegoats they can project their anger onto: Hispanics, blacks, gays and Muslims. It also takes a heap of phony patriotism. The idea is to obscure who is really to blame for their decline: global forces largely beyond anyone’s control and moneyed capitalists who will ruthlessly take out rungs out of the ladder of opportunity to advantage themselves.

Those others are actually people a lot like Trump. Trump succeeded by stomping down pretty much everyone unwise enough to work for him: employees, contractors and partners. Trump has screwed plenty of working class whites, particularly independent contractors and investors. And somehow he’s not going to keep screwing these people? Puh-lease. The evidence:

  • Steve Mnuchin gets to be Secretary of Treasury. Trump railed against Wall Street insiders, but picked a partner at Goldman Sachs, one of the firms that gave us the Great Recession and stripped vast amounts of wealth from many of Trump’s supporters.
  • Wilbur Ross will be Commerce Secretary. Founder of the International Coal Group, he was in charge during the Sego Mine Disaster, which killed twelve. He knew all about the mine’s safety issues and did nothing. He was also Rudy Giuliani’s privatization adviser while he was New York mayor.
  • Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. He’s managed two fast food companies (Carl’s Jr. and Hardees), doesn’t believe in a minimum wage and has talked excitedly about creating automated fast food restaurants.
  • Tom Price for Health and Human Services whose mission will be for the department to stop providing health and human services. Of course he is against the Affordable Care Act, wrote one of the few bills that completely overturns it and will work to repeal it. The principle people to be affected if the ACA is overturned will be Trump supporters, many of whom depend on the ACA’s Medicaid provisions for health care. Many Trump voters may give their lives or shorten them considerably by voting for Trump.
  • Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development. Like the Arabian Horse Association president that ran FEMA for George W. Bush, Carson has zero experience in housing, unless you count the fact that his family depended on public housing to survive when he was a child. His mission will be to make sure that no others are as fortunate as he was.
  • Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. She hates public schools, loves charter schools (even though their record is worse than public schools) and basically wants to dismantle the public school system. You’ll get vouchers instead, which won’t come close to paying the tuition for your kids’ education. Free elementary and high school education will be a thing of the past if DeVos is successful. Bring back the glorious 19th century with a society full of illiterates and homeless urchins in the streets! Those were the good old days!
  • South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for U.N. ambassador, who has zero experience in foreign policy.
  • Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. He wants to abolish all clean air laws. Who will be disproportionately impacted by dirtier air? The white working class for sure. All those particulates in their air are sure to spike asthma rates, emergency room visits and premature deaths. A lot of those factories will be spewing into nearby white working-class communities.
  • Linda McMahon for Small Business Administration. She has small businesses experience like the World Wrestling Federation, which she ran.

I doubt his supporters will notice any of this. What they will notice and cheer on are the red meat appointments he is throwing out instead:

  • Steve Bannon, an open racist for his chief advisor
  • Michael Flynn, a xenophobe and Russian lover for national security adviser
  • Lots of white faces, principally white men, running his administration. Yea team white!
  • Distractions that will probably be more smoke than mirrors, such as efforts to deport up to 11 million people living here

Trump’s real genius is not getting people to vote for him, but to get them to voluntarily bend over and claim “I like this” while he screws them in the ass.

Working class America, you are about to be fleeced, discounted and shown the door. Sadly, most likely you will say, “Thank you and may I have some more?” when you unwisely vote to reelect this man in 2020.

 
The Thinker

Mitt Romney for president

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate, was in my dreams last night, and in a good way. Dreams are all about fantasy, and in my dreamy dreamland Mitt became of 45th president and I was ecstatic. I was ecstatic not because I am particularly happy with the idea of Mitt being our next president. I just like the idea of Mitt being president a whole lot more than Donald Trump.

But you are thinking: didn’t we just elect Donald Trump to be our 45th president? That is horribly true unless a number of highly improbable events occur on or before December 19.

In the first scenario, Trump inconveniently dies or gets assassinated before inauguration. Given that he is obese and over 70, it’s not impossible some medical issue will unexpectedly fell him.

In the second scenario, it’s possible that those recounts underway in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania will succeed. If Clinton somehow wins these states after all, she becomes our 45th president. This would be fine with the 65.5 million people who voted for her, currently 2.7 million more than voted for Donald Trump (and rising).

In the third scenario, 37 electors pledged to Donald Trump defect and vote for someone else instead. This would give Donald Trump 269 electoral votes, not enough to win, but throwing the decision on who would be the next president to the U.S. House of Representatives. That would not work because each state gets one vote and they would have to choose from the top three vote getters. And since most states are Republican, it’s pretty clear Trump would still win.

Then there’s the Hamilton electors scenario where disgruntled Republican and Democratic electors collude and pick a compromise candidate. This would have to be done before December 19, when the electors meet in their state capitals. In this scenario, admittedly very wacky, Mitt Romney might be their compromise choice. If they hang together and wield their 270 (or more) votes, Mitt would be #45. These faithless electors might face prosecution in many states, but free legal help has been pledged for those electors that put the good of the country first. A handful of electors have already openly stated they will be faithless. (Unfortunately, a number are pledged to Hillary Clinton.)

Obviously all these scenarios are pretty far fetched (to say the least) but they at least had me feeling better at 4 a.m. this morning when I could not get back to sleep after another Trump-as-president nightmare woke me up. In my dreams I kept seeing Mitt’s clean-shaven face and Reaganesque hair. I also kept hearing his calm voice and grammatically correct sentences. The nice thing about Mitt though is he both looks and acts presidential. And he’s a white male, which is very important to Trump’s supporters. You just can’t see Mitt flying off the handle or sending out 3 a.m. tweets. You know that in spite of his prejudices that he’s a sober and respectful guy.

As president, Romney would follow the rule of law probably with obsessive faithfulness. He would make sound judgments. He would consult with politicians and other governments before making any major decisions and probably try to govern by consensus. Yes, he might appoint conservative jurists. But when it came to things like Obamacare, he would be mindful of the implications of getting rid of it. After all it’s based on Romney-care here in Massachusetts. In short, Mitt has a brain, a conscience and is driven by forces greater than simply his own ego like, say, God, with whom Trump has but passing interest.

Of course, this isn’t going to happen. As we watch Trump put together his administration, it’s pretty much a horror show. His own supporters should be appalled, given that he is appointing masters of Wall Street to many key positions. It’s mostly a cabinet of white guys with undertones of racism, but he managed to convince Ben Carson to be his Housing and Urban Development secretary, quite a stretch for a guy whose only qualification for the job is that he lived in public housing as a child. His proposed administration is rife with not just bad, but catastrophically bad choices. His national security adviser tweets fake news stories. His choice for U.N. ambassador is a woman (good) but right now is the governor of South Carolina whose foreign policy experience might consist of greeting visiting trade delegations to the state (bad). His EPA choice is explicitly hostile to the agency’s mission (WTF?)

And where is Mitt in all this? Mitt has met with Trump a number of times, and is being considered as Secretary of State. If he gets this nomination, he would be one of Trump’s few good choices. It’s not that he has much foreign policy experience, other than helping to manage the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But he has a good grasp of foreign policy, as he demonstrated in the 2012 campaign.

My suspicion though is that Mitt is being toyed with. Trump is notorious for holding grudges, and Mitt was particularly outspoken against Trump when he was running for the GOP nomination. Trump likes to, well, trump other people: show his power and superiority and then find a way to humiliate someone as thoroughly as possible. Getting Mitt’s hopes up and making him think he’s in the running when he is not would be much more true to his modus operandi. But we’ll see.

Still, I dream of Mitt in the Oval Office, and I find it curiously calming. When it comes to it, all I really want is a grownup in charge of the country and this means I’ve had to lower my standards tremendously. It’s abundantly clear that Trump does not qualify as a grownup, but he will sadistically enjoy shaking down and terrifying America as much as he can for as long as we are unwise enough to give him the reigns.

 
The Thinker

Election 2016 postmortem, part two

Now that the shock of Donald Trump’s election is some three weeks behind us it’s time for a second look at this astounding election. There has been misinformation about this election that time now allows us to clear up. Submitted for your consideration:

  • Trump has no mandate. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and it looks like it will be by about 2.5 percentage points and 2.5 million votes. Assuming no states flip as a result of recounts starting in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump wins the Electoral College 306 to 232. This was achieved by narrow wins in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan by 70,000, 70,000 and 17,000 votes respectively. Had Clinton won these states, she would have won 297 to 243. Trump won by turning out more people in states that mattered, but just barely. In voting terms, he just barely squeaked by. Even if there are no voting irregularities, his election is tainted. He is not the people’s choice. He is the Electoral College’s choice, which has a built in bias that favors rural states. Trump and Republicans should not read too much into this win. This would normally suggest that governing should be done through accommodation and finding middle ground. Of course, the opposite is likely to happen, so most Americans will greet his government with hostility when it dramatically overreaches because of its lack of mandate.
  • Democrats picked up seats. While Democrats failed to win majority in either the House or the Senate, they did pick up 2 or 3 Senate seats (depending on the outcome of a Louisiana runoff). In the House, Democrats picked up 6 seats. When Republicans try to ram through their agenda because they have “united” government they are likely to find that it will breed the sort of resentment that Obama and Democrats experienced after their wins in 2008. Moreover, Trump will not have a filibuster-proof Senate.
  • Republicans picked up just two governorships. Only two states (New Hampshire and Missouri) flipped from Democratic to Republican governors. The North Carolina race has still not been called, but Democrat Roy Cooper has a narrow lead that is unlikely to go away. Considering there were 8 Democratic seats and 4 Republican seats up for grabs, this is not too bad for Democrats.
  • Democrats netted 1 state chamber. Republicans took Iowa and Minnesota’s senates and Kentucky’s house. Democrats shut Republicans out of both houses in Nevada, turning it into a blue state, and flipped New Mexico and Alaska’s house chambers.
  • Republicans made modest pickups in state house and senate races. Across our fifty states, Republicans added 40 state seats and Democrats lost 41 seats. While that sounds like a lot, there are 7383 seat altogether. That’s an overall change of about .55% nationwide.

So by any standard except for the Electoral College, this was not a Republican wave election. So when you hear this pervasive line, challenge it because it is wrong. Republican gains were largely a result of doing a better job of turning out voters than Democrats did, but the result was marginal at best.

The big win (and really the only big win) that Republicans can celebrate is winning the presidency. No doubt this is a huge win and worthy of celebrating if you are a Republican. And that came from squeaking by in a number of states. This win was due entirely to the Electoral College. The wide variance in this election between the popular and the electoral vote points to what is becoming a pervasive failing of the Electoral College. It used to be highly unusual when the electoral vote was at variance with the popular vote. Now it’s becoming almost routine, given Gore’s narrow loss to Bush in 2000.

Both the U.S. House and Senate remained in Republican hands, but by somewhat diminished margins. Republicans maintain a huge lead in control of statehouses and governorships, but the margins did not change significantly in this election.

The reality is that except for the change in the party and the character of our next president, the 2016 election netted out to be very much a status quo election.

 
The Thinker

Constitutional crisis dead ahead

Like many of you I woke up November 9 feeling nauseous, upset and wanting desperately to hide under my pillow. Actually, I didn’t sleep on election night. I tried but it just didn’t work. My heart was racing like a freight train. I didn’t have a stethoscope, but I’m sure my heart was skipping beats. It was made worse being in a hotel on election night and having to fly home the next morning. CNN was everywhere. With three hours between flights and stuck in Atlanta I wanted escape CNN but found no escape from it until I got home.

Days later I still hadn’t fully recovered but the shock of Trump’s election faded somewhat. That was until a few days ago when Trump started appointing and nominating people that will form his administration. I should not have been surprised that it was full of racists, misogynists, anti-environmentalists, pro-lifers, and pretty much the worst possible people for positions of power, including a U.N. ambassador with no diplomatic experience and a new Education secretary that hates public schools.

Then there was Trump himself, still clueless about the office he will inhabit in two months. He’s not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton he said, which at least had the effect of pissing off most of his supporters: you know the ones who delight in making people they hate suffer. They were relentlessly chanting, “Lock her up!” at his rallies. How good of you Donald, except that as president you would have no authority to do this at all. That would be a decision that your Attorney General could independently decide to look into, but anyone who has read the news in any detail knows that Hillary won’t be charged with anything anyhow because the FBI has already looked into it and there is no legal case.

It’s totally embarrassing how clueless Trump is about the actual powers the president has. You would think after campaigning for a year that he would have a clue by now. He doesn’t and he doesn’t seem to be appointing advisers who understand or will tell him the limits of the president’s powers. He plans to wing this presidency thing, like he winged his campaign, which guarantees he will continually do stupid and probably illegal stuff. He’s not even in office yet and he’s doing stuff that would have special prosecutors nipping at his heels in any other administration. You know, stuff like promoting his business interests when he meets with an Indian hotelier carrying his Trump brand or when talking to the president of Brazil. Then there is the goofy stuff, like for every new regulation he says he will get rid of two others. He just waives a magic wand and it will somehow get done.

A year or so back when I was contemplating a Trump presidency, I suggested that if elected both Republicans and Democrats would happily impeach and convict the guy. Now I am not so sure. Logically he has so much baggage that with his shoes tied together it shouldn’t take too many steps before he falls on his face. He disposed of the Trump University lawsuit this week (after saying he wouldn’t settle) but there are plenty more suits in the wings, and potential criminal charges if allegations of having sex with a minor can be substantiated. It’s unclear now whether House Republicans would impeach him or not. Their success is now tied to Trump’s. Even if impeached, would the Senate (also in Republican hands) convict him, when doing so would undercut the Republican brand and set them up for failure in 2018 or 2020? Or will he instead spend four years bullying his way through the Congress and let the voters sort it out in 2020? The latter is much more likely.

Everywhere he goes Trump is likely to be hounded by protesters. When protestors aren’t hounding him there will be plenty of Democrats in Congress as well doing their best to block his agenda. With Clinton’s lead in the popular vote now in excess of two million votes, and with suspicions by some of vote rigging in key precincts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, it feels like America is on the verge of being ripped apart. We will have open racists in the White House. If his plans come to fruition then at best certain Muslims might be in a national registry, at worst in internment camps like we did to the Japanese during World War 2. The feeling of injustice regarding the election is pervasive; the ineptness of the incoming administration looks catastrophic. Will Americans respect our constitutional government when it is at such variance with the popular will? What will we do when Trump orders entities like the National Guard to round up “illegals” in our sanctuary cities where mayors have pledged they will not let this happen?

Maybe many of these fears simply won’t come to pass. Trump seems to be signaling that he is going to kiss off many of his supporters now that he’s won the election: he basically cucked them. He told the New York Times that he would look into this climate change thing. Moderating on a few things though will hardly be enough because he will have cronies in place to do maximum damage. He shows both the temperament and the predisposition of someone willing to see what he can get away with through fiat. It’s clear that most of those who voted for him will cheer him on if he tries, and support him with their personal arsenals if necessary.

It looks like some eighty years after Sinclair Lewis wrote his novel It Can’t Happen Here, it’s happening today and it’s our misfortune to live through such times. Political institutions seem no longer moored to the constitution, but only to their party loyalties. In the 1970s both Democrats and Republicans came together to hold President Nixon accountable for actions by his staff to undermine the 1972 election. It led to Nixon’s resignation. Today, voter suppression is a feature of red states. I don’t see holding Trump accountable happening during his term. Except for a few principled Republicans like Senator John McCain, these characters are almost absent in the Republican Party.

It was this realization that made me feel sick and queasy again. I sense in my gut that our nation is in great peril, a constitutional crisis is coming, and it’s coming soon. I also sense that there are simply not the men and women of character that will do follow the law and our constitution.

I sure as hell hope that I am wrong.

 
The Thinker

Assessing the Obama administration

Nearly eight years later it’s not too soon for a final critique of the Obama administration. How you feel about the administration is probably tied toward your feelings for Obama himself, and few seem to be neutral. In spite of Donald Trump’s general election win though it’s clear from Obama’s final approval ratings that overall Americans approve of him and his administration. The last approval rating I saw had his approval rating at 54%, and it’s been above 50% for some months now. Given our highly polarized political climate, this is pretty good. This means that overall Obama would probably earn a B as president.

Americans expect their presidents to be supermen. Trump’s election proves this is still true. Indeed, it’s probably true to say Trump won by projecting this superman image. Trump has famously promised to drain the swamp. We’ll see how well he does over the next four years. It’s not hard to predict that he will fail at this. As President Obama found out, institutional forces are stronger than any president or Congress. That’s because real change is hard.

Obama though started out his term with a Democratic House and Senate. Trump will have the same privilege but not with the veto-proof Senate that Obama enjoyed. When you have this trifecta real change is possible. Obama’s success here was really due to having a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2008. That’s how the Affordable Care Act got enacted into law. It almost certainly would not have happened otherwise.

The ACA is arguably his greatest domestic achievement, one that Trump and Republicans seem intent to unravel if they can. Getting it even through a Democratic congress though proved frustrating and nearly didn’t happen at all. Obama’s mistake was to stay relatively disengaged from its creation. The wheeling and dealing in Congress in its creation gave it structural deficiencies that may cause it to be repealed. It’s unclear whether if Obama had bashed some heads it would have emerged in a form that would have been more viable. It’s clear in retrospect that not having a public option was a serious flaw, as it made it harder to contain costs. Still, much of the ACA worked. It ensured twenty million Americans who hadn’t had health insurance before, mostly due to the expansion of Medicaid. For at least four years these people will have had quality insurance, mostly for the first time, although how affordable it was is debatable. If “affordable” means plans with high deductibles and copays, it sets up a losing scenario for those with the least income.

So I think it’s fair to criticize Obama for being too disengaged in the politicking aspect of his job. It’s clear that he preferred the cozy White House to the grubby business of wheeling and dealing with Congress. Particularly after the Republican wave in 2010 it was clear that his wings were clipped and that the remainder of his administration would be tactical in nature to keep what was earned. His game became mostly defense at this point. To his credit, he played an excellent game of defense against an implacable and united Republicans in Congress.

It’s also quite clear to me that his effectiveness was undercut substantially by being mixed race. Perceived as black it pressed all the unstated buttons of racial animus among Republicans, feelings that were clearly expressed in the election of Donald Trump. Republicans were not ready for a black president, not even a black Republican president, let alone a woman and it unleashed a powerful and almost primal rage from them. His race caused them to dig in their heels to an extraordinary degree and animated opposition against Obama. It arguably created the Tea Party, an overwhelmingly racist group of people. Certainly if Obama had been white there would still have been tension, but it’s unlikely he would have been so relentlessly stonewalled by Republicans.

So as a wheeler-dealer Obama gets at best a C. That’s not to say that he didn’t show other extraordinary strengths elsewhere. As Commander in Chief, he gets an A from me. We haven’t totally gotten out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but our presence in both countries is minimal while people who live there are shouldering more of the burden. He proved intelligent and tenacious as a Commander in Chief, famously tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden.

Obviously he had some foreign policy failings, principally Syria and Libya. In truth though neither of these, particularly Syria, was solvable and bound to explode in anyone’s face. Some of his decisions were controversial, such as the use of predator drones, often killing innocent people. But he adroitly kept us from getting entangled in yet another foreign war. If Trump proves to be typically Republican, our armed forces will be back into these melees soon after he is inaugurated.

One of the most amazing aspects about his administration was its scandal-free nature. This is virtually unheard of and was certainly not representative of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations. Obama proved himself to be a man of integrity and those values projected down through his entire administration. I expect this to change quickly in a Trump administration. In retrospect this will be seen as one of Obama’s greatest achievements. In addition he never succumbed to the moral failings that dogged other presidents.

Obama proved a seasoned administrator who was systematically cautious and thoughtful before making any decisions. He was adamant that decisions should be based on facts and by diving deeply into the underlying policy issues. He was uniformly cool under pressure, and made smart decisions like using diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program.

Personally, Obama was a consistent gentleman. He was thoughtful and always measured his words carefully. He was truly inspirational but like any president he was caught in a political web notoriously difficult to fundamentally change. It’s not clear to many Americans, particularly those who opposed him, but he did work in their best interest, such as economic policies that caused resurgence in the auto industry and spurred the growth of green technologies. Time will make this clearer. It won’t take many years (or even months) under a Trump administration before even his critics will feel wistful about the man, someone at least consistent, reliable and caring. He will be missed and appreciated, and distance will make this fondness grow.

Thank you, Mr. President for being a truly model civil servant.

 

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