It’s time for a jubilee

The Thinker by Rodin

Seems like our world is going to hell in a corona basket.

I remember at the end of 2019 all my friends were saying they were never so glad to see a year end. 2019 was a miserable year. Now, most of us would prefer to be back to 2019. A recession that looks like it will become a depression and COVID-19, which may kill a million or more of us, seems like the beginning of the Armageddon that so many so-called Christians are looking forward to. Perhaps that’s why many of them were cheering Trump’s suggestion that everything go back to normal on Easter Sunday.

On that last point, I was going to make a blog post just on that, but I can’t possibly restate any better what so many others have already said about Trump’s unbelievable narcissism. Trump wants us to die so he can get reelected. The smart ones though are going to take a pass and will keep sheltering in place and obsessively washing hands and surfaces. I know we are. Evolution is not called “survival of the fittest” for nothing. For those happy to place emotion or devotion to an insane leader over rational behavior, well, you’ll be one of hundreds of thousands of candidates for the 2020 Darwin Awards. Clearly you weren’t reading my blog, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So rather than restate what so many others have already said, let me talk about something that isn’t being much talked about: the way our economy works appears to be crumbling. What do I mean by that? I mean the way we have been running an economy where the rich continue to get richer, the poor more desperate and in debt, and our government more dysfunctional is ripe. It’s not only not working, it’s not working badly for us. We are ripe for revolutionary changes. This upcoming depression (which it looks likely to be) should make us anxious for another New Deal.

It won’t look quite the same as the New Deal and hopefully any depression will be short lived. But our economy is loaded to the maximum with debt. Pretty much everyone, except the rich, holds it. That’s individuals and corporations, made possible by low interest rates since the Great Recession. The Federal Reserve’s recovery plan is to cut interest rates to zero or even lower, trying to coax us to take on even more debt. That’s because they don’t have any other tools to use. Trying to grow out of a depression based on taking on more debt that we already couldn’t afford doesn’t sound very sound to me. It feels desperate, as if we are desperately trying to keep the rules of our old sinking economy alive. The so-called $2T recovery bill signed into law today is an attempt to keep this hamster wheel turning.

I don’t think this will work. First, look how long it took us to emerge from the Great Recession. When we did emerge, our growth rate was always anemic. You’d be hard-pressed to find any quarter where our GDP increased by more than three percent annually. Our economy was like an overloaded subcompact running on three cylinders trying to merge onto the Interstate. It took a long time to get up to highway speeds. And while we technically recovered, we never really felt we recovered because we never fundamentally solved the problems that got us into it in the first place. The half-hearted attempts by Democrats in 2009 and 2010 were not nearly enough.

In fact, we went back and made the same stupid mistakes all over again, such as getting rid of much of Dodd-Frank banking regulation that was supposed to prevent it from happening again. The fundamentals of our recovering economy were never sound, but were propped up by low interest rates which had the side effect of causing markets to rise. Companies used cheap credit to buy back their own stocks, inflating their stock prices to surreal levels. The bubble would have burst anyhow; the coronavirus thing just made the hole gaping instead of possibly manageable.

What would really make the economy roar back when this pandemic is contained is a big haircut to a lot of creditors. Because an economy can’t roar back if overleveraged people have no cash to buy stuff. What we really need is a jubilee. This is where we force creditors to wipe their debt slates clean.

Take, for example, student loans. Last I checked, there were about a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, owed by people the least able to pay them back. Desperate for an education instead of flipping burgers for forty years, they didn’t have much choice but to pay usury interest rates for educations whose costs were vastly inflated. Let’s declare all that debt insolvent. The creditors will scream, but a lot of people will have money to spend again on things that matter like food and housing.

It could be done for lots of debts. Write off, say, 25% of mortgage debt on housing purchased for up to $500,000. Wipe out 50% of credit card debt. If you want to encourage thrift, revert the debt if more is incurred over the next five years.

And tax the rich. They’ve been bleeding the rest of us dry for too long, in the process allowing infrastructure and services to degrade. Institute Elizabeth Warren’s proposed 2% wealth tax. Raise rates just to where there were for rich households during the Reagan Administration. Tax dividends the same as ordinary income, or higher. Make work pay again.

Then do what we all know we need to do: make Medicare available to all. Much household debt and personal bankruptcies are due to medical costs that are out of control. Controlling medical costs frees up all sorts of money for more productive use. Institute living wages for everyone with annual increases that keep pace with inflation. Overturn right to work laws.

This is probably beyond a President Biden. But without it, I suspect a President Biden will discover what President Obama discovered: the system will work in counterproductive ways against the needs of the people instead.

Our election, if it can be held fairly, will likely put Democrats in control of government plus give them the margins needed to make real change happen. The question is whether Democrats have learned their lesson, and can institute the changes we need to make the economy work for everyone again.

If not, election 2022 will look a lot like Election 2010, and the crazy cycle will continue to repeat and move us into second world status.

Expect a recession

The Thinker by Rodin

A recession is coming. It’s probably already here; we just can’t prove it yet.

The trigger was the emergence of the coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 disease in late 2019 in China, but if it hadn’t happened it would have likely happened later in the year anyhow. As predicted it’s spreading all over the globe. People are already starting to hunker down. In some places it’s getting hard to find bottled water, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

This is an overreaction. You don’t need bottled water unless the public water supply system goes out, which it won’t. And even if somehow the water is unclean, you can boil it. Fear of course makes people overly cautious, but it’s currently way overblown. It’s the fear that is driving down the stock market and making people buy too much toilet paper.

The world economy is now built on specialization and trade, so when China’s manufacturing sector takes an indefinite hit, it’s going to have large worldwide ripples. It’s already happening, but if you need proof you just have to look at Chinese ports, where little is going out or coming in. When items like rolled sheet metal don’t make it to manufacturing markets, value-added products can’t get produced. That will cause layoffs. But fear in general will cause people to be cautious with their money. The Fed can cut its discount rate by half a percent, but it won’t do much to solve the underlying problem.

Coronavirus was perhaps half the reason I sold twenty percent of my stocks and moved them into bonds on February 14, at just about peak market. Even then, it wasn’t too hard to see how this was likely to go. With the wholly inept response by the Trump Administration, it was clear that an intelligent response to the health crisis wasn’t going to be forthcoming. We could have been much better prepared than we were, but instead Trump cut the Center for Disease Control’s budget. Voters won’t forgive incompetence when it kills their family, friends and neighbors.

It’s also becoming clearer that this virus will not only put us into recession but turn into a pandemic. It’s pretty much there already. It’s not hard to catch and there is no vaccine available. Potentially 40-70% of us could contract it. For most of us, a bout of the flu will be much worse, but since it will spread so easily and has about a two percent mortality rate, it’s going to take a lot of lives.

There are 330 million Americans. It’s realistic that 10% of us will contract the virus this year, and there may be more next year. At a two percent mortality rate, it’s likely to kill about 660,000 of us this year, principally the aged and infirmed. This is just a ballpark figure, but it’s likely to be the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 Spanish Flu. I live in a 55+ community, with most of my neighbors probably 75+. If it gets me, it’s unlikely to kill me, but it’s likely to kill a few of my neighbors. Most neighborhoods will see at least a few casualties from this virus.

So of course we are going on a cruise. It’s hard to get out of as it’s paid for, but the cruise line won’t let in people cruise who fail a health check or who have traveled through certain countries recently. It’s unlikely to affect our cruise beyond perhaps being denied ports of call. But it’s still worrisome. 660 people on the cruise ship Diamond Princess out of Japan contracted the virus and 7 died, in part because Japan wouldn’t let them off the ship into proper quarantine facilities.

I’m not panicking. Prevention is mostly being vigilant, which means washing hands frequently. Still, cruise ships are great places to pass it on, as the Diamond Princess learned, because of the centralized air conditioning which can push the virus through the whole ship. In general, being in close quarters is not a good idea, and you can’t avoid that on a cruise ship.

Speaking of which, the travel industry will slump. Actually, it will go into a depression. And that will affect a large supply chain of its own, which will feed a downward economic spiral.

What can you do? Don’t overreact, but also take sensible precautions. Wash your hands regularly, particularly after touching foreign surfaces, with soap, for 20 seconds or more. A vaccine is probably at least a year away. This means you could easily get the virus anyhow, just realize that it probably won’t kill you, but it will be widespread.

With luck you can avoid it until there is a vaccine, but even when it’s available it will go to the elderly and infirmed first. One in 50 odds of dying is very good odds. Unfortunately, the way our society is ordered will make it worse here. So many workers have no sick leave, so they will come to work and spread it further. It’s the downside of a gig economy and our poor labor standards. Those who can will work from home. Those who can’t will bear much of the risk and be the principle carriers.

It also probably means that Trump will be a one-term president. He is managing this as ineptly as we feared. It won’t take too many MAGAers to die before their friends notice. It will help people put their prejudices aside and force them to understand the value of science again. At least I hope it will. It should.

Trump is likely a drug addict

The Thinker by Rodin

Trump’s presidency is going to be one for the record books, just not in a good way. I can’t wait for all the tell-all books that come out after he leaves office, once he is officially neutered. But I can already tell you what a lot of them are going to say because we already know the gist of them in our guts. At this point, not even his supporters would disagree that he is thoroughly corrupt and self-dealing; they just don’t care.

But it case you haven’t guessed it, Trump is probably a drug addict too. We don’t know exactly what he’s addicted to, but we have some pretty good guesses. We also know what he is not addicted to: alcohol. Trump is a famous teetotaler. He reportedly drinks up to twelve Diet Cokes a day. Caffeine is legal, so you can’t jail him for this kind of Coke abuse, but it in part explains his minimal sleeping. It’s unlikely he is shooting heroin, but it’s pretty clear he is snorting Adderall and maybe meth too.

This has been the buzz for sometime, but in my mind is went from possible to probable after watching this Thom Hartmann clip:

In the clip, Hartmann plays part of an interview with CJAD (Canadian radio station). The host interviews Noel Casler, a comedian. He attended parties with Trump in the 90s and worked with him on Celebrity Apprentice. Casler says that Trump snorted cocaine at these events, used meth, and got his stash from local drug dealers. He used Adderall as a kind of low grade high most of the time. (An article is here.) On set, the powder was frequently seen coming out of his nose, and he got through a lot of takes with the help of off camera cue cards. If we need more witnesses, we just need to talk to others at these parties or on the show. It sounds like plenty could confirm them.

Hartmann then discusses with his guest, Dr. Justin A. Frank, some of the symptoms of Adderall abuse, and boy, it sure sounds like Trump has them all. Other things could cause them, but it definitely flunks the Occam’s Razor test. Trump barely sleeps, tweets at 3 AM, seems to act impulsively most of the time and has almost no attention span. These are symptoms frequently seen with Adderall abuse.

It would also explain his sniffing. Last October, David Pakman did a similar story on Trump’s likely Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) abuse. In this case, you can clearly see the Sudafed in a drawer during a campaign when Trump was promoting eating Mexican by, er, eating from a taco bowl made in Trump Tower. It explains his constantly dilated eyes, but if it’s to control his sniffing, it’s not working too well. I’d recommend an antihistamine, but I suspect it’s the Adderall that’s the root of the sniffing.

Which also means that someone is giving Trump drugs. It might be the White House physician, but it’s unlikely. Much more likely is that it’s some drug supplier he’s been using for years. As for Sudafed, it’s a controlled substance too, as you may have discovered if you tried to buy some at the drug store. It’s generic, but it’s behind the counter and at least in my state they will record your purchase and write down your driver’s license number. The information goes to the DEA. Large quantities of Sudafed can be used to make methamphetamine. Maybe instead of taking Sudafed to open his sinuses, Trump’s got his own little meth lab somewhere in the White House.

Most of his supporters probably don’t believe these stories, but it looks like they could be easily corroborated, at least as something he used to do. Or if the 25th Amendment were actually viable, Pence would suspend his presidency until he clears a drug test, and threaten to invoke it again if he ever failed a drug test. Maybe he should get a weekly checkup from a neutral physician just so we can rest easier that it’s not the drugs doing Trump’s decision making. But anyhow, his supporters will probably be okay with his drug abuse too. It seems there is no behavior of his they won’t excuse.

That’s why the tell-all books are going to be fascinating reading. It’s mostly Trump’s bullying that have kept most of these books from coming out. His bullying is a real threat, and there are plenty of his supporters unhinged enough to threaten those who tell the truth about him. As I noted, he’s already doing this with Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and Mitt Romney. So most will choose to wait until it is safe to publish. I bet there are many first drafts in the works.

In a normal society, when all this comes out it should kill the Republican Party. I believed years ago that Trump would end up killing the party, as he thoroughly corrupted it. But it was largely corrupt before he became its head. Before Trump though there were red lines that Republicans would not cross. It’s never been deficits, but in the past behaviors like drug abuse and infidelity have been red lines. No more. The only way to get kicked out of the Republican Party is not being a Trump toady. Ask Justin Amash.

It remains to be seen if the rest of American is as sick as Trump and the Republican Party. We’ll know on November 3.

Our constitutional crisis has arrived

The Thinker by Rodin

With the Senate’s “exoneration” of Donald Trump last week, and his subsequent but wholly predictable reaction to it, our constitutional crisis has now formally arrived.

I’ve been warning about it for years, twice in 2016 alone, but it’s now here. Unfortunately, there is no knight in shining armor to save us. Turmoil and a likely tainted election are ahead, with a good chance that Trump will try a constitutional coup before then.

You can see it in his increasingly unhinged tweets. He’s been posting over a hundred of these a day lately, but now that he feels he can govern with impunity, he’s off on a rampage. His rampage is likely to get much, much worse because we know what happens with narcissists with power. Arguably he’s got more power than any narcissist since Adolf Hitler. Like Richard Nixon, he’s got his enemies list, but unlike Richard Nixon he’s knows he can get away with pretty much anything now. In Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon got next in line Robert Bork to fire the special prosecutor investigating him, after his attorney general and deputy attorney general wouldn’t do as ordered, and resigned. Robert Bork, who later went up for an ill-fated Supreme Court seat, had no such scruples.

Trump already has his cabinet of sycophants, so he’s taking it out on those who testified against him. His Friday Night Massacre removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland for testifying truthfully. Also gone, just out of spite, is Vindman’s brother and identical twin Yevgeny, who also happened to work in the White House.

This is likely just the start. An enraged Trump has a whole host of other targets including Mitt Romney who had the audacity to vote to convict him on one charge, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Adam Schiff. Moreover, he’s been combing government looking for ways to make others pay. All New Yorkers on the TSA’s Trusted Travelers program are being punished because its legislature made it a sanctuary state; they can’t use it. But that’s not all. Exports of New York titled vehicles have been put on hold until further notice.

Schiff’s life has been threatened. Threats are reported against Mitt Romney, who at least is independently wealthy to ensure his own safety is uncompromised. Doubtless Nancy Pelosi is getting threats too. This is probably not new for her, but the number of them is likely increasing. Trump is determined to make as many people hurt as possible for his mental illness.

With all but one Republican dutifully voting to acquit the president, the Senate obviously won’t hold him accountable should the House impeach Trump again. The election is supposed to straighten this all out, even though it will be an even more unfair and tilted election than the 2016 election. Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Barr says he has to approve all political investigations now and is setting up a channel for wholly discredited “evidence” “uncovered” by Rudy Guiliani against Joe and Hunter Biden to be considered for prosecution.

All this is because no one can tell Trump that he is wearing no clothes. With the possible exception of Mitt Romney, there’s not one Republican in Congress who’s got the balls to stand up to Trump. Oh, and by the way, lots of Republicans, including Donald Trump Jr., want to kick Romney out of the Republican Party. At least one member of the Utah legislature wants the legislature to censure him for his vote, even though it doesn’t have the power. Like Donald Trump, this Utah legislator doesn’t seem inclined to let law get in the way.

All this amounts to a huge rage by Trump but also from all those who support him. Trump has not only proven that he has a raging case of malignant narcissism, but his supporters have one as well. Evidence does not matter in the least. The Senate will let Trump do what he wants. Bill Barr has forced the Justice Department to stop applying impartial justice. And our conservative leaning Supreme Court seems content to stand on the sidelines.

I expect Trump to keep pushing the envelope. When he discovers that no one will hold him accountable, he will keep upping the ante. It will get worse and worse; mark my words. Losing the election is his only fear. If he loses power, he can be held accountable for his crimes and he cannot let that happen. So if it comes to it, he will make sure the election system is corrupted, or Americans he doesn’t like simply don’t get to vote. Or institute some sort of coup, if he can get the military to do it. I can see him shutting down the Capitol.

Our constitutional system of checks and balances has been shredded. Republicans have proven that they will put party over country and simply don’t care that in doing so we are no longer a representative government. Which doesn’t leave a lot of hope.

Mass protests will do little; Trump and Republicans have proven inured to them already. A huge economic downturn might help, but I hate to root for that. Change tends to happen only during times of great pain.

What I really hope for is that white knight. House Democrats have largely done all they can do. Mitt Romney though could go the extra mile. He could say the emperor has no clothes: that Donald Trump is very mentally ill, he is destroying our constitutional system of government, and his mental health should be assessed by a panel of nonpartisan physicians. It probably wouldn’t change anything, but it’s what I’m hoping for at the moment.

In truth, this black time is turning obsidian. Only Trump getting a sudden deadly stroke might change this around. From his crazy, rage-filled days spent tweeting about his enemies, who knows? His blood pressure must be sky high. It may be closer than we think.

I’m not a praying man, but it’s time for me to pray … fervently.

Opening Pandora’s box

The Thinker by Rodin

The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789. After the constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of government we were going to get. He famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Next Wednesday may be the end of our republic. That’s when the U.S. Senate is likely to acquit Donald Trump. The U.S. Senate is basically enshrining Richard Nixon’s assertion that if the president does it, it’s not illegal. Richard Nixon’s corpse would be smiling, if that were possible.

It will be an entirely predictable end to a trial in which no one seriously disagrees the president committed impeachable crimes, including the president’s lawyers. They just say that he has immunity from them. Republican senators seem to agree, setting the precedent that the president is above the law, or above any meaningful check by Congress. Senators can’t even be bothered to call witnesses. Many of them, rather than listening to the testimony presented, were caught reading books and doing crosswords instead.

So after his “exoneration”, it’s likely that if Trump wanted to arrest dissidents and deny them the right of a jury trial, he could get away with it. Because even if impeached again, the Senate won’t throw him out of office for offenses like this. There’s really nothing Trump won’t be able to get away with after Wednesday, and given his temperament you know he’s going to try. It’s likely to make all Republicans except the Never Trumpers giddy. It’s what they have been hoping for all along.

Oh, but there’s an election coming up! Voters will rectify things! Things aren’t so bleak after all! Since Trump’s election, Democrats have been on the upswing, winning the House, winning seats in the Senate and turning Virginia blue. But even if all of this happens, the precedent is now set. Congress has essentially voluntarily ceded power, allowing the Executive to become even more powerful, and itself more irrelevant. The script has now been tried and tested. Whether Republican or Democrat, the president can now simply refuses to respond to any congressional subpoenas. Unless two-thirds of the Senate agree to remove him from office, he or she has carte blanc.

A fair election in 2020 is problematic. There is the usual voter suppression and gerrymandering, which will be dialed up to 11 for November 3. The U.S. Senate is fine if other countries want to hack our election system or set up disinformation campaigns, even though it is explicitly against U.S. law. The U.S. Senate has effectively nullified lots of laws like this by simply refusing to hold accountable those charged with enforcing them. In short, the law means nothing to our senators, unless it can be used against their political enemies. Law is now meant to be applied selectively, and as a political weapon. Trump has an attorney general who agrees and who now states this as policy.

We are in a huge mess because our senators refused to do their job. Our system of checks and balances has proven able to be hacked. Our founders assumed that institutional forces would make these forces work. They did not want political parties, but we created them anyhow. As a consequence, 231 years later this system has proven fatally flawed.

The only chance of rectifying this is if Democrats win the trifecta in November: turning both houses of Congress and the executive blue. And even then there are institutional forces that make returning to a real republic problematic at best.

We can start with Donald Trump who you know will claim the election is rigged if he loses and will refuse to vacate the White House. Most likely he will see if he can affect a military coup to retain his hold on power. After all, if the election he is trying to rig goes against him, it must be illegitimate. Then it will be up to our military to resist the urge. I’d like to say I have faith they will resist, but we live in extraordinary times.

But even if Trump loses and goes, even if Democrats win a trifecta, there is a court system now full of cronies of Trump and Republicans designed to thwart any progress. You know the courts will find a reason to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Any universal health care plan that a President Sanders wants to put in place will be judged unconstitutional as well. A likely recession will weigh against a Democratic president and a Democratic congress, as the 2010 election showed.

Then there are the hosts of other issues that need addressing, with climate change at the top of the list. But since our constitution is now broken, it must be fixed too. That will require constitutional amendments that will be very hard to ratify. To start, the system of checks and balances needs to be changed. The impeachment and conviction process for presidents needs to change. The Justice Department must by statute and funding be under the supervision of the courts, not the executive.

It’s enough to make anyone despair. We cannot despair. Instead, we must get busy. We must reclaim our republic. Freedom is not free, and democracy is not free. We must fight for its return, with our blood if necessary.

Some surprisingly simple ways to actually grow the economy

The Thinker by Rodin

In my last post, I discussed why the soaring stock market doesn’t mean a lot to most people. Roughly half of us don’t have the money to buy into the stock market, and most of us that do can only afford to do so through a retirement vehicle like a 401-K or an IRA. The principle value of a rise in stock prices is to inflate the wealth of those who bought stocks.

So the rich get richer while those who can’t afford them have to hope that their wage increases will exceed inflation. And so far, that hasn’t happened. Real wages, accounting for inflation, dropped .1% drop November through December 2019. Another sign it doesn’t mean much: the USA’s growth rate is 1.9%, at least as of the last quarter of 2019. This should suggest to most of us that markets are overvalued, and are due for a correction.

If Donald Trump is going to run on his greatest ever economy claim, then two percent growth must be outstanding. It’s not a recession but it suggests our real economy is anemic, just growing a bit while most of the rest of the world’s economy is starting to falter or is faltering. During his first campaign, Trump made it sound like 4% growth would be the absolute minimum that voters could expect. He’s failing at his own benchmark.

He’s been trying to juice up the economy with tax cuts. But as with the stock market, these tax cuts hardly affected the bulk of us and in some cases raised our taxes, such as the caps on state and local taxes that you can deduct from your federal taxes. The tax cuts definitely cut taxes on the rich and gave them a whole lot more money to do things like buy more stocks. One thing the rich aren’t doing is juicing the economy with all this new money by actually buying stuff. The trickle-down economy was never more than this: just a trickle of prosperity coming down to the rest of us from our betters.

Still, if 4% growth were a true goal, I can think of pretty easy ways to do it. So can Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. To start, we could take those tax cuts we gave to the rich and redirect them to the poor and middle class instead, who will almost certainly go out and spend it. This will cause the economy to grow, certainly by more than it has in our trickle-down economy, because the money will be used to actually buy goods and services.

Even better, we could redirect those trillions for the rich into service for the public good. Republicans clearly don’t want to address climate change, and certainly not with our tax dollars. It won’t stop climate change from happening anyhow. Trump’s trying to jumpstart the economy by stripping environmental protections clearly isn’t working either, but it is shortening our lifespans.

But it’s a sure bet that if that money were redirected to improving the environment, it would both cause the growth we want and put it to good use. We could use it to build the clean, green infrastructure we need to survive. That sounds like an excellent use of money. It will stimulate all sorts of jobs. The obvious ones will be in industries like the solar industry, but to go carbon neutral will require investment and ingenuity across our entire economy.

Moreover, if we tax carbon polluters, we can use that money to also build a green economy. I am already a beneficiary of a carbon credit. By putting solar panels on my roof in 2016, I allowed carbon polluters to claim credit for my clean and green energy. Being green paid me $1830 last year. This is real money in my pocket.

Such investments just compound. It stimulates industries like electric car manufacturing, wind energy, geothermal energy, green computing and the manufacture of more energy efficient products. By cleaning the air and water, we improve health. By removing carbon from our environment, we help address climate change.

All this growth in turn helps makes these industries profitable, so dollars start to follow them. Just as the space program brought us microelectronics and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the beginning of the Internet, these investments make a better future possible. And if we can do it sooner than other countries, we stand to gain a disproportionate economic advantage.

But even if you don’t think government should be spending money to do these things, you could still advocate for increases in the minimum wage. This will certainly put money in people’s pockets that can use it the most. As they earn a living wage, there is less need for them to use government services like Food Stamps. That saves the government money, grows the economy and also saves lives. If we were a nation that truly was pro-life, it would be an obvious thing to do.

In short, if Trump were a progressive and had worked for our interests instead of against it, he’d likely not be facing a trial in front of the Senate, wouldn’t need the help of Russia to get reelected and would probably have his election in the bag. Even Democrats like me might have voted for him. Instead, we get an egregious use of tax dollars for counterproductive purposes and the most corrupt president ever.

Let’s hope on November 3, voters act more enlightened.

Trump is bumbling his way toward getting us out of the Middle East

The Thinker by Rodin

Most of us were grinding teeth this week. After our country assassinated a general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, we waited for the inevitable military response from Iran.

Shortly after Iran’s bombs hit two bases in Iraq where our soldiers were stationed, my Facebook page lit up with friends saying we were beginning war with Iran, or maybe even starting World War III.

In general, no one plans to start a world war. Certainly no one expected one after Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in 1914. Our political assassination of General Qasem Soleimani was more or less its equivalent.

We may still get one, but I noted on Facebook that Trump really listens to Fox News, and Tucker Carlson was against going to war with Iran. So ironically, we may have Tucker Carlson to thank for this not escalating this further, at least for the moment. But also, Iran showed more sanity in its response than we did when we killed its general, deliberately targeting its missiles at places on these bases away from American soldiers.

The strange thing is, the more saber rattling we do, the more effectively we push ourselves out of the Middle East. The Iraqi government’s response to our assassination on its soil is to send us packing. At the moment, the Trump administration is playing tone deaf. In reality, our 2003 war in Iraq has brought nothing but misery for the Iraqi people. As bad as Saddam Hussein was, they’d have been much better off had he stayed in power. Most likely most the 200,000 or so Iraqis that subsequently died would still be around, and their infrastructure wouldn’t have collapsed. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard probably would not be in the country. ISIL probably would not have arisen because there would have been no power vacuum. And of course thousands of our soldiers would not have died and we could have spent trillions of dollars on something else, probably more tax cuts for the rich.

Effectively, we made it easier for Iran’s paramilitary forces, not to mention its Revolutionary Guard (an official part of Iran’s government), to extend their influences west and south. This caused even more conflict, principally in Syria and Yemen, but also in places like Lebanon. For the real war in the Middle East is Sunni vs. Shia. Thanks to us, it looks like the Shia now largely control Iraq.

In a way this is good. Those who attacked us on 9/11 were not Shia, but Sunni-aligned. Ironically, the very nation that supplied almost all of the terrorists that caused 9/11 (Saudi Arabia) is now the getting more U.S troops so they can create more future Osama bin Ladens. So, effectively, Iran is winning a lot of ground in the Middle East, largely thanks to our country’s ineptness, and people who practice Shia Islam are occupying and controlling more territory.

None of this is good for peace or for the millions of refugees these conflicts have caused. And arguably it was counterproductive for Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and forces like ISIL related to al Qaeda. A lot of the success for driving out ISIL can be attributed to Iran-leaning paramilitary forces in Iraq and Syria. At times, our troops have worked somewhat awkwardly with these forces. At times, we have even working with General Soleimani, somewhat indirectly, to accomplish the same aims.

If Trump’s secret desire is to disengage us from the Middle East, he may be doing just that in his stupid and inadvertent way. If Iraq succeeds in forcing us to leave its country, at least they won’t have us to cause more death and destruction. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has proven quite effective at getting rid of ISIL. An Iran-dominated Iraqi government with the USA out of there may give Iraq something close to the peace it had before we invaded, minus the prosperity and liberality its citizens often enjoyed.

Withdrawing our modest forces from Syria is doing the same thing: making Syria safe for continued Shia domination. And without an actual war with Iran, which Trump seems now to want to avoid, the net effect of all of this is to extend Shia influence across the Middle East. It’s likely though that none of this had happened had not a headstrong George W. Bush plunged us into a war in Iraq, and our even more inept president Donald J. Trump had not bungled his way through the unbelievable complexities of the politics of the region.

All this of course is not so good if you care about restraining Russia’s sphere of influence. Trump’s actions seem all about letting Russia do just this. None of this brings more freedom and democracy to the people of the Middle East; in fact is does just the opposite. But if you truly want to make the United States more isolationist, Trump seems to be bungling his way toward accomplishing just this, while making his supporters think he is doing just the opposite.

And it will be a lot easier to be isolationist when increasingly the world community see us as crazy and radical as our supposed enemies. We’re not bringing freedom and democracy. We’re doing just the opposite instead. Reagan saw our country as the shining city on the hill. Trump sees our nation as a deeply isolationist one where only white people retain privilege and where we let the rest of the world fend for itself.

Trump is making our country an outlaw country like Iran, one increasingly not even subject to rule of law. Those looking for countries with real freedom and democracy best look elsewhere.

It’s likely to be a crazy 2020

The Thinker by Rodin

In case you haven’t noticed it, were in the midst of Future Shock.

Fifty years ago, Alvin Toffler wrote the book of the same name warning us that a cavalcade of forces were coming together that were likely to make our future a confusing and frightening mess. Future shock is basically the effects if too much change coming at society too quickly.

It’s painfully clear from the last few decades that we are winging this future shock thing. No one has really figured out how to deal with what we’ve unleashed, but there it all is in all its chaos and messiness, so we have no choice but to figure out how best to deal with it somehow. In our new decade, it’s likelier to get worse and get messier.

You might say the Trump Administration started the year off with a bang, by killing Iran’s special forces commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq with a drone strike near Baghdad’s airport. Presumably this was in retaliation for the attack on our embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone, which seems to have been helped by Iranian forces in Iraq.

As usual, Trump didn’t bother to inform Congress of his planned actions, even though the law requires it. If Trump were smart enough to be diabolical, one might envision a strategy behind this. Based on what the polls tell us so far, he’s unlikely to survive reelection, even with all the voter suppression and election hijinks going on. So wars can be convenient if you can rally a nation behind them.

Some of us with longer memories remember how this all began: when President Bush unwisely invaded Iraq in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of lives and about a trillion dollars later, our latest headstrong president seems to be willing to follow the script that got Bush reelected in 2004. Without that horrendously bad and unnecessary war, yesterday’s killing probably would never have happened. It’s not even clear if Iran would still be our enemy.

So expect a lot more tit-for-tat now, but whether it can be deescalated at some point is problematic. A lot of Americans really have no idea why we should hate Iran anyhow. There are plenty of reasons why Iranians should hate us. We overturned its system of government twice and led many embargoes and other actions against the country over the decades. It’s true that to some extent they sponsor international terrorism, but plenty of other countries do too and anyhow so far they haven’t directed it at us. Iran is not nearly as evil as North Korea, and yet Trump told us he “fell in love” with its dictator Kim Jong Un. In general, Trump seems to love dictators. But perhaps he doesn’t like Iran because it’s not dictatorial enough. They do have a real legislature, after all, although its decisions can be overruled by their Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Their legislature may be more fairly representative than ours.

Anyhow, this killing is not a good omen, so we may look back on 2019 with some nostalgia. Our 2020 election, no matter how you look at it, will be bad. If Trump wins reelection, that obviously will be bad: he’ll have four years to govern with impunity because Congress will refuse to check him. If he loses, Democrats win, and Democrats take Congress, Trump probably will say the election was rigged against him, will refuse to concede, barricade himself in the White House and bring on a constitutional crisis that way. His supporters are already threatening civil war if he is impeached and removed – how democratic of them! But Trump has never been about democracy, he’s about authoritarianism. In short, November 3 is likely to be the most momentous day in our history since the real Civil War began, and might spark a new one. Happy New Year!

Meanwhile, we’ll probably look back on Trump’s 2017-2019 presidency as the good old days. His tweets get more numerous, threatening and blacker every day. His lying increases at exponential levels. Trump is scared of accountability, so he will pull all stops to get reelected and it’s likely his party will aid and abet him. We probably can’t count on the courts to help us, certainly not after Citizens United. Trump’s inevitable Senate trial will result in a partisan exoneration which of course he will tout endlessly.

I can take some schadenfreude perhaps in Trump’s misery, except that we cannot escape his misery: he inflicts it on everyone. My hope, such as it is, is that Trump’s ungluing conveniently coincides with an illness that makes it impossible for him to govern. I am absolutely convinced that he won’t live to complete a second term, and his obvious physical and mental issues may not allow him to complete a campaign. If he is nominated by the Republicans and he dies or becomes incapacitated, could Republicans still nominate anyone in time to field in an election? Laws will vary by state but that in itself could become a huge constitutional crisis.

We know that Trump is quite ill. The mental illness should be obvious, but he is also physically ill. Trump has heart disease, which means he has a moderate risk of a heart attack in the next three to 5 years. His mother and sister died of Huntington’s Disease, whose earliest symptoms are often subtle problems with mood or mental abilities. He’s likely got dementia. His father died from the same thing that killed my mother: Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, but also frontotemporal dementia. His recent “lab work” at Walter Reed coincided with him taking the back stairs out of Air Force One and having a White House physician accompany him, not just on trips, but in the presidential limousine.

So buckle up, mates. 2020 is going to be crazy. Let’s just hope that 2021 will be less so.

Christianity Today

The Thinker by Rodin

From the perspective of this non-Christian, Christianity today is a mess.

The magazine Christianity Today hinted as much with its December 19th editorial calling for Donald Trump to be removed from office. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well with Donald Trump, or the evangelical wing of Christianity which it supposedly represents. Trump quickly criticized it of course, calling the publication founded by Billy Graham a left wing magazine. Many in the evangelical community were shocked to find one of their own criticizing their political choices. Lots canceled their subscriptions but at least in the short term many more subscribed.

It was refreshing to find at least one voice in this community criticize not only Trump’s clearly unChristian behavior but many of those in the evangelical wing for supporting him. The editorial neatly laid out the long term issue with Christians who support Trump:

Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

This is hardly a new problem. The rank hypocrisy of Christians on the right has been obvious for a long time, and is leading the next generation toward abandoning religion altogether. The world’s fastest growing religion is not a religion at all: its the “nones”, as National Geographic pointed out in 2016. The spread of this religion was accomplished without any of the usual evangelizing. No “nones” missionaries were beating on doors trying to convince people to stop going to church, believing in God, or embracing atheism. Yet the “nones” are beating out even the Mormons, with none of its missionaries and billions of dollars to throw into evangelism. Western Europe has been a principally “nones” region for decades. Hardly anyone there bothers to go to church anymore. It’s happening in Australia as well, and most ominously for evangelicals it’s picking up at a breathtaking rate here in the United States. “Nones” make up more than a quarter of the population in the United States now.

I see it here in Massachusetts. The Catholics seem the most dispossessed, but other protestant faiths are also heavily affected. Here in Northampton, church consolidation has been going on for a long time. The remaining Catholics all go to one church because the diocese closed the other three. They keep trying to sell these properties. When they sell them, it’s not to a fast and rising evangelical church. It’s usually to some retailer or condo developer. Mostly though they linger on the market, their doors barred seemingly forever.

Even I have been affected. Living in Virginia, I regularly attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I went to a few services at our local UU church, but couldn’t quite summon the energy to join a congregation again. The purpose that it held in my life seems to have been amply handled by many community endeavors that I am engaged in. It’s hard to know how to fit it into my life again, or why. My wife is rarely practicing Buddhist but is essentially a none. Rather than singing hosannas to God, she’s volunteering at a local survival shelter instead. Guess which activity is more Christ-like?

As I recall from my teens, smelling rank hypocrisy was one teenagers’ innate skills. No wonder then that modern teens look around them, see the hypocrisy that is much of modern Christianity and want no part of it. And sad to say, the evangelicals represent the worst of Christianity. It’s echoed in their largely unflinching support for Donald Trump, who emulates all the sins they are supposedly against. Sadly, most of them seem wholly unaware of their hypocrisy. No wonder they were stung by the Christianity Today editorial and attacked it. Who would want to admit they were taken in by this charlatan and that their values are so contrary to the ones they profess?

Who would have ever though the majority of America’s evangelicals would support the locking of immigrant children in cages? That they would cheer the arrest of other Christians who took Jesus at his word and leave bottles of plastic water in the desert along our southern border for migrants? That they could excuse Trump’s rampant and egregious sins. You would think that he doesn’t attend church might rankle them. None of his behavior seems to faze them in the least.

Rather, they want more of it. Because it seems the one true value of evangelical Christians is universal subservience to their moral law. They want a Christian society on their terms, and they will bend society to make sure it happens. If we have to give up a secular government in the process, it doesn’t seem to bother them in the least. They can’t seem to relate to anyone with a skin tone different from theirs who won’t parrot their values. In that they have plenty in common with Trump, so in that sense it’s no surprise that they support him so passionately.

It’s just that this is not the least bit Christian. In fact, it’s about the farthest thing from Christianity. Hate thy neighbor? The road to heaven is paved with riches? The first shall be first and the last shall be condemned to hell? It’s okay to cheat on your wives, grab women by their pussies, and bully people in person and on Twitter if it gets us some more conservative judges? It just gushes with hypocrisy. So no wonder younger people are rushing toward the “nones”. I was just in the vanguard forty plus years ago.

But maybe we are underrating the “nones”. It doesn’t look like they are going anywhere near houses of worship. But that doesn’t mean that many, if not the majority, still retain Christian values. It’s just that “Christians” today don’t recognize them. These “nones” live in a world that is multicultural and don’t feel threatened by it. It’s normal and they welcome diversity. Many are appalled by the cruelties and injustices in today’s world, pushed by many of these evangelical Christians. They figure the way to get this world is to stop going to church and start going to Bernie Sanders rallies instead.

Humility is also supposed to be the mark of a Christian. You’ll find little of that in today’s version of American Christianity. If Christianity in America is to reverse what looks like an inevitable demise, it might start with this radical idea: actually start acting like Christians again. Step one: actually read the New Testament again. Start with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Trump is impeached. So now what?

The Thinker by Rodin

So yea, I got my wish: Donald Trump is impeached, and he’s become the first Republican president to earn the dubious distinction. (Richard Nixon was wise enough to resign before the House voted.) I should be dancing for joy except I don’t dance and this momentous event is really just one strategic chess move in a much larger chess board.

Not to spoil it for you, but we Democrats are down a queen and regaining the chess board is going to be tough. Impeaching Trump is like taking a rook without penalty, but Democrats are a long way from restoring a functional democracy again. And really, that’s what it’s all about for me. I don’t want Democrats to run everything; I just want a real republic again.

We don’t have that now. With the courts stacked with some 150 new federal judges since Trump took office, almost all very conservative, a 5-4 conservative-leaning Supreme Court, an Electoral College stacked against the majority and red states having contests to see who can purge the most Democratic-leaning voters from their voting roles, it’s a very scary time. Our republic is now in a very fragile state, and it’s abundantly clear that Republicans are using all their powers, and lots of dirty tricks, to get rid of it altogether.

That’s because unlike their chess board, they know our side could add more chess pieces to the board. But this takes time and it also takes a functioning republic. Demographics will eventually bite Republicans in the ass, but it only matters if we have a functioning republic. It’s clear that losing political power is not something they can allow if they can help it, so they will be pushing very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen.

So what’s next? A Senate trial, of course, which shows every likelihood of being a sham trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already stacking the deck, not that it’s likely that twenty Republican senators will vote to convict Trump. McConnell has openly said he is working with the White House counsel, and he’s hinting that he doesn’t want any witnesses called.

So there will likely be no testimony from those key witnesses that Trump wouldn’t let testify, like his acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney or John Bolton, his recently departed national security advisor. In a real Senate trial, Trump shouldn’t be able to keep them from testifying. Or maybe he could, but the optics would look really bad with Republicans in control of the chamber. In any event, the Chief Justice presides and if Senate rules allowed it, he would require it. So better to not allow it in the first place, let each side bloviate their same talking points and then let pretty much everyone do what they were going to do anyhow: vote their political leanings.

If these witnesses do testify though, it’s likely to be damning; it just won’t make any difference. Because the new game is now the 2020 elections. It’s not news to most of us who pay attention that senators vote their prejudices and the interests of those who give them campaign money, with a few exceptions. If these key witnesses actually testify to what they saw, and testify truthfully, it is damning of Trump’s guilt. But it won’t make a difference to Trump retaining his office, but it may make a difference to voters.

A lot of hay was made of the U.K.’s Conservative Party winning a decisive majority in Parliament in their recent snap elections. Many pundits see in this a warning for Democrats here: pull to the center and don’t nominate a candidate for president on the liberal extreme like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

They may have a point. Or they may be missing the point. As best I can tell, the vote was much more about Britons being sick of the Brexit issue and just wanting it to go away. Brexit has been their own all-consuming national nightmare. It didn’t help that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin was even wackier than Boris Johnson, the current prime minister. Voters there may have thrown up their hands, not so much because they love conservatives and want to be separated from the European Union as they don’t want to deal with the issue anymore. Like Trump’s presidency, Brexit has been turning the U.K. into an ungovernable mess.

It may be that U.S. voters want to end our ungovernable mess in Washington too. If so, at least they will have a clear choice: go with a radical new government that disenfranchises many voters and gives power to those with money, or return to a saner time when government at least wasn’t quite so insane. Republicans like power but do they really want four more years of a seesawing Trump presidency? It’s just a chaotic mess. For Republicans in Congress, of course the answer is yes, but for a lot of Republican voters out there, about 15 percent according to most polls, the answer could very well be no.

So Joe Biden may look old and not the least bit shiny, but at least he’s not nutso, he’s not corruptible and he’s spent most of his career simply trying to do the right thing for the country and his constituents, albeit imperfectly. And he’s willing to work across the aisle, although it didn’t work at all for Barack Obama. He’s definitely not Jeremy Corbin. For those of us with longer memories, he’s much more like Hubert Humphrey: another happy warrior.

Trump will try to win the election the way he and Republicans won it in 2016: voter suppression, gerrymandering, spreading disinformation, openly seeking foreign interference and riling the base into a toxic stew. So things will just get crazier.

But it may be that while they get crazier, Americans in general will say “Enough of the crazy!” and toss the bums out. It could be our way out of our own Brexit. Or at least a move that bring Democrats a new bishop and a knight on the chessboard.

Stay tuned. The game is afoot.