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.

Republicans want to end our republic

The Thinker by Rodin

I must have been naive. All this time, I’ve been assuming there was some inner core among Republicans that would assert itself when push came to shove. For example, I figured they would be beating the bushes to find a 25th Amendment remedy to Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump is clearly mentally ill, has heart disease and simply does not have the intelligence for the complexity and nuance the job of president demands.

But that’s not it at all. Republicans want to end our republic through any means, fair or foul. For decades they have been waging a covert war to enable this to happen. They’ve been using built-in constitutional advantages that is more likely to give them power and to retain it.

The Electoral College, created to deal with the irreconcilable problem that our nation was formed with free and slave states, gave them disproportionate power from the start. The Constitution also gives states equal power, allowing them to generally hold the U.S. Senate with a minority of its population. The Constitution also allows states to determine procedures for voting. Republicans have used this to gerrymander relentlessly, making it very hard for another political party to gain power. With a Supreme Court decision pushed by its conservative majority, the court overturned the Voting Rights Act. And when they control state government, they have the power to purge voter roles and put fewer voting machines in neighborhoods with large minority populations.

None of this is news. But what is news is what Devin Nunes has been up to. Both CNN and The Daily Beast report that Lev Parnas, a Ukraine-related business associate of Donald Trump’s “personal lawyer” Rudi Giuliani, is willing to testify that Congressman Nunes (R-CA) and some on his staff traveled to Vienna, Austria last year to meet former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Shokin was widely seen as corrupt when in power and someone former Vice President Joe Biden eventually succeeded in getting the Ukraine government to fire. Parnas also allegedly has thousands of pages of documents and recordings he has shared with the House Intelligence Committee. Parnas is now under arrest with his partner Igor Fruman when attempting to flee the country for Vienna on October 9th.

Allegedly, Nunes was there to try to help push the story that Ukraine, not Russia, had tried to interfere in the 2016 election and to find the DNC server he believes is in Ukraine that contains the so-called “missing” Hillary Clinton emails. Nunes is hardly alone. Our attorney general Bill Barr has been doing this as well, also on the taxpayer’s dime.

Nunes also sits on the House Intelligence Committee that has been initially taking testimony for Donald Trump’s impeachment. His action if true (and there are records he went to Vienna during the time alleged on official business) is powerful evidence of a conspiracy among Republicans to subvert the rule of law and to use the powers of government against the constitution they swore to uphold.

To me one of the most amazing aspects of this is that Devin Nunes and many Republicans that I assumed knew better bought into these ridiculous conspiracy theories. Congress itself, including a Republican-controlled Senate, issued committee findings that directly tied Russia to 2016 election meddling. So this is not seriously in question, at least it shouldn’t be. Yet despite this, lots of Republicans in Congress still believe it. And apparently if they can’t find any actual evidence, they are willing to manufacture it, or at least sow doubt. That’s why Trump wanted Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens as a condition for giving the country the aid that Congress had already approved.

It’s totally laughable. This CrowdStrike server is supposedly in Ukraine, but both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee contract with CrowdStrike to store their information.

Republicans don’t seem to understand what CrowdStrike actually is: an Information Services provider, based not in Ukraine but in Sunnydale, California, not too far from Devin Nunes’ congressional district. CrowdStrike specializes in cyber-security, important for both the RNC and the DNC, and helped detect digital intrusions from agents in places like China. So the whole notion of a “server” somewhere is so 20th century. CrowdStrike stores it’s clients’ data in the cloud. It’s encrypted and spread out digitally among a lot of data centers. This is easily checked, but no Republican can seem to be bothered. Facts no longer have any relevance, because they apparently have bought into the notion that if they believe it is true, it must be so.

So Republicans are fully on board with supporting Donald Trump in any way possible, even if it is illegal and against the constitution they swore to uphold. Logically, they would be better with a candidate without Trump’s flaws. In any event, it’s unlikely that if Mike Pence replaced Trump, he would act so unlawfully. That they aren’t willing to do so suggests they want someone as unlawful as Trump.

Why would this be? It all makes sense if you give up the fiction that they care about our republic. It makes no sense otherwise. Their existential fear of the other seems to be overriding all other principles. Not that there are any principled Republican left. They all left, or when they stand up to object, like Justin Amash, they get ejected from party for being insufficiently loyal.

So our republic increasingly hangs by a thread. Republicans may now have a Supreme Court willing to say the President is above the law. If they have that and can control most elections, we don’t have a republic anymore. They can do and get away with anything they want.

If Trump were sane, he might call this treason. I’m not sure it qualifies. Treason is giving support to any country with which we are at war, and we’re not at war with Russia. But it is clearly against their sworn oath to put country over party. A sham Senate trial of Trump will likely prove this to be the case.

About the only check left is a court system that both Republicans in Congress and Trump are likely to ignore when they don’t get the ruling they like, and our election system which is already rigged on many levels. Only an overwhelming vote of the populace can start to make things right again.

I was chatting with a client on Skype the other day. He’s German, but living in Barbados. He was leery of giving me his business because he thought I could be a Trump supporter. He is very, very worried about the USA and say that’s true of Europe in general. Everyone is terrified. So am I. We are living through the most scary time in our country’s history. And it’s clear that Republicans simply want an autocrat in charge and to be a republic in name only.

We must somehow defeat them.

Trump and Stone are poster boys for toxic masculinity

The Thinker by Rodin

Looks like Roger Stone is going to be off to prison for a long time. He was convicted yesterday of seven counts of tampering with witnesses and lying to Congress. Arguably, it was Roger Stone who took the Republican Party off the deep end. For twenty nine years, Stone courted Trump, trying to get him to run for president. But his roots go back to Richard Nixon where he first started performing dirty tricks to aid his 1972 election. In this case, he contributed money to a possible Nixon rival in the rival’s name to the Young Socialist Alliance, then gave the bogus receipt to the Manchester Union-Leader.

A young man at the time, Stone spent much of the rest of his career upping the ante refining his dirty tricks. Yesterday, at age 67, it all caught up with him. Stone becomes just the latest lawbreaker to be convicted of crimes. Stone saw in Trump a fellow narcissist, but judged that Trump was better at the game. During the 2016 election, Stone’s major role was touting his contacts with Wikileaks, which published damaging material against Hillary Clinton. His contacts were probably more bluster than real. In an attempt to maintain his dirty tricks reputation, he broke the law and was caught by Robert Mueller’s team. His only real hope is a Trump pardon, not an unrealistic expectation, but one that Trump will likely take a pass one. Trump has his own case of toxic narcissism, so he will find it expeditious not to pardon him, at least until after he wins reelection next year.

Stone though is an inspiration and arguably fueled the rabid right wing of the Republican Party, inspiring others to break the rules in pursuit of ever more power. Stone’s conviction should act as a warning to those he inspired that they can be brought down and thrown into prison too, along with many of Trump’s other cronies already there. Perhaps Stone’s lesson has been learned, and prodded many in the executive branch to testify before Congress despite Trump’s insistence that they do not. Stone is going to prison in part for lying to Congress. Ignoring congressional subpoenas is also possibly unlawful too. A lot of people in Trump’s orbit are skating on thin legal ice.

You have to wonder how people like Trump and Stone get created in the first place. I attribute it to having toxic parents. They taught them the wrong lessons: like the ends justify the means and that if you have power you have implied rights to do what you want. Grab the women by the pussy, seems to be what Trump learned. Just start kissing. It doesn’t appear that the Trump family had any real religion. Trump can probably count the number of times he voluntarily attended church on one hand. Trump and Stone though are hardly alone. They never learned how to become men. Instead, they got embroiled in toxic masculinity.

I was very fortunate to have a great father. While I grew up to distance myself from his devout Catholicism, I could hardly ask for a better role model. My father was a lot like Mr. Rogers long before he appeared on PBS. My father’s masculinity was not the sort that Trump got. It was not about power and pussy grabbing. It was about being humble, charitable, loving, kind and secure in himself. It’s not about emulating what others say masculinity should be, but finding your own true self and way of relating to the world, both as a man, but also as a human being. No one could make my father feel ashamed of how he lived his life. It was honest and sincere and simply was his nature.

People like Trump and Stone though were taught completely different lessons. Masculinity was not some sort of invisible skin they put on for themselves, but some sort of skin that projected what they though masculinity should be. Apparently it was based on what they learned. They are hardly alone, though. It’s common for men in America to subliminally pick up a lot of arguably toxic values: that power should be acquired and used ruthlessly; that women are objects for your pleasure whose feelings can be ignored; that you must compete ruthlessly and lay waste to the field if necessary; and that money buys status.

The result describes a lot of what is left of the Republican Party. Of course they cannot see the plank in their own eyes; it’s always been there so why not judge others? Why not reject any evidence that conflicts with their own views, which is why 95% of Republicans according to recent polls will simply not believe the staggering evidence that Trump is immoral, dishonest, a serial liar and likely a serial lawbreaker too. This is the kind of man that seems to inspire the godly among us to vote for him. A man who is everything they profess they don’t want to be is their ticket to salvation. The Lord is working in mysterious ways. Trump is their new king until Jesus returns. Or maybe Trump is Jesus. They obviously aren’t playing with a full deck.

A real man is humble, not full of hubris. A real man can admit his mistakes, take corrective actions and move on to a better place, not keep tripping over his own feet and making the same mistakes. A real man is quietly confident, and feels no need to bluster. A real man aspires to be honest, wholesome and good. None of us can do it all the time, but we know which way to go when we stray.

People like Donald Trump and Roger Stone though don’t. Humility is a word they can’t understand. They are trapped in cycles of destructive behavior and taking as many of the rest of us down with them as possible. They want more of us to be like them. They want a hurtful and toxic culture where they rise based on their ability to be mean and ruthless. They want everyone to be distrustful, because distrust gives them power.

Ultimately that leaves the rest of us simply to choose whether we will follow these fools or follow a better path toward wholeness or healing. It remains to be seen whether the rest of us will rise to the occasion and show them where true wholeness lies. It’s not in their world of toxic masculinity.

Election 2019 postmortem

The Thinker by Rodin

What can you really glean from an odd year election?

Quite a lot, but mainly that Republicans are going to have a hard time holding onto power next November. Consider:

  • A Democrat won the governorship in Kentucky, a state that went for Trump by thirty points in 2016. Kentucky is one of the reddest of red states, but it had one of the worst governors ever: Matt Bevin, an ultra tea partier who railed against one of the few things Republicans and Democrats can agree on: public school teachers and the need to compensate them adequately. Bevin was every bit as nasty as Donald Trump, just less inept. He tied himself closely to Trump, who rallied for him, yet he still lost, albeit narrowly.
  • Virginia went blue. Not purple, blue. Entirely blue. Democrats will control both chambers of the state legislature, the governorship, lieutenant governorship and the attorney general’s position. They also control both U.S. Senate seats and seven of its 11 congressional seats. Virginia is now a blue state, and likely to stay that way unless Democrats screw up monumentally. The inexorable increases in population in its suburbs and exurbs, mostly talented and ethnically diverse people from elsewhere, aren’t going to go away. It’s as blue as Maryland now, and some day may be bluer. Republicans haven’t won a statewide office since 2009 and without some terrible Democratic candidates the prospects for winning one look bleak. You can pretty much assign Virginia’s electoral votes to the Democratic candidate for the indefinite future. And speaking of which, Democrats will be drawing congressional districts in 2021. Any gerrymandering that happens won’t help Republicans.
  • If Trump hopes to win Pennsylvania again, it’s a fool’s hope. The outer suburban counties around Philadelphia, historically deeply Republican, swung dramatically blue. The Delaware County Council is now not just majority Democrat for the first time in anyone’s living memory, but Democrats controls all its seats. All four Republicans running for the judgeships on the Common Pleas Court lost too. In the even more traditionally Republican Bucks County, Democrats won control of the county council.

There is one minor anecdotal win too delicious not to share:

A legion of reasons propel political neophytes to run for office, but none may be as unusual as what inspired Juli Briskman, the cyclist who gave President Trump the finger two years ago and found herself without a job and at the center of a national uproar.

On Tuesday, Briskman got a new job, winning a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors — ousting a Republican in the process.

Briskman now represents the district holding one of Trump’s golf clubs.

All this gives some credence to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that finds if an election were held today, pretty much any Democratic candidate would trump Trump by double digits.

Obviously, we are a year out from the presidential election and lots of things could change. One thing that doesn’t seem to change is Donald Trump. Every week he gets wackier and seems more unhinged. His impeachment and the open testimony to be given starting next week will keep him in the news, but you can count on his Twitter feed to do that anyhow. The Senate is still likely to acquit Trump, but any Republican that does is likely to pay a political price.

All this momentum suggests that the Senate is likely to flip blue next year too, despite odds that should favor the Republicans. If Kentucky can elect a Democratic governor in a state won so decisively by Trump, there’s going to be a lot of carnage in red and purple states. One of these may be Senator Mitch McConnell, whose favorability ratings in his own state are half those of Donald Trump’s nationally.

Trump is plainly toxic to Republicans, but they can’t disassociate themselves with him. Those that do get ejected from the party. These incumbents main concern is to get through a primary. Afterward they may find it convenient to distance themselves from Trump a bit to attract the swing voters they may need to hold onto their jobs.

It’s unlikely Trump will let them. Trump’s assumption is that he can win with his base. But that’s not how he got elected. He certainly had an enthusiastic base, but he also brought over many independents. Current polling suggests independents will break nearly two for one for a Democratic candidate for president. He eked out a victory in 2016 but he won’t have these coalitions again in 2020. Well, not unless he morphs into something he is not: more moderate, even tempered and statesman-like. When you are convinced of your own infallibility, there is no need to change strategies.

I say throw Trump an anvil. Let’s encourage him to have more frequent rallies. He probably will anyhow, as it’s one of the few things that he enjoys. Since most Republicans are going to be tethered to him whether they like it or not, many of them will go down with him. The sooner he and Trumpism disappear, the better for our country.

Letting Trump be Trump (not that we have a choice) is just what Democrats need to win next year.

Impeachment is the logical result of a break-the-rules presidency

The Thinker by Rodin

It looks like the House of Representatives will formally vote this week to open an impeachment inquiry on Donald Trump. The move is unnecessary but doubtless the Trump Administration will quickly find another rationale for why it can’t provide testimony and documents for the inquiry. One thing Trump is good at is moving goalposts.

To be clear, the House has the sole power to impeach. The U.S. Constitution is silent on procedures it must use. If the House wanted to, it could conduct it entirely in secret, including the final vote on impeachment. An impeachment is not a trial; it’s the political equivalent of a grand jury indictment. Trump has no more right to open impeachment hearings than he had to be in the grand jury room during Robert Mueller’s investigation into him. An impeachment is a political indictment saying there are probable grounds to think that the president engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. The Senate has the sole power to remove someone from federal office. Trump’s trial would happen there and both prosecutors and the defendant would have the right to present their case. It’s a very high bar to remove someone from office by impeachment, as it takes two-thirds of senators present to convict.

Trump’s reaction to the impeachment though is symptomatic of his general problem: he assumes he can make whatever rules he wants. His lawyer has taken it to the ultimate extreme, claiming in court that the Constitution gives the president blanket immunity from all actions while in office. This cannot be. If courts upheld this, it would be the end of our republic. A president truly immune from prosecution while in office could cancel elections and declare himself president for life.

So presumably this has no chance in the courts. But to Trump, it may not matter. He thinks he is a dictator and acts like one. So why not ignore the courts? He wouldn’t be the first president. Andrew Jackson ignored Supreme Court decisions he didn’t like, figuring that the court had no way to enforce its decisions. He was right and this points to a fundamental flaw in our system of government: it assumes our Justice Department is not corruptible, because it’s that department which enforces federal law. And ultimately the Justice Department reports to the President. It would be better if the Justice Department was run by our court system.

But lately it sure looks like the Justice Department under Bill Barr is corruptible. Recently, it announced a criminal investigation into Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump. Also, Bill Barr is running around Europe on taxpayer dollars trying to get foreign governments to investigate crazy allegations against Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee. Barr is breaking the law by illegally interfering in our election. Logically, he should be impeached too. By statute, the department is supposed to enforce the law as written. Bill Barr though believes his job is to follow out orders by the president instead.

Likely most of the people who voted for Donald Trump were sick to death of our system of government. They saw Trump as the Great Orange Bully that would be the bull in the china shop, breaking things so that the inertia that has characterized our government for the last couple of decades finally comes to an end.

There’s no question that our system of government is hard to legally change. The task is made much harder when those who control it largely are not accountable to voters. Gerrymandering, voter suppression and the endless amounts of money the U.S. Supreme Court is content to allow to be spent on elections makes this already Herculean task that much harder. This explains why some of the most prominent Democratic presidential candidate are running a campaign a lot like Trumps: calling for large structural changes. Doubtless a President Warren or a President Sanders would try to push things to the limit to affect these changes. But it’s unlikely that they would openly break the law to do so. In some ways, this is an admission that their campaign promises are doomed to fail if elected.

So likely is Donald Trump’s presidency. He certainly is breaking things, but our bureaucracy is the bigger and more enduring force and will probably be able to fix the china shop when he is gone, though it may take a few decades. You can see this in whistleblowers coming forward and people agreeing to testify anyhow. The only way that Trump’s changes last is if he can get away with things.

Chances are he will, if he can stay in office. Assuming our justice system is still around after he leaves, he’ll be spending most of the rest of his life as a defendant, if not in prison. Which is why dictatorship appeals to him. He figures he doesn’t have much of a choice but to act like a dictator. His only way out seems to be to never relinquish power.

The most dangerous time for our republic is not yet here. It happens after the November 2020 election. If Trump is reelected, he may well succeed in destroying our government’s fundamental structures. Acquitted by the Senate and presumably given the go ahead by the American people, there is nothing to stop him. If the Senate couldn’t convict him the first time for his many egregious crimes, they likely won’t during a second term.

But if he loses, he has to be removed from office. At that point we all have to hold our breath. He will rally his supporters to take things into their own hands to protect him, which means civil unrest. Ultimately it will come down to our military: will they support Trump or their country? Chances are in January 2021, we will find out. God help us.

Republicans are being buried by their own fake news

The Thinker by Rodin

Donald Trump is in a heap of trouble. He’s going to get impeached, assuming he doesn’t pull a Richard Nixon and resign first. That will be one major blemish on his record as president, as if there aren’t many others. Getting thrown out of office by the Senate is a much higher hurdle, but every day it seems more plausible.

It’s pretty clear that most Republicans in Congress don’t like him. Oh they say they do for show, but if given their druthers you can bet that the vast majority would druther Mike Pence in his spot. Then maybe the crazy would stop for a while. Because it just gets more and more insane every day.

Trump is blaming Democrats of course, but if he really wanted to blame someone of course he could look in the mirror. He could also blame voters for unwisely picking him, although of course he famously lost the popular vote by three million votes. This of course became one of the first items he labeled as “fake news” once he became President-elect. Still, if he has to pick a villain, he could pick Fox News, the biggest propagator if not creator of fake news out there.

This actual fake news peddled by Fox News and many right-wing outlets is, quite frankly, over the top, outlandish and utter bullshit. This fake news was published by outlets that I hope at least knew they were peddling in fake news. Their fake news was a means to an end: political power. For at least twenty years they have been at it, and its been working. How many Tea Party members of Congress arrived sincerely believing that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya? Trump clearly did, and he’s been peddling this and many other outlandish fake news stories. It’s been his way of getting attention, something he craves more than power. Fake news gives him power, or at least it has until now.

A truly stable genius would recognize this fake news for what it is: complete and utter bullshit. But apparently our stable genius president doesn’t. He spends much of his day tuned into the Fox News network where this stuff is highlighted hourly. He’s been indoctrinated by Fox’s fake news. Who’s buying their bullshit? Or stable genius president is buying it, pretty obviously.

Just look at what is bringing him down: fake news the right wing has been feeding him. He actually believes the preposterous suggestion that there’s a DNC server somewhere in Ukraine. He has bent over backwards to move the levers of government to prove the allegation. Not only did he create a shadow State Department in the form of his lawyer Rudi Giuliani, who he sent to Ukraine to pressure its leaders to find this server, he also sent his attorney general to Europe to do the same thing. Imagine that: our chief law enforcement officer and supposed arbiter of the execution of the law is being sent on a crazy quest to chase this and other bogus theories that are the product of hyperactive, paranoid people that probably mostly inhabiting their mothers’ basements.

I’m sure there are some Republicans in Congress who actually believe this stuff, but I suspect they are only a small percent of them. Most of them know it’s all bullshit, but they simply don’t care as long as it allows them to acquire and maintain power. Now though a number of them are beginning to care, as they realize that their peddling of fake news is becoming counterproductive. Fake news is biting them in the ass. It’s also creating an out-of-control monster, manifest in the form of Donald J. Trump.

It used to be that Trump had some gatekeepers, but they are all gone now. His senior staff is now entirely filled with disposable yes men (and a few women), virtually all white. They are interchangeable and he changes them frequently. He doesn’t have to chafe because someone near him is suggesting that he is not the smartest person on the planet. He just decides stuff, the staff salutes and that’s that. Unfortunately, a lot of these decisions are terribly bad, such as his recent decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria, one of these ultra-stupid things that even Republicans in Congress could not forgive.

Stupid compounds stupid. There was no gatekeeper to tell Trump that hosting the G-7 next year at his resort was a bad idea. Instead, according to published reports, they said it was an interesting and intriguing idea. Not one person apparently had the guts to say, “Well Mr. President, if you are looking for a way to get removed from office, this brazen violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution alone should do it.”

The larger problem though is that you can only pretend the emperor has no clothes for so long. At some point, someone’s going to say, “Hey, he’s naked!” You can stifle the obvious for a while but at some point reality hits you on the head like a 2×4. Last week, arguably Trump got whacked.

Farmers affected by his tariffs can’t pretend his trade actions aren’t hurting. That’s true of all sorts of businesses affected by his tariffs. Denying climate change isn’t keeping it from happening, and already the impacts are being felt severely. Cutting fuel emissions standards won’t keep more people from ending up in the hospital or dying from asthma and other lung-related diseases. The greater the difference between reality and what is asserted, the harder it is to ignore. Reality works like this.

And so the pain continues until the body politic does the one thing it can’t help: instinctively vomit out the filth that is killing it, fake news in this case. It looks like that process is underway. Let’s hope we vomit out enough of it to survive. Vladimir Putin is hoping we won’t.