The needless suffering all around us

The Thinker by Rodin

My wife is volunteering at the local survival center. Twice a week during the dinner hour she volunteers there, helping to serve 40 to 80 families (sometimes more) survive during her shift.

The center takes all comers, so the undocumented and homeless are served. It’s not mostly these people that the center serves though. It’s neighbors who look a lot like me, but unlike me (I’m largely retired) they are working. They work whatever they can get and whenever they can. There are virtually no freeloaders that come through their doors.

Our community is not unique. About eleven percent of the population is food insecure. Thank goodness the survival center keeps them from starvation. That’s because these days you can’t count on much if anything from the government. That’s because Ronald Reagan convinced Americans that welfare queens driving Cadillacs were using food stamps to buy steaks. For forty years the Republican Party (and to some extent Democrats like Bill Clinton) have been making it harder and harder for people to simply survive.

Some of these people are homeless, but most are not. Most of their income is going to keeping a roof over their heads. Housing prices keep going up and almost all of them rent because they can’t afford to buy a home. Demand can’t keep up with supply, and certainly their wages can’t, so they are squeezed.

I live in Massachusetts which is reasonably progressive. Our minimum wage is currently $11/hour, and will rise to $15/hour by 2023. Still, it’s clear that this amount does not come close to providing a living wage.

Most of the people at the survival center are working two or more jobs, and it’s still not enough. Lots have dependents. An increasing minimum wage helps, but it is being raised slowly. The sorts of jobs these people work rarely pay much more than the minimum wage. That’s because despite low overall unemployment rates, the pool of relatively unskilled labor is still pretty high, so employers usually don’t have much of a problem filling these jobs. Our area is somewhat rural. Aside from some colleges and one university, there isn’t a whole lot of higher paying jobs.

What often tips the balance for these people is unemployment or health costs. Probably the biggest variable is unexpected health costs. The good news is that it’s hard to be uninsured in Massachusetts, as the Affordable Care Act was based largely on our program. The bad news is that most of these plans are still not that affordable. Since it’s required, they usually buy high deductible plans. While they often get catastrophic protection, in some ways its a worse system: they must pay for health plans they cannot really afford, plus they pay huge deductibles before they can get what are largely catastrophic benefits. These deductibles can wipe out the money for things like paying the rent or buying groceries. It also puts them on a treadmill of getting by, if you can call it that.

In short, the standard of living they require simply to get by is not close to what society is willing to pay them to let them achieve it. A lot of these people end up at the survival center because they run out of government benefits. And every year, our betters make things worse. Just yesterday, the Trump administration announced it is finalizing rules that will amount to kicking 700,000 more people off of food stamps.

It’s being done by changing the criteria of how high a state’s unemployment rate must be for it to get a federal waiver. Right now these SNAP benefits cannot exceed three months over 3 years for an individual without being enrolled in an education or training program for 80 hours a month, so if that happens these people are already at risk of homelessness and hunger. With the new rules, states could not seek a waiver unless their unemployment rate was at least six percent.

It’s based on the assumption that these people are lazy welfare queens who could easily get a job when in fact the vast majority are already working. In fact, most work a lot more than the rest of us. Most of the rest of us probably could not endure the superhuman amount of effort it takes for these people to survive. Without food stamps, they have to depend on their local survival center and hope there is food. My wife sees these people every day she volunteers. Fortunately, there are many giving individuals and organizations in the area willing to step up when the government clearly won’t. We give them $100 a month, in addition to volunteer work.

Prescription drug costs can also be killer costs. Recently, I sent $50 to an online friend, Jeff, whose state of Utah won’t provide Medicaid benefits. He’s currently homeless, living with a friend and despite having two jobs he can’t afford the $500 his specialized diabetes medicine costs. This is merely the most critical of his costs because he has other high cost prescriptions he needs and can’t afford because he is uninsured. He has no place to call home and his infrastructure crumbling around him. His car is giving out. He keeps looking for a cheap apartment, but there are none, at least not requiring very long drives from Salt Lake City. Oh, and he’s recently divorced, has a transgender teen and his ex expects him to pay for child support.

He’s hardly alone. I recently documented my friend Tom’s situation, which thankfully is not as dire at Jeff’s. They’re all over my community and they are all over yours too. All because those with money are largely in charge, they think these people are lazy, and they don’t want to contribute a dime to help them escape their misery or even keep them from going hungry. Ironically, a lot of these people are virulently pro-life.

These same people also tend to believe that we live in the greatest country. If we did, we wouldn’t tolerate the poverty and suffering of our fellow citizens.

No wonder candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have such support. Republicans are clueless, but the rest of us understand this suffering. We insist on a decent society that doesn’t allow it. For those of us who haven’t experienced it, we feel its closeness, knowing we are one job loss away from entering this hell.

It’s largely all because we allowed our energies and productivity to go to stockholders instead of the people whose sweat earned these profits. Moreover, we let people lead us who cut us off at the kneecaps. They turned our states into right-to-work states, which makes it hard for unions to form, but easier to give employers the upper hand.

As this Trump proposal demonstrates, there is no end to the level of cruelty Republicans will inflict on us to put yet more money into their pockets at our expense. If you are looking for a revolution, they may get one sooner than they expect. And they may be the ones found beneath the local hanging tree.

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.

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.

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.

Turning of the tide on Trump’s impeachment?

The Thinker by Rodin

Having recently written that there was no bottom for Republicans, I can’t help but wonder now if the tide is finally turning against Donald Trump.

I don’t mean his impeachment. I don’t see how that’s not going to happen now. I mean his removal from office. As I noted in the last post, it’s a high hurdle, since it takes 67 votes, which means 20 of 53 Republicans have to vote to remove him, along with all Democrats and independent senators. It’s never been done successfully before, but then arguably we’ve never had a president who is so chronically a liar and lawbreaker before. And that says a lot because if you study Andrew Jackson’s presidency, you can see why Trump is so busy emulating him.

I believed from the start that if Democrats opened impeachment hearings, the public would come along. And they are coming. The most recent omen that should scare Republican senators: a Fox News poll that 51% of Americans want to see Donald Trump impeached and removed from office. 45% are opposed, but that’s a nine-point shift since July.

It’s hard to see how this gets better for Trump. Not only is he our most reckless president, he’s also our stupidest. He admits lawbreaking that proves the Democrats’ points, making calling witnesses pretty pointless except as a means to add more charges. When you trust your gut more than you trust professionals who are supposed to manage your problems, expect to fall flat on your face. Trump does many times a day. Republicans keep looking for a way to excuse his behavior, but they can’t. Republicans in Congress are now largely running from the press. They don’t want to be pinned down by either the press or voters.

The thing is, there are apparently enough votes to convict Trump already … if senators could hold a secret vote. Maybe in the end, that’s how it will go: they’ll create some mechanism where they put their vote secretly in a box and have it counted. This is likely as brave as these senators will get, since they seem otherwise wholly intimidated by Donald Trump. But the loonier it gets, the easier it may be to summon the political courage required. There is, for example, this tweet by Donald Trump:

That’s right: no one has more wisdom than Donald Trump. How do we know? He says so!

Cracks are appearing all over his ship of state. It’s not just whistleblowers, but also the courts that are beginning to smack him down. Those summoned to testify in front of Congress are starting to come forward, particularly those that no longer work for him. Of course Trump and his Justice Department want to claim executive privilege over those they no longer employ. The real Trump toadies seem to agree, but people are coming forward and testifying anyway.

His stonewalling of Congress isn’t helping him either. First, it gives those who don’t like him more incentive to go against his will: whistleblowers are coming out of the woodwork. Second, the truth is coming out anyhow: there is too much to control, and it doesn’t help when your administration is wholly inept at it. It keeps getting uglier and more egregious. Our ambassador to the European Union was ordered to work with Ukraine, even though Ukraine is not part of the E.U. Our former ambassador to the Ukraine was abruptly fired when she wouldn’t do Rudy Giuliani’s bidding. Giuliani is not a federal employee and has no delegated responsibility. And then there’s Rudy himself, who seems as equally unhinged as Trump. He claims he is Trump’s personal lawyer, but it appears that Trump isn’t actually paying him. Trump loves to get something for nothing. In this case, Giuliani is more like a deadweight dragging him down.

Trump simply doesn’t understand that grifting is bad. He’s surrounded himself with sycophants who agree: the whole point of government is apparently to loot it. There’s no magic document out there that is going to clear him. Instead, day by day, the accumulating evidence will get worse as more grift is exposed.

Things will really hit the fan when his tax records are exposed. He’ll try to keep it bottled up in the courts, but this strategy won’t last forever. As for obstructing Congress, it’s not even slowing down impeachment hearings that much anymore. Trump likes to think he can control what the House can do, but he can’t. He’s impeached already; it’s just a matter of time.

What does it take to get at least 20 Republican senators to vote to convict this guy? It’s not so much finding their backbone, as finding their constituents have turned against him. Now 20% of Republicans support Trump’s impeachment and removal. By nine points, independents favor it as well. These numbers will only continue to grow. In this case though Nixon’s crimes and obstructions look relatively minor. The case against Trump is overwhelming. If there is enough of a political price to pay, Trump can be removed.

The job for the rest of us, particularly those represented by these Republicans, is to let them know they will pay a price. I’m not saying that enough Republicans will summon the necessary courage, but if it happens it’s likely to come like a torrent. The cracks have appeared. At some amorphous point I think it’s likely to come tumbling down.

Here’s hoping.

No bottom for the Republican Party

The Thinker by Rodin

It looks like I have been giving Republicans too much credit. I assumed there was some core group of Republicans who could agree, “This time Trump has gone too far” and bring him down. Apparently, there is no bottom for the Republican Party.

That’s because I assumed that there were some sane Republicans out there. But it looks like when push comes to shove, sanity takes a back seat to subservience and fealty. Republicans apparently love to take orders. They love authoritarians. I’m guessing it gives them some feeling of comfort that somewhere a Big Daddy is taking care of things. Having decided to get on the Trump train, they can’t seem to find a reason to get off, no matter how surreal and ridiculous it gets.

Signs are pointing to a huge train wreck for Republicans in the 2020 election. Some years back I pointed out that Trump would kill the Republican Party. To severely maim the party, Republicans have to lose both the presidency and the Senate. Barring some massive election fraud, Trump is destined to be defeated in 2020. He’s never polled over 50% and most of the time his approval ratings have been mired in the low 40s or lower. Winning with these sorts of negatives is possible only with massive voter fraud or a third-party candidate that siphons off a lot of Democratic votes. Both the 2000 and the 2016 elections likely would have elected Democratic presidents had it not been for the third-party spoiler effect. It’s not Trump’s base that will win him reelection, but Democratic fragmentation.

Winning the Senate requires flipping three Republican seats, which is a bit of a long shot but not impossible in a wave election. Aside from his base, Trump has managed to piss pretty much everyone off. But even among his base, he is bleeding supporters. White men support him, but according to polling he’s recently lost white women without a college education. Trump is losing farmers from his trade wars, and truckers are seeing major layoffs plus the latest tax law raised their taxes by doing away with a lot of their deductions. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is deeply loathed in his home state, with only 33% approval. He can’t even be bothered to pump up a pension fund for coal miners. Yes, in deep red Kentucky, McConnell may lose reelection next year.

Rather than face criticism, Trump does the only thing he knows how to do: reshuffle the deck. This means changing the subject, generally by saying things or posting comments on his Twitter feed that are increasingly outrageous. This is effective but it doesn’t actually fix the issues that got him in trouble in the first place.

Moreover, his pattern never varies. When he decided not to put those 25% tariffs on Chinese goods so people could enjoy nice presents under their Christmas tree mostly made in China, then of course when China added new tariffs on U.S. products as they promised it all went out the window. New tariffs were back on and markets plunged about three percent yesterday. They were doing fine until his announcement.

But just when you thought Trump couldn’t possibly get any wackier, he doubles down on the stupid. Just this week Trump:

  • Said he was the Chosen One, implying he was the King of the Jews
  • Said any Jew voting for Democrats was disloyal and un-American because they should put Israel first … uh, what? And how is putting Israel before the United States showing you are an American patriot? Oh wait, because Trump says so. Gotcha.
  • Ordered U.S. companies to leave China, even though he can’t
  • Decided he could issue an executive order to end birth right citizenship, as if he could unilaterally override the 14th Amendment
  • Blamed the chairman of the Federal Reserve for his economic woes because he wouldn’t cut interest rates fast enough, while apparently absolving himself of the blame of nominating Jerome Powell in the first place
  • Said he wanted to buy Greenland and canceled a summit with Denmark, which manages the island, in a huff because they wouldn’t consider it. Actually, Denmark couldn’t even if it wanted to. Residents of Greenland would have to decide. Oh, and he called their female prime minister “nasty”, his word of choice when acting like the obvious misogynist that he is.

We have a president that is, quite frankly, totally nuts and bonkers. Just one of these by a Democratic candidate like Joe Biden would sink their candidacy. But Republicans so far show nothing but increased fealty to a president who by any objective standard is mentally ill and could not be trusted to even competently manage a child’s savings account.

Moreover, a recession is clearly on the way and every action Trump takes seems to be designed to make it worse. It was tariffs that brought us the Great Depression. Doubling down on tariffs simply increases the odds that a recession will turn into a depression. And if there is a recession, there’s not a single adviser to the president who has either the smarts or the wherewithal to help lead the US out of a recession. The closest we have is Jerome Powell, and only because the Fed is independent of the executive and he can’t be fired. When you surround yourself by incompetent sycophants, well, you get incompetent sycophants. Hell of a way to run a “government” … don’t bother to actually govern!

I was thinking yesterday that the tanking stock market might finally be the straw that broke the Republicans’ back. Moneyed capitalists ultimately hold up Republican power. Yesterday, three percent of their wealth vanished because Trump’s ego was hurt. Likely a lot more of it will vanish soon.

The obvious remedy is the 25th Amendment and twisting Vice President Pence’s arms to get a majority of the cabinet to declare our president is too mentally ill to serve. I’ve been waiting more than two years for this intervention, assuming cooler heads in the Republican Party could prevail. While I still hope for it, increasingly it looks like I misjudged the nerve and sobriety of the Republican leadership. They are wholly captured by their captain, and appear ready to go down with his ship.

Future generations are going to loath Republicans

The Thinker by Rodin

The Republican Party has been reaching something of a zenith lately. For a brief while they controlled Congress. They still control the White House and arguably they control the courts, at least the Supreme Court, the one that matters most. They control 33 governorships, the most since at least 1990 and have 22 trifectas: where they control both houses of state government and the governorship (Democrats have 13 trifectas.)

But it’s going to really suck to be a Republican in the future. Republicans will be loathed and it’s not hard to see why. The most obvious reason is that they did almost everything possible to not address climate change. Donald Trump will be the most loathed of the bunch, but anyone that supported his agenda will be (at best) hissed at. Fortunately, most of these prominent Republicans are wealthy enough to move to the Cayman Islands. I’d say they’d best move there ASAP. But having been to the Cayman Islands, I discovered it’s not far above sea level. As islands in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico go, it’s going to be one of the first to be mostly underwater as sea levels rise.

People will be looking for someone to blame, and you can basically indict the entire Republican Party. Moreover, they don’t seem to learn. In Oregon, a few Republican legislators are not showing up for work. They are trying to prevent a bill from passing that will help the state address climate change through lack of a quorum. Yes, they want Oregon to keep worsening the climate crisis. The optics of this already looks bad. Imagine how bad it will look like in ten years.

They are much worse than the No-Nothings of the 19th century. They either deny undeniable facts or believe them and simply don’t care to address them. It’s hard to say which is worse. Just not caring about the climate crisis is bad enough, but they actively support policies that will make our future even chancier and bleaker is much worse. A migration crisis is already underway, but it’s only 1% as bad as it’s going to get. Republicans are actively making it even worse.

We could be working to contain these crises, by doing things like investing in Central America so its governments are less oppressive and their citizens can have some hope for the future. Instead, to punish them we are taking away what little money we give them. And since at least Reagan, Republicans have been supporting dictators down there. The political repression in places like Honduras, Venezuela and Guatemala are driving the crisis.

Finally, the concentration camps we are creating along our border with Mexico are getting some attention. From a party that almost universally wants to force mothers to carry children to term, even if impregnated by rape or incest, they systematically abuse children in these camps. A Trump spokesman actually went to court to tell the court that these children don’t need soap or showers. It’s not just children who are being treated inhumanely, but most of the other adults too. Putting too many people into “camps” not sized for their population in the definition of a concentration camp. Yet many Republicans are aghast that some are calling them what they really are. No, they are not death camps, at least not yet, although apparently influenza and other preventable diseases are widespread within them, and many migrants have died under our custody. Still, it’s not hard to see a Donald Trump in his second term feeling empowered to turn them into death camps as yet another “final solution”.

Then of course was their rape and pillage of the rest of us: the obscene tax cuts for the wealthy, the constant cutting of benefits like food stamps and Medicare, mostly unsuccessful efforts to kill Obamacare, the dumping of more pollution into our atmosphere and waterways and the ensuing health affects they cause that are already underway. Trump apparently thinks if you can’t see the pollution, it doesn’t count: as if someone suffering from asthma won’t have worse asthma when more of these pollutants are thrown into the atmosphere. Worldwide, 6.5 million death occur annually from poor air quality. In the United States, it kills about 200,000 people a year, and those are 2013 figures. This is far more people than are killed in auto accidents annually (about 37,000 people). These numbers are likely on the rise. All this from the so-called Party of Life!

The Republican Party will be seen as the selfish death and greed party who were predominantly responsible for making our country a poorer and increasingly problematic place to live. They ignored all evidence that suggested they were wrong. Since Trump, they have labeled anything of this evidence as “fake news”, claiming it can’t possibly be correct and were deliberately faked. No one will want to be a Republican and at some point no one will admit to being a Republican because it will be too dangerous.

They are likely to get a comeuppance, and it will probably be in the form of radical income redistribution as we try, probably futilely, to save our nation and our planet. They will be lucky if people don’t come after them with pitchforks. So now would be a good time for Republicans to have sudden change of hearts, but it probably won’t make much difference to future generations that will try to cope with the wreckage they mostly caused.

Republicans, move to the Cayman Islands while you can but it’s unlikely that the citizens there will treat you any more kindly.

Time for Mr. Mueller to be a true patriot

The Thinker by Rodin

In case you haven’t noticed, our new attorney general Bill Barr is a horror. We shouldn’t be surprised because essentially he auditioned for his job by circulating a paper before his nomination on why the Mueller investigation was invalid.

Barr’s testimony yesterday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed to anyone paying attention that Barr is Trump’s lackey and shill. He will do pretty much anything that Trump wants him to do because that’s how he sees his role. Which is why he thinks looking into Hillary Clinton’s emails yet again is worthy of investigation.

It’s likely to get much worse. Trump is likely to use the Justice Department as his political arm by having it open investigations into his 2020 opponents. Based on the Hillary’s email precedent, Barr shouldn’t object at all. In short, the Justice Department is becoming a new bludgeon that Trump hopes to use to win reelection. Its mission to impartially apply justice based on the law seems to be waning. In short, true justice in the Justice Department may be hard to find.

It’s painfully clear that Senate Republicans won’t check Trump in any meaningful way. It’s increasingly clear that our Supreme Court won’t either now that it has a reliable conservative majority. Trump is the outcome of over thirty years of corrupting the system to affect their ends. They don’t want democracy. They just want to be in charge and remain in charge. Which means that only voters can hold Trump and Republicans accountable.

But Trump has every incentive to corrupt the 2020 elections, and Republicans are jubilantly helping him along. Mueller’s report basically says Trump obstructed justice many times and that the only reason he wasn’t charged is because he wasn’t allowed to charge him due to Justice Department rules. With a five-year statute of limitations, if Trump loses reelection then there’s a good chance he will be prosecuted for these and many other offenses.

So in Trump’s mind he must not lose. He can see his future if he fails, and it’s inside a jail cell. He is clearly bending the power of the federal government in every way possible to stack the odds in his favor. And Republicans will aid and abet him: by making it hard for people of color to vote, through relentless gerrymandering, through fearless voter suppression and now apparently allowing the Justice Department to be used as a political weapon.

By grossly mischaracterizing Mueller’s findings, Barr’s summary of findings succeeded in muddying the waters. It’s hard to find someone without an axe to grind that the public can trust. Most won’t have time to read over four hundred pages of his report, much of it redacted. Which is why Mueller’s public testimony in front of Congress is needed. We need Mueller to rise to the occasion and be the patriot the country needs by simply telling the truth.

But will he get that chance? Trump’s policy is now to stonewall Congress and refuse to provide them any information, at least no information not in his favor. Mueller is an employee of the Justice Department, but presumably term limited as he was pulled from retirement to investigate Trump and his administration. Trump or Barr could prohibit Mueller from testifying in front of Congress. It’s unclear that they will, but it’s certainly possible if they are stonewalling everything else. It’s also unclear whether Mueller would not testify anyhow.

Polls do make one thing clear: the public trusts Robert Mueller. If anything can right this wrong ship, his testimony might. Clearly, if Mueller says things that upset Republicans, they will berate him and cast doubts on his integrity. It’s unlikely though that the public would buy it, as his integrity has so far been impeccable, unlike Donald Trump’s.

Mueller would be most helpful by simply stating the obvious: anyone other than Trump would have been prosecuted for obstruction of justice, the Justice Department is being turned into a political weapon, that government of, by and for the people is perilously close to disappearing, and the public needs to wake up and fight for its democracy.

Autocracy and why Trump’s firing of his Secret Service director is extremely alarming

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m getting the sick feeling that we are this close to an autocracy. Things seem to be going rapidly from bad to worse to ohmigod this is incredibly dangerous!

The feelings got real when I learned what Attorney General William Barr was planning to do with the Mueller report: redact as much of it as possible and work as hard as possible to keep the full report from ever getting to Congress. It got worse when I watched our petulant Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brush off Congresswoman Maxine Waters: the idea of wasting his time talking to Congress when he had important things to do! Also, he seems to be aiding and abetting keeping Congress from getting Trump’s tax returns, even though the law requires it.

You don’t have to look far to find plenty of other signs. For example, Donald Trump is thinking of dumping migrants in sanctuary cities. Why? Because he thinks he can and he wants these cities to pay for having the audacity to oppose him. Then there’s his de-facto concentration camps that separate immigrant families and new reports that suggests he wants the U.S. military to build a whole lot more of them and run them, much like the German military ran its concentration camps. And if that weren’t enough, Trump was recently on the border urging CBP employees to break the law by not letting these asylum seekers in. Trump is implicitly saying: I can get away with anything, because Congress won’t hold me accountable in the end. And if you do break the law, I’ll pardon you!

All this is sickening enough, but then there’s the imperial way his administration seems to be blowing off the courts. He’s been under a court order for about a year to resettle these unaccompanied minors with their parents, or at least place them with relatives in the United States. Instead, most of them linger inside former Walmart stores under lock and key and out of sight. Recently, three congresswomen weren’t allowed in to inspect a detention facility for minors in Homestead, Florida. Trump doesn’t care that Congress has the responsibility for executive oversight.

More and more the Trump administration seems to be simply ignoring the courts. Until now, we’ve sort of assumed that if the courts tell you to do something, you must. More and more the Trump administration seems to be just ignoring the courts. After all, what can the courts do but issue more rulings? I guess there is the U.S. Marshal Service, which is supposed to enforce court orders if necessary. But the courts do not control it; it’s controlled by the Justice Department. And our new attorney general Bill Barr seems quite happy to take orders from Trump, even though he is supposed to uphold the law.

Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? The constitutional remedy for executive overreach is congressional oversight, subpoenas and when all else fails impeachment. Trump’s lackeys are ignoring most congressional subpoenas. Nancy Pelosi has ruled out impeachment, mostly because she knows Trump has no possibility of being convicted in the Senate. And that’s not just because Republicans control it narrowly, it’s because Republicans are very clear that they don’t care about the rule of law. All they care about is expanding their power or, failing that, holding on to their power.

And it’s not like they feel the least bit compelled to follow the rules or precedent anymore. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an erstwhile conservative, broke with more than 230 years of precedence to speed up the debate on the nomination of federal judges and no longer allows home state senators to block these nominations either.

Meanwhile, deeply red states like Alabama and Texas are going out of their way to turn their states more authoritarian. In Texas, they are debating a law that could potentially give the death penalty to women who get abortions. Wow! The breadth of this should be astounding, but it’s par for the course these days. Ohio’s governor just yesterday signed a law that outlaws abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. These states are simply trying new tactics to see what might overturn Roe v. Wade now that Brett Kavanaugh is a justice. It’s all supposedly about being pro-life, but at least in Texas they are willing to kill people to do it. It’s all absolutely insane, particularly when you consider that not one of these states wants to give women contraceptives to not get pregnant in the first place, won’t subsidize their pregnancies and do their best to keep these kids off food stamps once they are born. Since so many are nonwhite, they’ll be happy to disenfranchise them when they reach voting age too.

Of course, these red states continue to do their best to gerrymander districts and suppress people of color from voting. Florida wants ex-felons to pay all judgments before being allowed to vote, essentially a poll tax, which is unconstitutional. Its state legislature is also working to overturn the referendum, which allows ex-felons to vote in the first place.

So it is crystal clear to me that Republicans will let nothing stop them from achieving their aims. Increasingly they are simply ignoring courts and Democrats in Congress. In essence, they are wholly abandoning democracy in favor of autocracy, and using inertia built into our system of checks and balances and Republicans open willingness to allow Trump to get away with stuff to bring it about.

Frankly, to me the most alarming sign of all was not Trump’s firing of his Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, but his firing of Secret Service Director Randall “Tex” Alles. Think about it. Let’s assume that Democrats do win the presidency in the 2020 election. And it is ultimately up to the Secret Service to evict Trump from the White House. Will his hand-picked lackey evict him? When push comes to shove, who decides to hand over the nuclear codes to the next president? And if you have a Republican senate that won’t fight back on Trump against anything, if he refuses to leave, how do you get rid of him?

It all makes for a constitutional crisis already well underway that looks like it will come to a crescendo on January 20, 2021, but which is likely to all come to a head much earlier than this.

These are crazy, deeply dangerous and incredibly scary times. We are facing what looks like the probable end of a 230 year old democracy.

Why is the right wing so threatened by AOC?

The Thinker by Rodin

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Mahatma Gandhi

 

Newly minted congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been making quite a name for herself. This is amazing considering she’s been in Congress less than three months. It could be that she is only 29 (also my daughter’s age), making her the youngest person in a congress full of old folk. Nah, it’s not that. Maybe it’s because she’s of Puerto Rican ancestry, but it’s not that either and besides, Puerto Rico is part of the United States. It could be that she is a woman, and you are getting a bit warm there, but with roughly a quarter of Congress now comprised of women, she’s hardly a groundbreaker there. So what is it about her that has the press and the right wing so agog?

I’ve been analyzing AOC (she’s so well known that she is more often known by her initials) trying to figure it out. For whatever reason, she got the attention of the right wing when she handily unseated incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for her district that covers the west Bronx and northern Queens burroughs. At this point, even Donald Trump must be getting jealous because it seems Fox News can’t stop talking about her, in a disparaging way of course, which means less attention on him. Based on their attention on her, the right wing judges her as a spectacular threat. She quickly went from being ignored before her primary, to laughed at shortly thereafter, to the “fight you” stage. The right wing sees in AOC something unique and chilling that they don’t fear from the many other liberal women who joined Congress in January.

My take is that she is breaking gender stereotypes right and left. Women are socialized to be nice, so some part of them must always project that stereotype. You can see it in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with her perpetual fake smile. It’s like she’s had surgery to permanent keep a smile on her face. That smile was key to how she managed to gain and retain power in Congress over many decades. She wielded her femininity quite adroitly by exploiting a number of female stereotypes (like always smiling) through her mostly male colleagues.

It’s not that AOC doesn’t smile, but she quite clearly rejects gender stereotypes. With AOC you see a person first, instead of a women first. More importantly, the right wing sees her as a person first, and that’s totally scary to them. Right-wingers by definition don’t like change, and while they don’t like liberal women, they tolerate them more when they act like they act like think women are supposed to act.

AOC though acts as herself. She really doesn’t give a crap what other people think about her, which is in contrast to other women like, say, Nancy Pelosi who carefully stage manages herself. AOC is so much her own person that I don’t doubt that even Nancy Pelosi is a bit irritated and jealous. AOC is changing the rules for how women “should” behave, and criticism just can’t seem to stick. It’s like water off a duck’s back.

Of course, if she looked butch or mannish, then perhaps their attacks would sting. But she also happens to be a beautiful woman. They can’t hate her for being a lesbian, as she is happily heterosexual with a boyfriend while using the newer term “cisgender woman” with unnatural ease. Frankly, they don’t understand a lot of what she’s saying, because she has mastered the code words of her generation. Right-wingers hate terms like cisgender. That’s in part because they don’t believe in gender; they believe that the sex you are born with is your gender, despite the vast mountains of evidence around them that say just the opposite.

So basically she makes them squirm, and this makes their level of vitriol grow. The real threat is hard for them to articulate, but I can. They can’t acknowledge that she is the generation that’s coming at them, and this generation is far more tolerant and far less likely to engage in stereotypes than their generation. She represents not just potential change, but actual change. This is why they are pulling out all guns (hopefully just metaphorically) to stop her, or at least undercut her. It’s just that nothing seems to work. And when she does deign to respond to criticism, she cuts to the chase with a tweet or a statement that underlies the real problem that they cannot even acknowledge to themselves.

The threat they perceive but can’t acknowledge is that AOC is a model. Lots of others in her generation, and even aging geezers like me, can see how she works and realize, Hey, I don’t have to play that game either. I can just be me, and it’s okay! With AOC you don’t see a man or a woman, you see a person: a person very much in touch with who she is who is not afraid to be herself and tell you what she thinks. She oozes self-confidence.

It’s possible she will screw this up somehow. She hopefully has a long career ahead of her and she is bound to make mistakes. When she does, her critics will be merciless. But as long as she projects confidence in herself, none of it should stick. Needless to say her critics will be doing everything possible to trip her up. Let’s hope AOC always stays one step ahead of them because she is truly inspiring in a way that few people ever actually attain.