Edward Packard
Daily Blog

January 18, 2017 

 

Desperately Needed Deterrence 

 

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Chris Van Hollen have introduced a bill titled the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act (the DETER Act). Its purpose is to deter foreign powers from interfering with our elections. It would institute extremely severe sanctions in the event of non-compliance. 


 

Much more needs to be done, but this bill is a commendable step in the right direction. Members of Congress who fail to support it are in effect declaring that they prefer to support and protect Trump rather than American democracy.


 

 

January 17, 2017

 

The Cognitive Test Given Trump


1.  Who do you think is the president of the United States?         


     A. Trump


2. What do you think is the name of the most impressive tower in New York? 


     A. Trump


3.  Who do you think is the least racist person in the United States? 


     A. Trump


4.  Who do you think has the biggest nuclear button in the world?


     A. Trump


5.  What kind of genius do you think you are? 

          

           a)  stable ?

                  or

           b) very stable?

     

     A.  Trump


Please, Mr. President.  Which of the two choices above?  Just point at which one. . . . the choices.  . . .  Right!


Score:  100%

 

 

 

 

January 16, 2017 

 

Trump and Hitler 

 

Stirred by thinking of similarities between Trump and Hitler, I’ve  begun reading William Shirer’s monumental book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Trump and Hitler differ in many ways, and the United States differs in many ways from Germany at the time of Hitler’s ascent. But similarities there are. 


Shirer quotes the eminent German historian Friedrich Meinecke, saying, of the Third Reich, “It is one of the great examples of the singular and incalculable power of personality in historical life.” Shirer adds, “To some Germans, and no doubt to most foreigners, it appeared that a charlatan had come to power in Berlin. To the majority of Germans Hitler had –– or would shortly assume –– the aura of a truly charismatic leader.” 


Trump is much less clever than Hitler, but Trump is like Hitler in having an outsized personality, which coupled with highly improbable success, is an attractant for multitudes who yearn for magical redress of their discontent. 

 

 

 

January 15, 2017

 

Two Senators Reveal Who and What They Are


Senators Perdue and Cotton, stalwart Trump-enablers, were present at a meeting in which Trump referred to Haiti as “a shit-hole country.” Trump’s comment was reported by others who were at the meeting. Senators Perdue and Cotton both said, “I do not recall” the president saying this. “I do not recall,” is a common utterance in judicial proceedings. It’s a subjective statement that’s hard to disprove. It’s a safe statement to make, usually, but in this case it’s safe to conclude that it was a lie. 


If the president of the United States made such a self-revealing and incendiary statement in one’s presence, it would burn into the mind. It would be impossible not to recall it, at least for a long time! Suppose Trump didn’t make that statement. Suppose that Perdue and Cotton had never heard it. They would not have said that they “do not recall” the president’s saying it; they would have said that they were shocked at the accusation. They would have said that Trump never said such a thing in their presence. In saying “I do not recall,” they revealed themselves for who and what they are.


Note: After writing the above, I read that both Perdue and Cotton now claim that Trump didn’t say the offensive words. One called the report a “distortion” and the other called it a “gross misrepresentation.” After their recollections had so strikingly improved, why didn’t they tell us what they claim Trump did say? By lying to protect Trump, they betray their country.

 

 

 

January 14, 2017

 

Trump Enablers, Mueller, and Time

 

Trump long ago ran off the rails and been running roughshod over the land. Occasional peeps and chirps of protest have sounded among the Republicans controlling Congress, but none of them has shown more than a momentary preference for defending truth, justice, and the Constitution instead of defending and protecting Trump. Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller and his team work methodically at their task. A cataclysm awaits us. We drift toward it on the river of time.


 

January 13, 2017

 

The Greatest Danger

 

In a recent interview Bruce Blair, a research scholar at Princeton and former ICBM launch-control officer, cast a bright light on the risk of nuclear war. Blair notes, “The president has roughly six minutes to make a decision if it appears that we are under attack. The whole process is very mechanical.” A president who is momentarily irrational or panic-stricken can initiate an exchange that could kill hundreds of millions of people. Survivors would wonder why our leaders failed to institute safeguards. 


Only the demented and deluded can imagine that Trump is mentally or morally fit to be in control of our nuclear arsenal. The most urgently needed safeguard is his removal from office through the impeachment process or under the 25th Amendment. Additional  safeguards are needed in any event. The assent of at least two people should be required to initiate a nuclear strike. Such a requirement on a Russian submarine during the Cuban Missile Crisis may have been all that shielded the Soviet Union and the United States from mutual destruction. A bill in Congress that will probably go nowhere denies the president the power to initiate a nuclear strike unless Congress has declared war. America should adopt a no first use policy. If our country took these initiatives the world would become very much safer, and we would be too.

 

 

 

January 12, 2017

 

An Interesting Contingency

 

What would happen if special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Trump to testify before a grand jury? It’s hard to imagine how Trump could get through such an ordeal without committing perjury or admitting to commission of one or more felonies and actions that would be within the scope of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” under the Constitution. 


Odds are that he would decline to honor the subpoena, and the case would go to the Supreme Court. There is an old saying that “the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.” A ruling that Trump had no duty to honor the subpoena would mean that, contrary to what we all thought, the Constitution provides that there is somebody who is above the law. 


Suppose the Supreme Court rules that Trump must honor the subpoena, but he refuses to do so. Then he would be in contempt of court and subject to arrest. U.S. marshals would come to the White House to arrest him. They would be met by secret service officers. What happens next would depend on a number of factors, including how low Trump-enabling Republicans in Congress are willing to sink.


 

 

January 11, 2017

 

The Happiest Thing 

 

It’s best not to think too much about what’s the saddest thing happening in the Trumpist Age. It could get impossibly time-consuming, so multitudinous is the list of Trumpist topics, each saturated, many oversaturated, with sadness. There are happy things to think about. There are lots! Here is the happiest thing I learned yesterday.

 

Jennifer Rubin, in The Washington Post: 

 

The announced retirements of Republican Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) — plus Democratic Senator Doug Jones’s stunning upset in Alabama and the emergence of crackpot Republican candidates (e.g., Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward in Arizona) — have put the Senate majority in play. A tidal wave of retirements in the House, including nine chairmen as of today, increases the chances of a GOP wipe-out.

 

I’m on the lookout for happy things!

 

 

 

January 10, 2017

 

The Saddest Thing

 

There are so many sad things about Trump and his enablers, which include just about every Republican member of Congress, that it’s not easy to identify the saddest. Fair minded people may disagree, and I may change my mind by tomorrow, but for the moment I think the saddest thing is the contempt for American democracy shown by powerful Republicans in impeding and diverting attention from investigations of the Trump - Russian connection, politicizing the Justice Department, and ignoring ongoing Russian attempts to manipulate our elections. 


 

January 9, 2017

 

A Peek at a Future History Book

 

A history book, written a few decades in the future, has the familiar title, What Happened, but it’s far more revealing than Hillary Clinton’s book, published last year. The author recounts in detail how the greatest country on Earth spun out of control. In the book’s introduction she writes:

 

“What still seems inexplicable is that, even in remote communities, almost everyone in the world was aware that the president of the United States was incompetent, corrupt, and mentally impaired; yet the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, though it had unquestionable Constitutional authority to impeach and remove him, allowed him to remain in office despite the grave danger he presented to American democracy and to the entire world.

 

“The contemporary scholar James Mann summed up the state of affairs at the beginning of 2018 in a publication called The New York Review of Books:  


After Trump’s first year in office, what is clear beyond doubt is that the damage he is causing to the nation, to its domestic and foreign policies, and even more to the rule of law, to its constitutional system, to its social fabric, and to its very sense of national identity, is piling up week by week. The longer he stays, the worse it will get.


“Trump stayed in office longer, month after month after month, and each month it got worse. We all know what happened next.”


 

 

January 8, 2018

 

Urge Impeachment, or Not?

 

Among those people in Congress –– nearly all Democrats ––  who think that Trump should be removed from office as soon as possible, there is a divergence of opinion between those who argue that impeachment proceedings should begin immediately and those who think that, given its present political impossibility, urging impeachment would be premature and counter-productive. 


Trump should be removed from office. It’s not a close question. Ample grounds exist. To remain silent on the subject is to support the fiction that Trump is, or conceivably could be, fit to serve as president, but there is some merit in holding back on calling for impeachment, because chances of getting the Republican-controlled Congress to impeach Trump are nil, and futile initiatives, however laudable, are vulnerable to being perceived, and assailed, as political posturing.


This said, quiescence isn’t an acceptable. The position of every person of good will in Congress, whether Republican or Democrat, should be that Trump should be impeached as soon as possible, and in the meantime he should be opposed continually, strenuously, and without compromise. 


In particular, and of the moment, all people of good will in Congress should resist Trump’s attempts at extortion. For example, they should refuse to authorize abominable projects, such as Trump’s wall, in exchange for Republicans agreeing to what anyone with the least sense of decency would support without hesitation or seeking favor–– protecting the “Dreamers” from deportation. 

 


 

 

January 7, 2016

 

Emily Dickinson Looks in on 2018

 

I’m a very stable genius.

You’re not a very stable genius too!

There cannot be a pair of us.

They’d advertise –– I’d sue.


How dreary to be just very smart.

How dull to care what’s true, 

To spend each day working

Honestly –– as you do.


 

 

January 6, 2018

 

Forms of Derangement

 

Brandy Lee, an assistant professor in forensic psychiatry at Yale, has spent 20 years studying, predicting, and preventing violence. She and other experts have observed that people who become violent tend to exhibit behavior predictive of violence. Trump fits this template. In the new book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump 27 psychiatrists reinforce the point. Meanwhile Republican members of Congress, exhibiting their own form of derangement. have stepped up efforts to divert attention from and stifle the Russian - Trump investigation,  


 

January 5, 2017

 

America’s Second Civil War 

 

Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks: "I know I can" make an obstruction case against President Trump. "The pieces of the puzzle are fitting together and they spell obstruction." 

 

More than at any time since that of Lincoln this country is engaged in civil war. It may not seem that way because no shots are being fired. But war it is, this time, instead of a war between the proponents and opponents of slavery, a war between proponents and opponents of constitutional democracy.  

 

By now Trump must realize that he is at risk of spending time in prison unless he can bend judicial and administrative processes to his will. Like so many southern confederate officers a century and a half ago, from Robert E. Lee on down, most Republicans in Congress and in high positions in the Administration have chosen to take a stand against the Union: they've thrown their lot in with the aspiring autocrat in the White House. By their complicity with him they betray their country.

 

The forces content to turn America into an autocracy would transform our revered Constitution into as meaningless a piece of paper as the constitution of Russia and that of all other countries governed by the rule of man, not law. The year 2018 will long be noted in memory.


 

 

Janurary 4, 2017

 

The Republican Leadership: Open Your Eyes


Jennifer Rubin: “Republicans remain silent, making a mockery of their own oaths of office. Their cardinal sin — pretending that Trump is emotionally, intellectually and temperamentally fit to govern and could be used for their own partisan ends — is belied by Trump’s daily utterances, whether they are an attack on the institutional norms that block his acquisition of unlimited power or the reckless threat of nuclear confrontation with North Korea.” 


E. J. Dionne: “Trump is, without question, doing enormous damage to the United States’ standing in the world, and his strategy for political survival is rooted in a willingness to destroy our institutions.”


 Will the Republican leadership come to their senses in time? Or will they keep propping up Trump until it’s too late to save our country? 


 

 

January 3, 2018 

 

My Guiding Principle for 2018

 

It’s the same as for 2017: Christiane Amanpour’s injunction: “Fight against normalization of the unacceptable.” 


Recently I read a comment by a pundit in which he described Trump’s presidency as “unconventional.” As in “my nuclear button is bigger than his nuclear button,” for example? That won’t do. “Unconventional” allows a positive inference in a situation where none is justified.

 

Any statement anyone makes that implies that Trump may not be utterly unfit to to be president of the United States is an act of “normalization.” We need to fight against that every day until he’s gone.


 

 

 

January 2, 2018 

 

Best Quote in 2017 about 2018 

 

Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks: “It’s going to be an exciting year.”


 

January 1, 2018 

 

Looking Ahead

 

Watching events unfold during the past two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s considerably more likely than not that, in addition to two of Trump’s associates who have already pleaded guilty and two more under indictment, Trump himself, two members of his family, and a half dozen or more of his close associates, including the vice-president and at least two cabinet members, have all committed felonies, and if the relevant facts about their behavior were exposed to the light of day and they were not politically protected by complicit allies in Congress or pardoned, they would in due course be indicted and convicted of numerous violations of federal and state criminal codes. If anything close to such a scenario evolved, among other effects would be exposure to most of those to whom it has not already been evident that the Republican party is controlled by fools and knaves. 


Trump and those in his entourage apparently failed to imagine that, once he was inaugurated, he would not have complete control of the administrative arm of the United States government. It’s doubtful that it ever crossed his mind that a special counsel could be appointed to investigate his Russian ties and other malefactions. Surrounded by the trappings of grandeur, he lives a life of unquiet desperation. Within the next three years, the American Dream may be extinguished, or it may be resoundingly revived.

 

 

 

December 31, 2017

 

Servility and Impeachment 

 

Power worship and worship of the powerful are among the greatest threats to humanity. It’s unfortunate that the men who drafted the U.S. Constitution neglected to include “servility” along with “high crimes and misdemeanors” as grounds for impeachment. If they had, Trump’s servility toward Putin would supply yet another ground for returning him to his towers, and palaces, and golf courses. Pence would be out in a flash, with some cabinet members right behind him, not to mention that several Republican members of Congress would be precipitously dispatched through a non-revolving door, only a few steps behind Orrin Hatch, who the other day became instantly infamous for saying that Trump’s presidency might be the greatest ever. Even in this idealized alternate reality Fox News stars could not be impeached, but they would be shamed off the air.


 

December 30, 2017


Glbal warming is a hoax from the Yukon to the Carolinas. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 29, 2017

 

Finding the Right Labels 

 

Anne Applebaum, writing in The Washington Post, calls attention to words commonly used in political discourse that don’t mean what they sound like or what they used to mean. Thus, Trump can’t properly be called a POPULIST, when, to give one example out of many to choose from, he signed into law a bill that provided huge tax cuts and tax breaks for the rich and the super rich, threw only scraps to lower and middle income earners, and will result in 13,000,000 more people being deprived of health insurance. 


Nor can Trump and Republican members of Congress be called CONSERVATIVES. Conservatives don’t pass tax cuts and tax break legislation that will add 1.5 trillion dollars to the National Debt over the next ten years for no legitimate economic reason. Nor do conservatives countenance firing scientists at the E.P.A. and replacing them with representatives of the fossil fuel industry, shredding the State Department of experienced diplomats and regional experts, and starving the I.R.S. of funding necessary to properly administer and enforce the Internal Revenue Code.


FASCIST might seem to be an appropriate label for Trump and the Alt-Right type Republicans whose politics are grounded in distortions and lies, creating confusion and fear, promoting xenophobia, playing to racism, and undermining democratic institutions, but Applebaum notes that even the most extreme wing of the Republican Party hasn’t advocated, much less instituted, mass violence, mass murder, and world war. Fascism associates in the mind with Hitler and Mussolini. No doubt it’s too strong a word. Maybe PROTO-FASCISM would do. Trump wants a totally new F.B.I., one which would obey his orders rather than carry out its Constitutional and statutory mandate. That sounds PROTO-FASCIST to me.

 

 

 

December 28, 2017

 

The Authoritarian Personality and Trump Supporters

 

Cited in a recent New York Times column by Michelle Goldberg and finding a worthy place in the literature exploring why so many people continue to approve of Trump is the opinion of Erich Fromm, a German-Jewish psychoanalyst who fled Nazism, that authoritarians may make a show of valuing freedom and independence but long to be ruled by a stronger force. It seems likely that most Trump supporters exemplify this personality type –– they simultaneously crave power and submission. They find escape from unsatisfying reality by playing an anti-reality game in which they emotionally identify with a larger-than-life leader. In Trump they find their avatar, their champion. Their affection for him operates like the “strong force” in physics that binds quarks within protons –– the more tightly facts pull such people from Trump, the more tightly they cling to him. 


“According to Fromm,” Goldberg says, “authoritarians might make a show of valuing freedom and independence — watchwords of the American right — but long to be ruled by a stronger force.”



 

 

December 27, 2017

 

2018 Elections Outlook

 

To put a desperately needed brake on Trump and his enablers Democrats must gain control of either the House or the Senate in the November 2018 elections. Roused by the catastrophe that has befallen the nation, Democrats, are energized, activated, and poised to make gains, and the majority of citizens are behind them, yet chances of success look less than even. In the Senate a lot more Democrats than Republicans face challenges. In House races, Democrats have to win something like 24 net seats to gain control, and they are at a disadvantage in most states because of gerrymandering instituted by Republican-controlled state legislatures. 


Republicans may be expected to pour a lot more money into key races. Massive Super Pacs, organized and financed by the Koch Brothers and other right wing super billionaires, will spend whatever they think it takes to win, and they can spend billions without making a dent in the piles of money they will be raking in under the new tax cuts and tax breaks law. The Republican National Committee has a war chest of $40 million compared to $6 million for the Democrats. Democrats will be further disadvantaged by ramped-up voter suppression laws. Unless they can somehow break through and defy the odds, all pretense that we are living in a democracy, rather than an oligarchy, will have to be cast aside.


 

December 26, 2017

 

The Battle and the Intrepid Warrior

 

“People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again . . . I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!”


This is what, after his great victory, the intrepid warrior tweeted from a battlefield in Tennessee. He had driven back the losers who had led the assault, crying “Happy Holidays” until they were drowned out by shouts of  “Merry Christmas” that were so many beautiful decibels louder. 

 

Darkness fell, and the pale moon shone on soiled “Seasons Greetings” cards strewn across the fields.

 

Despite his great victory, the intrepid warrior had trouble sleeping Christmas night, so intensely was he wishing, wishing over and over, that he could lead the charge against the assault on the phrase "Merry Christmas" every day of the year.

 

 

 

December 25, 2017

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Here’s an excellent Christmas message from a non-Christian:


“Tackling destructive emotions and practicing loving-kindness isn’t something we should be doing with the next life, heaven or nirvana in mind, but how we should live in the here and now. I am convinced we can become happier individuals, happier communities and a happier humanity by cultivating a warm heart, allowing our better selves to prevail.” 

                                                                                        Dalai Lama


 

 

December 24. 2017

 

Christmas Eve Thoughts

 

            Excerpt From New York Times Columnist William Kristoff interview with Cardinal Joseph Tobin: 

 

 

                 Kristoff:


"I have huge admiration for Catholic nuns, priests and laity working on the front lines all over the world to fight poverty, disease, injustice. Those people are doing exactly what Jesus talked about. But, so often, religious leaders, including those in the Vatican, seem less focused on the needy and more on issues that Jesus never breathed a word about, like gays, or abortion, or family planning."

 

                Tobin:


           "It’s fair to say Jesus did not make pronouncements on those three hot-button issues. I think, though, that he gave us an ethos and a moral direction, so we don’t have to sit down and say, 'Jesus, what do we do?' Catholic tradition didn’t fall out of the air and decide something capricious. It’s based on all sorts of lived experience of people trying to follow Jesus closely."

 

                Kristoff did not dissect this evasion. It wouldn't have been in the Christmas spirit to do so.


 

 

December 22 and December 23, 2017

 

The Tax Cuts Bill

 

Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin notes that the intemperately rushed-to-completion tax bill just passed by the Senate and House exposes the four defining features of the Republican Party ––“indifference to substance, anti-populism ( the bill is right-wing, supply-side economics in its most cartoonish form), contempt for voters and intellectual incoherence. Its result will be to enrich the already rich, increase the national debt, and widen inequality.”


All true, but a feature of the new law is that for a while the tax rate will be slightly reduced on wage earners even in lower-middle brackets. Republicans think that, though most people view the new law unfavorably, when they get their pay checks and see that federal taxes on their income have slightly decreased, they will develop a positive attitude toward the new law and therefore be more likely to vote Republican in the 2018 elections. 


Republicans think –– or like to think -–  that even if people hear that 83% of the tax savings from the new law will go to the rich and super rich, which of course they will never learn from Fox News and kindred sources, people focused on their take-home pay checks may not care about how much richer the super rich are getting. They may be content that they are getting at least some tax relief and be glad that, though they have heard that it’s not permanent, it will last for a few years.


This may not be just wishful thinking on the part of Republicans, but actually be right! For that reason, over the din of right-wing talking heads and truthless tweets, Democrats need to get across to the public that the trillion dollars plus of gifts fat cat politicians are handing out to fat cat donors and their kind isn’t going to come from piles of money stashed in steel cabinets in the Treasury Department, but from piles of money it will have to borrow and pay interest on forever unless it’s paid back, which is exceedingly unlikely. Democrats have to get it across that, if Republicans continue to control the government, the way the U.S. will finance the interest it will have to pay on this new debt, which is, of course, in addition to the interest it continually has to pay on old debt, is that pretty soon Republicans will say they have to cut social services like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and they’ll have to cut funding for the arts and science research, and they’ll have to scrap those infrastructure projects they used to talk about, and that’s in addition to more cuts they’ll have make to the State Department and Foreign Service budgets, and they’ll absolutely have to do this because it would be fiscally irresponsible not to. Another result of this big giveaway to the rich and superrich of money the government doesn’t have is that interest rates will have to move higher to combat inflation, so people will have to pay more to buy a house or car, and there won’t be any cushion if there’s a downturn or a major catastrophe, one or both of which is more likely than we like to think. 

 

Democrats have got to get this across to every voter: If Republicans continue to control the government, you are going to be the ones that pay for the added wealth Republicans got for the rich and the super rich and for the campaign donations they got and keep getting for themselves. 

 

 

 

 

December 21, 2017 

 

Ever Craving for More 

 

Republicans in Congress and their super rich donors are looting the U.S. Treasury. They will soon be getting richer than ever. 

 

It might occur to persons having a charitable disposition that even though the rest of us won’t find greater happiness from the “tax reform,” at least the Republicans in Congress and their super rich donors will. One might think so, but most of these unfortunate souls won’t feel better no matter how much richer they get. They are addicts, you see, and their craving for more is renewed with every breath they take.

 

 

 

December 20, 2017

 

The Catastrophe and the Looters

 

      When a catastrophe befalls a community, paralyzing normal services, most people try to help each other. Others, once they know they can steal with impunity, loot.

      According to careful analyses by the Tax Policy Center, almost 83% of the benefits of the GOP tax plan will go to the richest 1% of earners. Because of the cut in the tax rate on corporations, the benefit to the rich and the super rich will be even greater, because they own most of these companies’ shares. Then there’s the doubling of the exemption on the estate tax, which the Republicans think is badly needed by people who are already very rich.

      The 1,100 page tax bill, which will soon be signed into law, was rushed to completion without hearings or independent analysis. It’s stuffed with grossly inequitable provisions, skewed toward rich investors and real estate developers.

      You would have to be really stupid if you couldn’t think of better ways to spend 1.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years, but it’s not stupidity at work here, it’s villainy. A catastrophe named Trump befell our nation. Republicans in Congress their allies are looting the the U. S. Treasury, and it looks like they’ll get away with it. 

        

 

 

December 19, 2017

 

Good Super Billionaires, Help!

 

Bad Super Billionaires, most notably (though they have plenty of company), the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch, have converted America from a democracy to an oligarchy, propping up, and to a large measure directing, a sociopathic president so they can amass more money and power for themselves. They are addicted to money, and they are addicted to power, so no amount is ever enough. 


The Koch Brothers have become masters at directing streams of cash to politicians who will deliver high rate-of-return results. The crown jewel of Murdoch’s media empire, Fox News, barely pretends to be a legitimate journalistic enterprise. Its corporate purpose is to act as a propaganda arm of the radical right.


Good Super Billionaires can no longer sit on the sidelines without being complicit in our country’s destruction. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet –– you seem to be decent fellows. The Gates Foundation, to which Mr. Buffet has been a major contributor, has been doing admirable philanthropic work fighting disease everywhere in the world. 


Mr. Gates, Mr. Buffet, have either of you noticed that the United States of America is in the late stages of a grave disease? Help! For starters you might see if you can buy Fox News. You’d probably have to overpay for it by five to ten billion dollars or so, but that shouldn’t stop you. Saving America is a worthy cause.

 

 

 

December 18, 2017 

 

How Republicans Think 

 

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin is a conservative, but her form of conservatism differs from that of Republicans in Congress, all of whom used to call themselves conservatives but haven’t lately because it’s so hard to do so and keep a straight face, her conservatism is not stripped of reality, honesty and decency. She recounts the process by which Republicans dealt with a demand by Florida Senator Marco Rubio that the the plan expand tax benefits for low-income families. Rubio pointed out that the resulting revenue loss could be offset by a very slight less radical slashing of the 35% tax rate on corporations  –– to 21% instead of to 20%. Decency would require acceptance of such a proposal, but Republicans decided to use most of it not to help needy families or reduce the tremendous deficit their tax plan will generate, but as an excuse to lower top bracket income tax on wage earners even more than they had planned to. Seize any pretext to take from those who need it most to enrich those who need it not at all. That’s how Republicans think.

 

 

 

December 17, 2017

 

Pretending Trump Isn’t Trump

 

News Item: “At the National Security Council, it is understood that to bring up the Russian threat is to risk enraging the president. The same goes for the CIA officials who conduct Mr. Trump’s daily intelligence briefing; they sometimes leave material on Russia out of the oral session, so as not to send the session ‘off the rails’, in the words of a former senior official.’” 


The Republicans controlling Congress are playing a dangerous game in pretending that Trump is fit to hold office. In failing to use their Constitutional authority to impeach and remove him from office, they stand to be judged with him at the floor of the abyss.

 

 

 

December 16. 2017 

 

Scrolling Down Facebook 

 

Every day at least once and usually more often I scroll down Facebook. I don’t initiate posts, though sometimes I “comment” on posts by others and once in a great while I click on “share.” Scrolling down Facebook, I come across occasional postings by friends or relatives, though there seem to be fewer of these than there used to be, whereas there has been an increasing incidence of ads. Also increasing in incidence are political observations by liberal politicians, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and for some strange reason Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau. I’m exposed as well to postings by liberal journalists such as Bill Moyers, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Ezra Klein, Michael Moore, and Joy Ann Reid. Adding to the mix are occasional posts from the ACLU and Bill Maher. Most of these comments are perceptive and sound from a policy standpoint, but they are wearing. Their combined voices merge into a blur. I’m thinking of blocking most of them. One person’s postings I won’t block are the Dalai Lama’s. His simple homilies have a calming effect. It elevates my thinking, thinking how happiness is more likely to be the fruit of kindness than of greed.


 

December 15, 2017 

 

Ideas for Constitutional Amendments, Anyone? 

 

Imagine a Constitutional Amendment that provided that super rich people can’t be prosecuted for stealing! There’s a good argument against it. They already can’t be prosecuted for stealing! Of course they can’t just scoop up money and stuff it into their suitcases. Just as buglers have to lay out money to buy special tools, hacksaws, for example, super rich people have to lay out money to buy their special tools, in the case commanding our attention at the moment, Republican  members of Congress. “Our donors will be furious if we don’t pass this tax bill,” Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado reportedly admitted. 


Well-placed politicians are a lot more expensive than burglars’ tools, but the return on investment for super rich donors is phenomenal, in this case tax breaks so lavish that they’ll add more than a trillion dollars to the national debt. Some other Constitutional Amendment would make more sense.


 

 

December 14, 2017 

 

The Propaganda Channel 

 

Trump and Trumpism are morally bankrupt. Trump would be out, and Trumpism would shrivel into relative insignificance if it weren’t for the propaganda channel, Fox News, which skews and stuffs the minds of listeners with poisonous distortions and inversions of facts, stirs hatred and resentment, and contravenes reasoned debate. Fox commands six of the eight top ratings, including the highest two, for cable news shows.

 

Trump reviles legitimate news and commentary. Public ignorance is key to successful despotism.

 

 

 

December 13, 2017 

 

Degrees of Human Evolution in Alabama 

 

Watching Alabama election returns last evening, I was intrigued by how different groups tended to be voting. The gap between men and women voters is shocking. If only women had been voting the election would have been a landslide for Jones. If only men had been voting, it would have been a landslide for Moore. Men are clearly significantly less evolved than women in Alabama, except, it appears from other statistical analyses, black men.

 

 

 

December 12, 2017 

 

Trump and the Mueller Investigation 

 

Trump in Pensacola: “There are powerful forces in Washington trying to sabotage our movement. These are bad people, these are very, very bad and evil people . . . But you know what, we’re stopping them. You’re seeing that right now.” 

 

Who is the baddest of the bad, the most evil of the evil? Presumably it’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation of Russian interference in U.S. elections and collusion on the part of people aligned with Trump in their efforts. 


Mueller, a Republican and former director of the FBI, was widely praised for his integrity and professional competence, including by prominent Republicans, after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a widely respected career lawyer in the Justice Department, also a Republican,  appointed Mueller as Special Counsel. Thus far Mueller has secured two guilty pleas and two indictments of persons who were close Trump associates during the campaign.


Imagine, for the moment, that Trump, his family members, and all others closely associated him (other than those who have already been indicted or pleaded guilty) were innocent of criminal behavior. Trump might be saying now (in his own style of speech) that Mueller can investigate till the cows come home, but he’s not going to find anything incriminating beyond what has been made public. Or he might be saying that he welcomes Mueller’s work because it will end up clearing him, his family members, and others associated with him of any suspicion of wrongdoing. Or he might not bother to say anything. But it’s not likely he would be calling Mueller and members of his team “very, very bad and evil people.” 


It’s obvious why Trump wants to stop Mueller’s investigation. He says he’s going to do it. Key Republican members of Congress have indicated that they want to help him. 2018 will be an interesting year.

 


December 11, 2017

 

Why Is Trump Tolerated?

 

I’ve read a lot of explanations, and I’ve presumed to construct a few myself, but watching a clip of Trump speak at a rally of supporters in Pensacola the other night, I reverted to my initial dumbfounded state. Trump said that he had cut more regulations than any prior president, except –– maybe ––Abraham Lincoln. He came close to giving Lincoln credit for having cut more regulations than he had, but stopped short.


What was Trump's state of mind that caused a moment of hesitation that gave the impression that he must be a generous-spirited man who sincerely wanted to credit Lincoln with having cut more regulations than he had. If only I could do that honestly, he seemed to be thinking. Then his facial expression and the timing of his words made clear that he knew that he couldn’t. No less modest than he is honest is Trump, and it seemed to be only modesty that kept him from informing his listeners that he had cut even more regulations than Lincoln. 


 

How obtuse do you have to be not to recognize that Trump’s speech was in the great American tradition of snake oil salesmen? Or could it be that the applauding people in the audience weren’t obtuse: they saw Trump’s performance as a work of performance art, and, more than anything else, that is what they cared about?


 

December 10,  2017

 

Does Greed have Limits?

 

Yesterday’s Washington Post reported: Separate GOP bills that passed the House and Senate would lower the corporate tax rate from 35  percent to 20 percent, but lawmakers negotiating the final bill have considered raising it to 22 percent. An advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers joined a chorus of conservative groups and senators urging the GOP to ‘stick to their vision’ and hold firm at 20 percent.”


The problem is that some Republicans have begun to think that the massive tax cut for the rich they are jamming through without objective analysis or public hearings will increase the deficit and the national debt so outrageously that they need to provide to provide more cosmetic cover for it.


It may be difficult for you to see how reducing a proposed 42% reduction in the corporation tax rate to a 37% reduction could cause outrage and anger from the acolytes of the super rich activists, but it did. Reported in Politico: “‘We’re not into this screwing around about the corporate rate,’” said Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks. “The 20 percent rate is incredibly important to us because we need the rates as low as possible. . .”

 

Greed has no limits.

 

 

 

December 9, 2017

 

Short Fat Little Rocket Man Vs. Mentally Deranged U.S. Dotard 

 

     Trump and Kim un Jong haven’t hurled apocalyptic-scale threats at each other lately. Trump is most intensely focused on trying to undermine the investigations of the Russia thing by Special Counsel Mueller and Congressional Committees. He has lots of other concerns as well. Kim is most intensely focused on missile and nuclear weapons development. Every month that passes, his country’s negotiating leverage improves. 

     Kim can’t feel secure having only one or two intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. He clearly wants to attain the same relationship with the U.S. that Russia has –– mutually assured destruction (MAD). Trump is stymied. He has undoubtedly been advised that a massive nuclear attack on North Korea could destroy its military capability, but not before North Korea wiped out up to a million or more people in South Korea, including tens of thousands of American military personnel. Long-term radiation effects would probably also kill hundreds of thousands or more Korean survivors and Chinese, Russians, and Japanese. 

     One can imagine a diplomatic solution that would be a win-win for North Korea, South Korea, and the United States, but formulating and negotiating it would require subtlety, sagacity, and moral authority considerably greater than the null amount Trump possesses.

 

 

 December 8, 2017

 

Even in Politics, Honesty is the Best Policy

 

     Republicans try to rally public support for their proposed tax legislation by grossly misrepresenting its effects. Senator Chuck Grassley admits that the proposed legislation would favor people who invest (i.e. those well off) and disfavor ordinary working people, but thinks that’s all right because the latter tend to spend their money on “booze, women, and movies.” But Grassley is an exception. Few Republicans are so candid. For the most part their agenda is based on rank falsehood, for example, their claim of the benefits of trickle-down economics. In deceiving and obfuscating, they are doing best to follow their titular leader.

      Given that the rallying cry of Democrats is truth versus falsehood, and that their greatest challenge is getting truth through to the confused and misinformed populace, Democrats have a special obligation to be scrupulously truthful in every thing they say. They must take great care to avoid inadvertently false or misleading statements and never ever make deliberate ones. 

 

      There is a practical as well as moral reason for this. Republicans and their media allies keep a desperate watch for instances of deception and lying on the part of any Democrat. When they find one, they relentlessly publicize and blow it up to gigantic proportions, their goal being to present Democrats as being no better that they are; in fact worse. Their goal is a voting public whose attitude is “You never know who to believe –– why bother voting?” If Republicans can get the public thinking that, they’ll continue to rule.


 

December 7, 2017

 

Yesterday, I commented that America has become a plutocracy. Robert Reich’s analysis, posted on Facebook later in the day and copied below, convinced me that our government would better be described as an oligarchocracy. Can America ever be a democracy again? 


Robert Reich:

 

. . .The oligarchs (Koch brothers, Mercers, Wilks, Waltons, Deasons, Schwabs, Neugebauers, Murdochs, Griffins, Ricketts, etc.) are now in charge of the U.S. government. The views of most Americans (75 percent of whom are against the tax cut, for example) no longer matter.

 

This was the oligarch’s deal with the devil (Trump) from the start: Get us a huge tax cut, use the resulting deficit to justify cutting Medicare and Social Security, and get rid of environmental and financial regulations. In return, we’ll finance you, we’ll back your allies in the GOP, and we’ll mount PR campaigns on your behalf that magnify your lies. Hell, we’ll even make you look like a populist.

 

Over half the money contributed in the 2016 came from just 158 families, along with the companies they own or control. More than 50 of these people are on the Forbes list of America’s richest billionaires. 64 of them made their fortunes in finance (hedge fund and private equity). 17 in energy, mostly oil and gas. 15 in real estate and construction (the Trumps, for example). 10 in technology.

 

These American oligarchs don’t have to worry about whether Social Security or Medicare will be there for them in their retirement because they’ve put away huge fortunes. They don’t worry about climate change because they don’t live in homes that might succumb to hurricanes or wildfires. They don't care about public schools because their families don't attend them. They don't care about public transportation because they don't use it. Truth to tell, they don't even care that much about America, because their personal and financial interests are global.

 

 

 

December 6, 2017

 

A Year of Daily Blogs

 

A year ago today, I began posting daily blogs. I planned to 

write about all manner of things, but overnight our country had been transformed into a nation besieged from within, and there were few days in the past year when I didn’t feel compelled to reflect on and write about public affairs.


This was my outlook a year ago, December 6, 2016:


     “Rather than posting sporadic blogs, book notes, and personal blogs, I've resolved to post a blog on one topic or another here every day. I'll try not to miss any, though it's not likely I won’t. As for anyone keeping a journal, this project is an exercise in self-discipline, an attempt to ensure that there won't be a day when I don't think, at least a little.

     There's more need for self-discipline and thinking now than ever, for we have clearly entered a new age, one that's an odd form of "ocracy," a unique one, in fact. We've pretty much left democracy; we're not quite yet in an autocracy; to a considerable extent we're in a plutocracy. Very definitely we're in a mockocracy. Most astonishingly we've entered a trumpocracy!

    “It may take awhile before we know exactly what that is, but we already know it's something we need to exit as fast as we can.”


Now, a year later, America’s peril is even greater. Given the spuriously justified determination of the Republican-controlled Congress to provide massive tax breaks for the rich even though it will raise the national debt by over a trillion dollars, our government is now, without question, a plutocracy, a government of the people, by the rich, and for the rich. And that’s only the beginning of our troubles, because, besides living in a plutocracy, we’re living in a lunocracy. 


I plan to keep writing a Daily Blog for another year, taking it through next November’s elections. 

 

 

 

December 5, 2017

 

Reaching People Who Voted For Trump And Still Support Him Even Though He Betrayed Them 


Most of these people are rarely exposed to anything relating to public affairs other than emanations of right wing propagandistic media such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the like, but they must see clips of Trump talking, and read his tweets. If you or I had suddenly been fast-forwarded from, let’s say, the 1980s or 1990s, where we’d been living, to a room with high definition TV on which all that came across were clips of Trump talking or shots of his tweets, and we were told that this is the president of the United States, and we had learned nothing else of what has happened since the time we’d been living in, we would know without question that a calamity had befallen the nation and that this weird orange-haired character was unfit to to be president. 


Why isn’t every decent person revolted just by watching and listening to Trump, no matter how much he’s being praised by his acolytes? There must be some deep psychological process at work. People want so much to believe in a savior that they will imagine that somehow, unnatural and surprising as it seems, this man will come through for them, if only the media, or if only that investigation, or if only . . . 


Recent indications are that some of these people are getting the beginnings of understanding that the tax overhaul Republicans are putting through is mainly going to help rich people, though they think at least they’ll get something out of it, and they are not used to expecting much more than that.


Can truth penetrate the most important wall, the one Trump and his allies have succeeded in building, the wall of confusion, obfuscation, and lies, and reach significant numbers of Trump voters before the 2018 elections?


 

 

 

December 4, 2017

 

Shock of the New

 

The latest issue of The Atlantic includes a picture of China’s new radio dish, which is designed to search for signals from advanced civilizations in outer space. It has twice the diameter of the heretofore largest such installation. If intelligent extraterrestrial intelligence is discovered, Chinese astronomers will likely be the discoverers.


What a shock it was to Americans in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. The event was treated as a national crisis. I remember how unsettling it was to accept the reality of a man-made object whirling around Earth, sometimes passing right overhead! And it wasn’t even American!


 

We don’t know what the next such shock will be, but it’s a good guess that it will come from China and that it will be even more shocking than Sputnik.


 

December 3, 2017

 

We Have Passed the Plutocracy Signpost on the Road to Autocracy

 

It’s been well documented elsewhere, so I won’t detail it here –– the historic tax bill just passed by the Senate is wholly unjustified economically and bereft of decency and equity. The bill was rushed to a vote without hearings, debate, or expert input. It contains some provisions crafted to provide public relations talking points, but its purpose and effect is to bestow massive tax breaks on rich people and big corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens, particularly the poor, and it is projected to increase the National Debt by more than a trillion dollars. Passage was achieved by the yes votes of 51 Republican senators. One Republican senator and all 48 Democratic and Independent senators voted against it.

 

This is no ordinary piece of legislation. It amounts to larceny on an unprecedented scale, a crime no less reprehensible because no one who voted for it can be prosecuted: proof, if any is still needed, that every member, save one, of the Republican caucus of the United States Senate has abandoned any pretense of promoting the public good. They have embraced the ethos of common thieves. 

 

Where were the “deficit hawks,” the Republican senators anxious to hold the line on increasing the National Debt? Where were the “moderates,” who had occasionally exhibited a vision of public policy broader than the desires of rich and privileged campaign donors? Where were those who at one time spoke out for orderly process and reasoned debate? All but Bob Corker chose to vote as instructed.

 

So blatantly self-seeking and irresponsible have the Republicans controlling Congress become that it is far from certain that they would impeach and remove Trump from office even if overwhelming evidence became public that he conspired with the Russians in that country’s illegal interference in U.S. elections and that he acted in Russia’s interests, rather than those of the United States, in exchange for that country’s partisan interference on his behalf. 


 

We have passed the plutocracy signpost on the road to autocracy and may be close to the point from which there’s no turning back.


 

 

December 2, 2017

 

To 51 Republican Senators Trump is an Inspiring Figure

 

In olden days, i.e. before Trump, when someone holding public office was caught in an undeniable deliberate lie about something of significance, the liar would be embarrassed. He or she might try to minimize it or promise that it wouldn’t happen again. In any case the liar’s reputation would be tarnished. Habitual undeniable deliberate lies would lead to ostracism. The liar’s political career would be over.


Trump is habitually caught in undeniable deliberate lies. That he has gotten away with it ––  has not been removed from office –– is ascribable to the moral failure of the Republican members of Congress and their allies in the media. This is more than bad enough, but Trump increasingly not only tells undeniable deliberate lies, he acts –- and invites his enablers to act –– as if it doesn’t matter that he lies. More and more, he flaunts his lies, exhibiting the mental state of a thug flaunting his middle finger. Consider, for example, his recent renewal of the thoroughly discredited claim that Obama was born in Kenya, or Indonesia, or anywhere but Hawaii. 


Times columnist Roger Cohen recently noted: “The destruction of the distinction between truth and falsehood is the foundation of dictatorship.” Trump seems to sense this –– he senses that destroying truth is the key to shedding the encumbrances of democracy. In rushing to passage their monstrous, misshapen, falsely advertised tax plan with only one member of their party dissenting, the Republicans controlling the Senate have signaled that they prefer to emulate Trump rather than restrain him.

 

 

 

December 1, 2017

 

Corruption, Decay, and Rot
 

For month after month people of good will have been outraged at the behavior of Trump and his enablers, an unprincipled cadre that includes almost every Republican member of Congress. In a recent Washington Post column E.J. Dionne noted: “Great nations and proud democracies fall when their systems become so corrupted that the decay is not even noticed –- or the rot is written off as a normal part of politics.” 


 

Partisanship is normal. What’s happening every day is not. Democracy's survival is at stake.


 

 

November 30, 2017

 

Person of the Year!

 

Trump has gone out of his way to make sure that everyone knows that he doesn’t care if Time Magazine doesn’t declare him to be the person of the year. My prediction is that Time will name Xi Jinping as person of the year. Xi told Trump that the chocolate cake at Mar a Lago was the best in the world. From then on it was no contest between the two of them. 


 

November 29, 2017

 

Tentacles Extend Their Reach 

 

Greedy superbillionaires buy politicians. Illegal bribes are rarely involved. Rather, for example, fossil fuel companies happen to want to support members of Congress who happen to oppose legislation and regulations restricting air and water pollution.

 

 

Perhaps the richest of such superbillionaires are Charles and David Koch, noted not just for financing of selected politicians but also for establishing think tanks and university programs aimed at influencing public discourse and opinion. Not content with molding public policy to their liking through these vehicles, the Kochs are supplying $600 million dollars financing to enable Meredith Corporation’s to buy Time, Inc. Meredith owns a lot of magazines, television stations and websites. Time, Inc. owns over a dozen magazines including Time, People, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated. 

 

 

Even as their tentacles extend their reach, the Koch brothers disclaim any interest in affecting the reporting and opinion content of all these media vehicles. If that were true, it would be astonishing. Tentacles extend their reach; then they begin to close.

 

 

 

November 28, 2017

 

Showdown at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, continued

 

The issue of whether Acting Director Leeandra English or Trump’s appointed stooge, Mick Mulvaney, is in charge of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now before a Federal District Judge. Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Tribe pointed out in an online Wasnington Post article yesterday afternoon that Trump’s putative appointment of Mulvaney “is plainly illegal.”


The Dodd Frank Act provides that English, who was the deputy director, became the acting director upon the previous director’s resignation and is entitled to remain so until a new director is nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Trumpian lawyers claim that Trump's authority to appoint a new acting director derives from the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act even though that law explicitly provides that it doesn’t apply when another statute specifies the succession procedure for a particular agency, which is the case here.


 

An article in this morning’s Slate cites a University of Chicago Law School professor’s argument to the contrary, one too sketchily described for me to comment on. The judge, who may rule on the matter as early as today, was appointed by Trump. My guess is that he is likely to seize upon any argument available to support Mulvaney, dooming the CFPB’s continuance as an effective agency.

 

 

 

November 27, 2017

 

Showdown at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

 

Before resigning last week, the director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), Richard Cordray, appointed his chief of staff, Leandra English, as deputy director, noting that under the law (the Dodd-Frank Act) the deputy director becomes the acting director upon the director’s departure. 


Trump, displeased with this development, purported to appoint one of his stooges, MIck Mulvaney, to replace Cordray as the director. Mulvaney would retain his present post as director of the office of management and the budget, but his new duties would presumably not be burdensome, since he is on record as calling the CFPB “as nothing more than a sad, sick joke.” His mode of management of the Bureau would be to render it inert.


Trump could nominate Mulvaney as director, but this would simply set in motion the Senate confirmation process. If Mulvaney shows up uninvited at CFPB offices before he nominated and confirmed, he should be denied admittance.


 

However this plays out, Trump’s purported appointment of Mulvaney is an act of bad faith and as such a violation of his oath to faithfully execute the duties of his office. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. Thus lengthens the ever growing list of offenses for which Trump should be impeached and removed from office.


 

 

November 26, 2017

 

The Faith of a Trumpian

 

Every Thanksgiving week, New York Times liberal columnist Maureen Dowd substitutes in place of her own essay one by her conservative brother, Kevin. Kevin is articulate. It seems likely that he is a college graduate. It’s interesting to read what he has to say, because he represents an important segment of the population ––  educated older white men of moderate intelligence who voted for Trump and continue to support him and the agenda of the Republican establishment.


Kevin, like the vast majority of Trump supporters, is not a deep thinker. His essay consists of singing standard songs in the Republican hymnal: Trump has been treated unfairly by the press. Obamacare is a disaster. Trump has gotten rid of burdensome regulations. Trump has started to reshape the lower courts “decimated by Obama’s appointments.” “The real Russia collusion is with Hillary and the D.N.C.” Roy Moore “is despicable. But the seat is very important.”


Kevin makes no attempt to address either Trump’s deficiencies or those of Republican policies. He wants to be as incisive and sharp-tongued as his illustrious sister, but sounds sophomoric: Trump’s “blustering against Kim Jong-un is the only way to deal with a bully.” “I’m not a Bannon fan. But he’s holding Republicans’ feet to the fire,” Hillary “continues to hover above the party like some giant pterodactyl of Christmas Past.” “Liz and Bernie want the party to be more liberal, as if that were possible. If they move any further left, they will be driving in Britain.”


How did Kevin happen to form his views? Some mix of genetic makeup, environmental influences, life experiences, and the effects of the subcultures in which he circulated, produced a doctrinal, resentful, defensive-aggressive world view of the sort that attracts many people to the Republican Party. By thinking of themselves as conservatives and subscribing to the Party line, they develop an enduring faith, one they protect by habitual exposure to Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and other cultivators of misunderstanding and ignorance. Wall Street Journal editorials and opinion pieces likely contributed to Kevin’s world view as well.


 

People with the faith of a Trumpian don't respond to rational argument. You have to defeat their candidates at the polls.


 

 

 

November 25, 2017

 

2017 Books

 

I always enjoy scanning the New York Times list of “Notable Books of the Year,” which appears in late November. As always, like most readers, I suppose, I’m surprised that certain books didn’t make the list. The Times editors must be aware that this a common reaction –– they only claim to list “100 notable” books rather than “the 100 best books,” or “the 100 most important books.” 

 

I only read one of the books on the Times’ list. Here are four I read that weren’t on their list that I would rate among the most important of the year:

 

Life 3.0 –– Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Max Tegmark. No one knows where A.I. is headed. Tegmark, a physics professor at M.I.T., lays out a number of scenarios, one or more of which is likely to happen. 

 

A Crack in Creation –– Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, by Jennifer Doudna  A close examination by a top expert at another historic transformation that has already begun. 

 

Behave –– The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky. This wide-ranging book by a Stanford primatologist and neurobiologist illuminates the whole range of factors that converge to determine everything, or at least much of everything, we do. 

 

Impeachment –– A Citizen’s Guide, by Cass Sunstein. The author is a Harvard Law School professor. His short book is a highly readable analysis of the applicable Constitutional text and of the history of drafting and application of the grounds and procedures for removing high government officials, including the president, from office. The framers wanted to create safeguards against a president with despotic aspirations, but they also wanted to ensure that the president didn’t serve merely at the pleasure of the Congress. They did an excellent job of balancing competing considerations, but they can’t help us now. 

 

 

 

November 24, 2017

 

Kill by a Thousand Cuts

 

Trump and his enablers view truth, democracy, and the Constitution as impediments. They reject this country’s history and values. They want to convert America from a democracy to an autocracy.

 

They would like to kill democracy with a single stroke –– a coup d’état –– but the risk is too great that they would fail, so they are pursuing the best alternative: kill by a thousand cuts. 

 

They were at it even before Trump: e.g. in refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Whack. A piece of the Constitution is excised. 

 

Since Trump’s ascension, cuts come at a much faster pace. Trump and his helpers hack fiendishly at the body politic. This is no place to itemize the dozens, if not hundreds, of instances of clips, snips, slashes, and stabs –– I can only begin. End equal access to the Internet. Slice. Replace EPA scientists with industry stooges. Whack. Suppress voting under the phony pretext of preventing fraud. Cut. Withhold evidence from the Special Counsel. Cut. Appoint political flunkeys to important judgeships. Cut. Cut. Whack. Cut. Appoint a partisan advocate of gerrymandering instead of a civil servant to direct the 2020 census. Cut. To kill democracy, kill truth. Slice. Whack. Cut. . . Keep at it. Cut. Kill democracy by a thousand cuts.

 

 

 

November 23, 2017

 

Thanksgiving Wishes

 

     To all people of good will I wish a Happy Thanksgiving. 

 

     To everyone else I wish the blessings that honest soul-          searching may yield.


 

 

 

November 22, 2017

 

The Money Cycle

 

When I was in fourth grade, I learned about the water cycle: Water evaporates from rivers, lakes, and seas and forms clouds, which get saturated, causing rain to fall. Because of major variations in topography and so forth, a lot more rain falls in some areas than in others. Wherever rain lands and wherever it flows, it eventually it evaporates again, except for water that flows into spaces underground, scattered at random throughout the world.


 

Once children understand the water cycle, they are ready to understand the money cycle, which should be taught in fifth grade: Money evaporates from businesses and people and forms political office holders, who get saturated, causing money to come down. Because of major variations in campaign donations and so forth, a lot more money falls on some businesses and people than on others. Wherever money lands, and wherever it flows, it eventually it evaporates again, except for money that flows into spaces underground. In the case of money, unlike the case with rain, the spaces underground are not scattered at random throughout the world, but are concentrated among the people and businesses who contributed the most money in campaign donations and so forth.

 

The money cycle is not quite as simple as the water cycle, so it should be reviewed in sixth grade too.

 

 

 

 

November 21, 2017

 

Franken, Moore, and Trump

 

It’s the custom of columnist-pundits to come across as authoritative and correct. Their columns are called opinions, but they don’t sound as if they are offering opinions; they sound as if “I’m telling you: this is the way it is.” This even though it’s not always clear what is the way it is. Complexities and uncertainties abound. For this reason I found it refreshing to read Michelle Goldberg’s column in today’s New York Times. She doesn’t decide what pitch to make and then pitch it, she exposes her thought processes, her wrestling with tricky and confounding issues. As a result, her comments are more illuminating than anything else I’ve read about revelations of sexual improprieties that lately have been so much in the news.


Franken has been been a force for good in the senate. Many women who have worked with him have said that he treated them with utmost respect. Yet, his behavior in at least one instance, and allegedly in two instances, has been beyond the pale. He should resign, Goldberg thinks, but then she has to grapple with the thought that it “seems perverse that Franken be on his way out of the Senate while Moore might be on his way in.” Perverse indeed, because, regardless of his lapses, Franken is a man of immensely finer moral character than Moore. 


 

And then, speaking of sexual harassment, there’s Trump! I would take Goldberg’s observation one step further. We don’t need our government any more perverse than it already is. Franken should go if, and only if, Moore and Trump go.


 

 

November 20, 2017

 

Truth vs. Falsehood


“The times they are a changin,” wrote and sang Bob Dylan at a time when no one would know what you’re talking about when you mention troll farms. Despotic governments and governments aspiring to be despotic are becoming ever more creative in spreading Big Lies and Little Lies to confound and mislead the public. Their media allies cultivate and reinforce the public’s impression that suppression is freedom, pain is pleasure, truth is falsehood, and every other insidious inversion of reality imaginable. The Koch brothers are reportedly buying a controlling interest in Time Magazine. The belligerents in the most consequential war in the world are truth and falsehood. 


 

 

November 19, 2017

 

As the New Year Approaches


There’s this upbeat thing to consider. A year ago, most people I know were consumed by gloom. Trump –– the most spectacularly unqualified person, by a wide margin, ever to be elected president –– would soon be assuming the awesome powers of the presidency. The legislative branch of government would be controlled by senators and representatives who see Trump not as the mortal threat to our country he is, but as a convenient tool for implementing their selfish agendas. Their betrayal of the Constitution in refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s moderate superbly qualified nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, would soon yield a rich dividend –– Trump could be relied upon to appoint a right-wing ideologue to the Court, and indeed he did. 


 

As it was, though it seemed impossible, Trump turned out to be even worse ––even more despicable –– than almost anyone thought possible. What is cause for encouragement is that there is a much better chance than could have been hoped for last fall that the Democrats will gain control of Congress in the 2018 elections. That would at least put a brake on Trump and might conceivably be part of a mix of events that could result in his impeachment and removal from office. It’s now something that we’re not being hopelessly fanciful to hope for.


 

 

November 18, 2017

 

Sickening Effects

 

At two A.M. election night, 2016, after it became clear that Trump had won, David Remnick, Editor of The New Yorker, called Trump’s election “sickening.” He could just as well have called it tragic, calamitous, baleful, and a lot of other things, but “sickening” best describes the effect the election had on informed people of good will, a feeling of physical revulsion, one that's been repeated countless times since.


 

“Sickening” is the word that surfaced in my mind yesterday when I was reading that the Trump administration has lifted the ban on bringing elephant body parts into the United States. The ban had deprived adventurous big game hunters, among them Donald Trump, Jr., from properly displaying their trophies, for example by mounting stuffed elephant heads over their fireplaces. The sickening feeling worsens after looking at a photograph of Trump Jr. in the field, attired in hunting gear including a belt fronted with high caliber bullets, holding a severed elephant tail. Revulsion is proportionate to the pride young Trump took in his accomplishment.


 

 

November 17, 2017 

 

The Party of Let's Pretend

 

Yesterday an ill-wind that did no good blew across the land. Two-hundred- and-thirty-seven Republican members of Congress aligned to pass the tax cut for the rich, including potentially saving Trump a billion dollars thanks to abolishing the estate tax and other breaks for him and other superrich people, pretending that this bill would benefit middle-class taxpayers.

 

You can find it documented elsewhere –– this is a totally phony claim. The tax breaks in this bill overwhelmingly favor the rich. Graduate students will be penalized. Big corporations will have their taxes sharply reduced, raising their after-tax profits, significantly transferring wealth from ordinary Americans to fat cats, creating a preposterous budgetary shortfall, exposing the Republicans pretense of fiscal responsibility as a sham. 

 

 

 

November 16, 2017

 

Our Irrational Congress

 

Jennifer Rubin: “With Trump, anyone not worried about his power to use nuclear war is delusional.” 

 

Millions of Trump supporters ––  members of the “Trump no-matter-what” faction–– are not worried about Trump’s horrifying power, and they are not delusional. They are simply ignorant, because their understanding of Trump and his entourage and of public events generally has been formed almost completely by prolonged exposure to Trump-enabling propaganda from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the like.

 

Republican members of Congress, who are generally more sophisticated and knowledgeable than average Trump supporters, must be worried. They know that Trump poses a grave danger to our country and to the world, so they may not be delusional. They are clearly irrational, however, thinking they can get away with keeping Trump in power in order to pursue their political and economic agendas, imagining that they aren’t taking an unacceptable risk to themselves and their families, not to mention the rest of the world.

 

Stephen Hawking has said that the two great perils to humanity are greed and stupidity. We can see it writ large, the two go hand in hand.

 

 

November 15, 2017


New York Redux


When you lived and worked in New York decades ago, and you’ve been away along time, and you’re 86-years old, and most of the people you know are dead, and you come back to the city for a few days, it’s as if you’ve been dead too but given leave from the afterlife for a quick trip there. A lot is familiar, a lot has changed. Your main sensation is being haunted by memories.

 

 

November 14, 2017 

 

Intimations 

 

Trump reminds me of the giant inflatable Santa Claus that may soon reappear in front of the house across the way –– a shabby, colorful, puffed-up shell, enveloping nothing. Last year it collapsed. Next year Trump may collapse, but the malevolent forces that unleashed him won’t. There are a lot of pots on the stove, and they all look about to boil over.

 
November 13, 2017

The 2018 Federal Elections –– Report from One of the 435 Congressional Districts

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.): “My donors are basically saying, 'Get this done or don’t ever call me again.’” Getting this done means getting a big tax breaks for the rich. Many Congressional districts are solidly red, fewer solidly blue. Mine –– Colorado District 3 –- I guess you’d call pink. The incumbent, Scott Tipton, is fat cat-donor dependent and a shameless Trump enabler. I plan to help replace him next year.

 

November 12, 2017  

Inspiring Questions Answered!

It’s amazing how Trump can keep out-Trumping himself. He met with Putin the other day and asked Putin if he had interfered with the American election last year. Putin said, no. Trump, the ever tenacious investigator, asked Putin the same question again. Again Putin said no. As Trump correctly noted, “You can only ask the same question so many times.”

 Jeff Flake: “It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say?’”

Jennifer Rubin: “Based on what we have seen so far, they will have to mumble something or other and shuffle their feet.”

 

November 11, 2017

The G.O.P. –– R.I.P.

Some conservative commentators, like Jennifer Rubin and Steve Schmidt, care about what the Republican Party once stood for and have refused to pretend that the politicians who control the Party today bear any resemblance to former Republican leaders who exemplified prudence, thoughtfulness, honesty, restraint, and dedication to bettering our nation. Imagine how Dwight Eisenhower would react if he could come back to life and learn about public servants like Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan. He would react with disbelief and disgust. 

The Republican Party is shot through with rot. Yesterday, for instance, I learned that the Senate Judiciary voted on party lines to confirm Trump’s nominee for a Federal District Court judgeship, and thereby bestow upon him a lifetime appointment, a 36-year-old right-wing blogger who has practiced law for only three years, has no trial experience, and whom the American Bar Association committee charged with assessing the qualifications of judiciary appointees unanimously judged to be unqualified. Evidently his sole qualification was that Trump admired his anti-Hillary screeds.

There are tens of thousands of lawyers in this country vastly more qualified to serve as Federal District Judges. That the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a political hack and sycophant for a lifetime appointment to such a distinguished and important position demonstrates how morally bankrupt the party has become. Confirmations like this will pollute the stream of the law long after Trump is dead, just as the EPA’s turning over regulation of toxic chemicals to their manufacturers will pollute the air and lakes and rivers for many years to come. Politicians supporting Trump –– virtually all the Republican members of Congress –– are engaged in a vicious fraud.

 

November 10, 2017  

 The Despot Training Manual

 Trump has succeeded in installing stooges and accomplices in key positions, but, as the preface to the Despot Training Manual warns, “It’s not easy becoming a despot when you’re president of the United States.” Jeff Sessions, whom Trump appointed Attorney General, seemed in every way like the perfect henchman, just the sort of well-groomed, well-spoken thug that the Despot Training Manual recommends you should have working for you, but Sessions got in an awkward situation and had to recuse himself from matters concerning Russia-Trump campaign ties, which resulted in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing the extremely capable and totally honest Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate the matter. 

The The Despot Training Manual was written for beginners, and it doesn’t say anything about that  kind of problem. It has plenty of good basic tips, however, one of which Trump followed in appointing Mike Pompeo as Director of the CIA. Pompeo has apparently made certain institutional changes in the Agency to ensure that he can shield incriminating evidence from investigators working for Mueller. Another CIA director might be staying up late at night trying to help Mueller. No danger of that now! 

Despite some stumbles, Trump thinks he’s ready for advanced despot training, which is doubtless why he visited China recently. What a thrill it must have been for him to be entertained by Xi Jinping, who, along with Vladimir Putin, is one of the The Despot Training Manual's distinguished co-authors.

 

November 9, 2017

The Challenge Ahead

Tuesday’s election results were a tonic for Democrats. Hope is resuscitated. Democracy might endure. 

 It's no time to relax. Immense obstacles remain to rescuing our country from despotism: 1) gerrymandering of Republican-controlled state legislatures tilt power in favor of Republicans; in 2016, for example, Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives won more votes than Republicans state-wide, but won only four of the state’s eleven Congressional districts; 2) institutionalized voter suppression, for example through targeted I.D. requirements, have the effect of keeping large numbers of people likely to vote Democratic from voting; 3) propagandizing by Republican politicians, business moguls, and their confederates in the media manipulate and channel rumors and news to serve their own interests, misleading the public, cultivating ignorance to gain support at the polls; 4) cyber warfare and social media manipulation as was practiced by the Russians in support of Trump prior to the 2016 election will be reprised with greater sophistication and intensity in 2018 and 2020. 

 

November 8, 2017

The Former Leader of the Free World Isn’t even able to be a Follower.

North Korea and Syria have signed on to the Paris Accord on climate change, leaving the United States, the country Lincoln called “the last best hope on earth,” as the one holdout, hostage to fossil fuel tycoons. 

 

November 7, 2017

Thinking about Future History

We can’t predict the course of future American history, but we can consider plausible scenarios. We can think about what might happen. If more Trump associates are indicted and further damaging revelations emerge about Russian ties to Trump’s inner circle, including members of his family, and especially if it becomes clear that Trump himself was involved in conspiring with the Russians in influencing the outcome of last fall’s election –– that is, if grounds for impeaching Trump become even more dramatically and incontrovertibly established than they already are except among truth-be-damned Trump loyalists and his propaganda-spewing media allies ––  what then? Will the Republican-controlled House of Representatives impeach him and will the Republican-controlled Senate convict him and remove him from office? 

In normal times, the answer would surely be, “Of course!” This is the kind of situation the men who debated, drafted, and ratified the Constitution feared and planned for –– their greatest concern was to protect the nation from despotism. But we are inot in normal times., and nothing is sure. It's by no means clear that Republicans in Congress care as much for American democracy and the rule of law as they do for amassing ever more money and power. 

 

November 6, 2017

Reflections on Impeachment –– a Citizen’s Guide, by Carl Sunstein

There is nothing in this book about Trump or his behavior, but when reading the author’s discussion of the Constitution’s provisions relating to impeachment, Trump’s transgressions leap to mind. Multiple utterances and actions of Trump amount to “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Some of them might not constitute an impeachable offense taken alone, but in aggregate clearly do. Sunstein writes, “A sustained pattern of lying can be counted as a misdemeanor –- an abuse of public trust with respect to a matter central to governance.” 

Again and again, Trump has been guilty of abuse of authority and neglect of duty. Among other transgressions, he has failed to faithfully execute the laws, undermined First Amendment freedoms, violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, abused his power to pardon, and attempted to arrogate for himself powers lodged in the judicial system, the independence of which is a bedrock principle of the nation.

Further grounds for impeachment will likely emerge in the course of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but inarguable causes for removing Trump exist now. The House of Representatives has not just the power, but also the duty, to impeach Trump. Failure to do so is to be complicit in Trumps’s continuing breach of trust.

 November 5, 2017 

Impeachment –– a Citizen’s Guide, by Carl Sunstein by Cass Sunstein

 

From the day Trump was inaugurated, if not earlier, there has been a good deal of public discussion about the possibility of impeaching him, so the title of this short book might give some the impression that it’s a prescription for urging Congress to do just that. Rather, this “Citizen’s Guide” is a dispassionate, scholarly, yet highly readable, discussion of the the provisions in Articles I and II of the Constitution that set forth the grounds and procedures for removal of the president and other designated civil servants by impeachment and of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment provisions for removal of a president who has become unable to carry out his duties. 

Trump and events leading up to and subsequent to Trump’s election are not mentioned –– this book might have been written two or three years ago. Sunstein’s purpose is to acquaint readers with the historical background of impeachment, including discussion of views put forth in the Constitutional Convention and instances of attempts to impeach, convict, and remove a president in American history. (Three presidents have been impeached. None have been convicted and removed from office, although Nixon almost certainly would have been had he not resigned. None have been removed from office for incapacity under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which was adopted after the assassination of John Kennedy.) 

The book includes a wide range of actual and hypothetical cases of impeachment which Sunstein addresses with such precision and clarity that attentive readers will come away from it with an invaluable frame of reference and a solid understanding of the legal and practical considerations at play in our present circumstances. Soberingly salient are Sunstein’s references to how determinations that should be based solely on the law and facts tend in practice to be creatures of political partisanship. 

This brief “guide” is a masterpiece of legal and historical analysis and exposition. It is a gift to America. In tomorrow’s blog I will discuss some thoughts I’ve had after reading it. 

 

 

November 4, 2017

Democrats and the Issue of Impeachment 

 Tom Steyer, a Democrat California billionaire, recently circulated a petition calling for the impeachment of Trump. He quickly gathered 1.5 million signatures, including mine. Several Democrat members of the House of Representatives have urged that the House should move ahead on impeaching Trump. Democrat leadership, led by Nancy Pelosi, have squashed these initiatives, arguing that they are nonstarters and would only ramp up divisiveness and destroy any chance of gaining concessions from Trump and Republican members of Congress in crafting legislation. Leadership’s position is that, if events produce greater cause for removing Trump, impeachment should perhaps be considered, but for now, cool it. 

 I have the impression that most Congressional Democrats hold this view. It’s understandable strategically. Restraint now on the part of Democrats will likely improve the chances of some Republicans calling for impeachment if and when the case against Trump becomes much stronger. At that juncture, Republicans would probably be more inclined to take the initiative if it doesn’t look like they are just following the lead of the minority party.

It all makes sense, or would make sense, except that the Democrat policy of restraint amounts to complicity with the Republicans in pretending that Trump has not, among other egregious transgressions, abused his office, failed to faithfully uphold the law, grossly violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, threatened non-allied media, shown contempt for and a willingness to subvert the judicial system, and exhibited qualities of character, temperament, and intellect that in the person of the president of the United States constitute a grave danger to the nation and the world. 

In urging restraint and patience for politically strategic reasons, Congressional Democrat leaders are exhibiting the same moral failure that characterizes their Republican colleagues.

 

November 3, 2017

Political Extortion

Something close to 30% of eligible voters –– close to 60% of eligible Republican voters –– are Trumpian loyalists (Group A). They don’t care how Trump behaves. They think the elites, the establishment types, all those politically correct, arrogant, holier-than-thou liberals, had it coming. Trump shook things up, just as he said he would. Liberals can’t figure him out. Good. Remember, he saved us from crooked Hillary.

Something like 70% of eligible voters –– including 40% of eligible Republican voters –- don’t like Trump (Group B) –- they think he’s a loose cannon; even the Republicans among them would prefer a regular, solid, sane president ––someone like what they imagine themselves to be. But Republican members of Congress still think that, with Trump in the White House, they can accomplish a lot –– like enacting “tax reform” that will keep their donors happy. They are sticking with the orange-haired one, but they are concerned by the way the heat keeps turning up on him –– all these revelations! 

Some Republicans in Congress are doubtless half inclined to speak out the way Bob Corker and Jeff Flake did. Only half inclined, or maybe a quarter inclined, because their Group A colleagues have made it clear that going against Trump will get you a primary fight. And you’ll lose it, and even if you win it, you’ll lose to your Democratic opponent. Even those acclaimed men of conscience, Corker and Flake, conspicuously lacked follow-up after their stirring little speeches. It takes some measure of integrity to resist political extortion by Group A Republicans, and Group B Republicans don’t have it.

 

 November 2, 2017

Masters of Self-Deception  

Ryan and McConnell talk themselves, daily, into small acts of cowardice and silence, and then they find themselves committing big ones.”     Ezra Klein, Vox 

Wally Shawn, in his book of essays, Morality, explains how it happens:

And so every day we encounter the numberless insidious intellectual ploys by which the principle of immorality makes a plausible case for itself, and for every ploy there is a corresponding weakness in our own thinking that causes us not to notice where we’re being led until we’ve already fallen into the trap.” 

 

November 1, 2017 

Ignorance is Strength

Rupert Murdoch has become an even more powerful propagandist supporting Trump than Putin. The News Corp., controlled and operated by Murdoch and his family, own hundreds of media companies in dozens of countries, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal among them. Fox News is essentially a propaganda outlet, a fount of earnestly delivered diversions, distortions, and untruths. Currently featured: Mueller’s investigation of the Russian interference is a distraction from real scandals involving Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. A Wall Street Journal editorial board calls on Mueller to resign.

Millions of Americans imagine the news is as Murdoch and his allies reconstitute it to their liking; Murdoch’s media have convinced millions that the media treats Trump unfairly. For Trump and his allies, public ignorance is strength.

 

October 31, 2017

Headline: “Russian content on Facebook may have reached 126 million users — far more than first disclosed, company testimony says.” 

This is the most ghoulish Halloween ever. Presumably over 100 million voters –– on Facebook alone! –– were exposed to Russian propaganda devised to make it more likely that Trump would be elected president. In how many cases did such propaganda affect a voter’s decision? We’ll never know, but it’s inconceivable that, as a result of criminal interference by a foreign power, a significant number of people didn't vote for Trump instead of Clinton. 

That in our last presidential election the action of the dictator of a hostile foreign power carried more weight at the polls than the vote of any individual American citizen is an enormity of utmost concern, especially because it is certain that this Putin-directed aggression will be reprised more intensively and more cleverly in future elections. 

This aggression would constitute a grave threat to our country in the best of circumstances.  We are experiencing the worst of circumstances –– a president who welcomes Putin’s interference even as he denies its existence and a Congress controlled by a party most of whose members are too lacking in moral fiber and personal integrity –– in elementary decency ––  to oppose him. 

Nothing to be done. Nothing to be done. Is that the guiding principle of this nation?

 

October 30, 2017 

What Goes On in the Mind of Acting Attorney General for the Russian Investigation Rod Rosenstein?

1.  RR looks like a bad guy when he drafts the memo making the case that former FBI director James Comey would properly be fired because his public statement about Clinton-related emails just before the election was unfair to Clinton. RR surely knew that this was not the reason Trump wanted Comey fired.

2.  RR looks like a good guy when he appoints superbly qualified and fair-minded Robert Mueller as special counsel to pursue the Russian investigation.

3,  RR looks like a bad guy the other day when he states: “I don’t think {voters would} be influenced by ads posted by foreign governments.” An absurd thing to say, because voters had no idea that the ads were placed by Russian agents.

I’m hopeful that Rosenstein knew that this remark would have no impact whatsoever except possibly to lull Trump into a false sense of security and make him less likely to fire Rosenstein before Mueller completes his investigation. This said, in keeping Trump guessing about what goes on in the mind of RR, he is keeping us guessing as well.

 

 

October 29, 2017

Truth at Bay

The premise of the First Amendment protection of free speech is that truth will win out in a free marketplace of ideas. Over the course of two-and-a-half centuries of American history, it generally has. Free speech has proved to be a great blessing of liberty, critical to America’s endurance as a free and open society. But lately, as Columbia Law School professor Tim Lu writes in an opinion piece in The New York Times, truth has come under attack as never before.

Professor Wu states: “The Russian government was among the first to recognize that speech itself could be used as a tool of suppression and control. The agents of its ‘web brigade’, often called the ‘troll army’, disseminate pro-government news, generate false stories and coordinate swarm attacks on critics of the government. The Chinese government has perfected ‘reverse censorship’, whereby disfavored speech is drowned out by ‘floods’ of distraction or pro-government sentiment.” He quotes journalist Peter Pomerantsev observation that these techniques employ information ‘in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert and paralyze.” Trump and his political and media enablers and allies follow this playbook and enlarge on it. 

Free speech is not protected when free reign is given to its perversion. Instead of winning out, truth may get trampled on, as in despotic states, and confined to powerless pockets of awareness. In America, as never before, truth is at bay.

 

 

October 28, 2017

Simple Eloquence

n some instances the most eloquent and devastating criticism is best delivered in the simplest possible form.

News Item: "Concerning Republican support for the Senate Candidacy for the white nationalist, Roy Moore. The Dallas News also blasted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who also gilded the lily by praising the twice-removed jurist for his ‘lifelong passion’ for the Constitution"

Wahington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin:  Blech

 

October 27, 2017

Cognitive Comparisons

Research has conclusively established the enormous divergence in likely outcomes between young children pinned down by poverty and those who experience a nourishing and stimulating environment. A striking multiplier effect is reflected in the numbers of individuals who are much more likely to be burdened and burdensome as adults and those more likely to be productive and to strengthen society as a whole. Apart from our moral obligation to make it a high priority to reduce poverty and increase educational opportunities for disadvantaged kids –– in my view sufficient reason in itself –– resources directed to this goal yield a superior financial return on investment. 

Not, perhaps, a return that is instantly manifest, as is the case with dramatically upward jolts in the bank accounts of rich people and big corporations that occur when policy decisions are directed to that goal rather than to the needs of society as a whole, but one would think that policy makers in Congress would be able to think about long term effects for the country. After all, a big advantage humans are supposed to have over slime molds, for example, is the ability to think ahead. Republicans who control Congress function far more effectively than slime molds in some respects, but not in this one.

 

October 26, 2017

Nemesis and Necessity

Trumpism is the nemesis of American democracy.

Robert Reich: Grounds for Impeachment of Trump:

“1. Taking money from foreign powers, in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 9) – when they stay at his hotels and grant him business licenses and patents.

“2. Failing to faithfully execute the laws, in violation of Article II, Section 3) – when he refuses to implement the Affordable Care Act.

“3. Obstruction of justice, in violation of the laws of the United States -- when he fired the head of the FBI for proceeding to investigate his possible connections to Russian interference in our election.

“4. Violation of the First Amendment – when he threatens the free press.”  

This list is not exhaustive.

I hold these truths to be self-evident:

1.  For the good of the country and of the whole world, it’s necessary to impeach Trump and remove him from office.

2. The Republicans controlling Congress are determined to pretend that this is not the case.

3. For the good of the country and of the whole world, it’s necessary for Democrats to work as never before to take control of Congress in the 2018 elections, and upon assuming office, impeach Trump and remove him from office.

 

October 25, 2017

All the World Knows about Your Crazy Trump.

I correspond from time to time with people from different countries. My most recent correspondent is a high school girl who lives in Ukraine. She is very bright and perceptive. “All the world knows about your crazy Trump,” she writes. “I really sympathize with Americans.”

Several Republican senators have declared their dismay with Trump’s behavior and questioned his stability and judgment. What about the rest of them? They are fixated on enacting tax breaks for the rich. They pretend that Trump’s being president of the United States is not a catastrophe. They show themselves incapable of comprehending that it’s in America’s interest and their own self-interest and that of their families to impeach Trump and remove him from office as soon as possible. Some day people will look back at our time and wonder: why didn't they impeach crazy Trump? How could they have been so stupid?

 

October 24, 2017

Puerto Rico and Renewable Energy

Three weeks ago, I wrote; “In rebuilding Puerto Rico, renewable energy, durability, and resiliency should be priorities.”

I was to some degree flying blind because I wasn’t sure how solar arrays and wind farms would survive a direct hit by a major hurricane. I wondered whether windmill arms have hinges so they can be dropped and secured to the pylons supporting them to withstand hurricane winds.

Yesterday I was pleased to read that solar power systems survived Hurricane Irma and kept working in Florida, and that, although Hurricane Harvey cut some Texas power lines, no wind farms were destroyed.

More hurricanes are coming, and other kinds of catastrophes, such as cyber attacks. We need to deploy solar and wind power systems that operate autonomously — are able to generate electricity and charge batteries off grid. Then we will have a network of energy-production sites that function when centralized power production and distribution is knocked out.

A rational government would put a lot of effort into achieving energy-producing efficiency, emissions reduction, and resiliency in Puerto Rico and everywhere else. This can't happen as long as greed and narrowest self-interest rule.

 

October 23, 2017

Rachel Maddow and the Slain Soldiers

Assume for the moment, as I think has been exhaustively and exhaustingly demonstrated, that Trump and his cabal and the Republican leadership are intellectually dishonest in the extreme. Journalists, opinion writers, and honest politicians have a solemn obligation to cast light, relentlessly, on their malfeasance.

Critics should not take this state of affairs as a license to be sloppy or disingenuous with facts and arguments just because the bar has been set so low by Republicans, in fact laid flat on the ground. They must be unfailingly honest, on bedrock principle, and for the practical reason that otherwise they will lay themselves open to attacks and elicit an attitude common to millions of voters who aren’t firm supporters of one or the other point of view: “Oh, this is typical in politics; they’re all the same; a pox on both their houses!” 

In her program last Thursday, Rachel Maddow made a convincing and well-documented case that, regardless of Trump’s motives, placing Chad on the list of countries on which he was imposing a travel ban was stunningly stupid and counterproductive. She also said correctly that Chad then pulled its anti-terrorist fighting forces out of neighboring Niger. Shortly afterward, four U.S. soldiers in Niger were ambushed and slain by terrorists. Maddow apparently suggested that the Chad forces pulled out of Niger because Chad had been put on the travel ban list and that, but for this, the U.S. soldiers might not have been killed. Apparently she had no basis for this speculation. Since then, she has been pointedly criticized for hyping her presentation and treating her speculations as facts. She may have undermined the important point she made about Chad being on the travel ban list.

Rachel Maddow is a brilliant highly informed journalist, a graceful interviewer, and a person of exceptionally high moral character and judgment. I think she sometimes overdramatizes events and tries to create more suspense than is warranted, doubtless trying to keep her audience intact through commercial breaks, faults, if you want to call them that, which are trivial in comparison to her journalistic excellence and the service she renders to this country by ferreting out truth. In this instance, she may have strayed over the line that separates honest rigorous thinking and argument from the shoddier kind. I’ll be looking forward to what she has to say this evening. 

 

October 22, 2017

 What Democrats Need

Jennifer Rubin: “Democrats may not have a cogent agenda, but they have Trump, which may turn out to be all they need.”

 Maybe, but more likely not. Democrats better develop a cogent substantive agenda and an agenda for penetrating clouds of confusion, ignorance, and bunk that incline a lot of voters to support Republican candidates and policies against their own self-interest. 

Tens of millions of eligible voters are unaware of the degree that inequality has risen over the past decades as the rich have gotten much richer while incomes and net worth of most people have stagnated, despite which Republicans are now poised to enact an even more regressive tax structure, which they dishonestly call “tax reform.” Democrats must get true facts across to voters in the face of toxic headwinds of continuous multi-sourced right-wing propaganda. If they don’t, American democracy will be only a historical term.

 

 

October 21,  2017

1001 Days and Nights

I’m empathizing more with Scheherazade, who had to tell a new story every night or she would be executed. She was able to keep this up for 1001 nights, which is how long it took before the king making her do it got to like her enough to let her quit.

Writing a daily blog or keeping a journal –– getting in the habit of stringing a few intelligible non-trivial sentences together every day –– is good mental exercise and an exercise in self-discipline too, but it does keep the pressure up. I often wonder, “Suppose I can’t think of what to say tomorrow?”

I’ve been writing this daily blog for more than ten months, though I missed a couple and repeated one, so if I’d been in Scheherazade’s circumstances, I would have been executed by now. Still –– pretty good, I think, considering that I have a similar regimen at night.

This nocturnal requirement started because, although I usually go to sleep quickly, I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. To deal with this I make up a puzzle that requires doing some math in my head. This turned out to be a win-win situation. I either solve the puzzle, which produces a feeling of self-satisfaction, which is calming enough so I can usually go back to sleep, or, much more often, go to sleep before solving it, which is just what I hoped would happen. So, it’s working pretty well. So far.

 

October 20, 2017

A Very Big Threat

A recent poll revealed that 46% of voters think that the media makes up stories about Trump. Presumably they have in mind elements of the media that Trump  has indicated he would like to snuff out –– The Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC, CNN, and others.

This is a disturbing report. It shows that ignorance runs deep in America; that multi-pronged propagandistic Trumpian and allied right wing forces have been effective in confusing and misleading millions of people, most of whom I suspect are rarely if ever exposed to responsible reporting and honest opinion.

We are all familiar with the Big Lie, a classic instrument of political subjugation. Trump and his enablers rely on big lies and a stock of smaller lies of various sizes and shapes that they draw upon to divert public attention from news that reflects badly on Trump. In this endeavor they are supported by agenda-driven superrich billionaires, among them Vladimir Putin.

It’s a very big threat, one that people of good will must work unceasingly to overcome if American democracy is to be restored to something close to the last best hope on earth.

 

October 19, 2017

Trump’s Brain

In a call to the widow of a fallen soldier, in the presence of the soldier’s mother, Trump said that “he must have known what he signed up for.” When this was widely reported, Trump said denied having said it.

It is staggeringly improbable that if this woman received a call from the president of the United States in which he simply expressed his sympathy, she and the soldier’s mother would have made up such an accusation. It is staggeringly improbable that Trump, whose defining characteristic is telling lies, who lies as readily as he breathes, was on this occasion telling the truth.

Trump has thoroughly revealed the kind of man he is. Given his life history, there is no reason to believe that he felt the slightest empathy with the woman he had called. He couldn’t express sympathy, he couldn’t even fake it. His brain was incapable of generating a few simple words that nearly any adult and most children could summon up.

Apart from Trump’s other appalling defects, there is something dangerously wrong with his brain, something that prevents him from functioning minimally even in his own self-interest, much less the interest of those whom he was elected to serve.

The Constitution provides members of Congress, members of the Cabinet, and the vice-president with power to remove a president from office through impeachment or under the 25th Amendment, which comes into play when a president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. There are ample grounds for action following either route. Each day they fail to act, those empowered to act allow our country to remain in peril. No one would fail to understand that this was the case –- it would be crystal clear –- once it became too late.

 

October 18, 2017

Congressional Democrats: What Silence Says

I know of only a couple of Democrat members of Congress who have have taken any initiative to impeach Trump. One of them, a representative from Texas, backed off after the Democratic leadership told him that the time isn't ripe, that it would be counter-productive to launch an impeachment effort which Republicans would quickly stomp out.

Some Democrats imagine that Trump might make a deal with them on health care if only to spite Republicans who haven’t been nice enough to him. True, it would be hard to elicit Trump’s cooperation if you’re trying to impeach him at the same time. Still, why strive for a bargain with a devil who’s as trustworthy as a hyena?

Most Democrats in Congress seem to think it’s better to wait for Special Counsel Mueller to announce his findings, initiate prosecutions, and make recommendations. Then will be a better time to act, they say. Whatever their reasons are, they are not good enough. Their silence lends credence to a dangerous myth –– that Trump is not a monster.

 

 

 

 October 17, 2017 (revised)

 

 

 

Fooling Most of the People Most of the Time 

 

 

 

Ascribed, probably erroneously, to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

 

 

 

Heartening words, but I think Lincoln would have noticed that they leave a big gap: fooling most of the people most of the time. That’s the basic strategy of Trump; that’s the basic strategy of the Republicans in Congress; and that’s what they’re trying to do claiming that their planned big tax breaks for the rich will save ordinary working people thousands of dollars a year because corporations will pass a lot of their tax savings onto them and create new well-paying jobs.

 

 

 

It’s a cynical and thoroughly phony claim that will be reiterated, reinforced, and embellished by subservient and cynical hacks in political office and their counterparts in the media, while super rich unprincipled right-wing donors to campaigns of compliant politicians laugh all the way to their hedge fund offices, twenty-thousand-acre ranches, propagandizing pseudo non-profits, and on-shore and off-shore banks.

 

 

October 16, 2017

The Most Dangerous Affliction

Bernie Sanders: “The Koch brothers have spent many, many years and hundreds of millions of dollars buying politicians and setting up think tanks and so-called 'non-profit' organizations to help implement their right-wing proposals, slash essential programs that working Americans rely on, and get massive tax cuts for themselves and other billionaires. This is what an oligarchic society looks like. The Kochs' agenda is not the agenda of the American people. We must fight it every way that we can.”

It’s hard to understand why people like the Koch brothers, who I understand are worth something close to 100 billion dollars, don’t want to contribute to the common good, for instance by promoting change from fossil fuel to renewable energy, or by ensuring access to basic health care for all, or –– even higher priority –– supporting candidates for Congress who will work to impeach Trump and remove him from office. Why is it that instead they are passionate about getting even richer?

You can get some idea of the origins of their psychopathology and that of some other super rich people from Jane Mayer’s superb book, Dark Money. They are victims of an addiction to money, the most dangerous affliction in the world.

 

October 15, 2017

Cowardice on a Grand Scale

A week ago, Republican Senator Bob Corker, who is also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he thinks Trump is a dangerous man and may lead us into war. Indeed. Trump is an unstable narcissistic sociopath. Every day he remains in office he poses a grave threat to our country and to civilization itself.

Corker told the New York Times, “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.” Yet not a single Republican senator has joined him in sounding the alarm. Washington Post columnist MIchael Gerson nails the reason why –– cowardice.

Steve Bannon and his allies have warned Republican office-holders that they will face primary challenges if they don’t toe the extreme right-wing Trump-supporting line: The subtext of his latest remarks is unambiguous. If you tell the truth about Trump publicly, you will be challenged for reelection in a primary battle, and if you survive the primary, you will likely lose to a Democrat.

To protect America in times of peril, millions of American service men and women have risked their lives. Virtually no Republican senator will risk losing the support the Party’s quasi-fascist fringe. It’s a case study of cowardice on a grand scale.

 

October 14,2017

A Look at the Night Sky

To keep things in perspective it helps to remind ourselves now and then that we exist for an eye-blink of time on, as Carl Sagan called it, a pale blue dot, a speck in a galaxy whose expanse is too vast to comprehend, yet is only one of hundreds of billions in the immensely greater frame bound by the cosmic horizon, beyond which in all directions lies a much greater, perhaps infinite, expanse inaccessible to our instruments and our eyes.

Still, is it not uplifting to contemplate high resolution photos of galaxies that look much like our own? Knowing that we comprise a tiny part of such a magnificent array is enough to stir the soul. At least, that’s what I thought until, reading M.I.T. physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilzceks’ new book, A Beautiful Question, I learned that our galaxy, like all the others, is a patch of concentrated impurities in a dark matter cloud. It’s beautiful, just the same.

 

October 13, 2017

Checks and Balances

The  oppression of the British Crown was fresh in their minds when the founders devised a constitutional system with three co-equal branches of government that would serve as checks and balances,  thereby protecting American democracy from the presidency of an aspiring despot. The Capitol was set on a hill to emphasize that the president is not superior to the legislative branch.

In this light, consider our present Congress. The lilies of of the field toil not, neither do they spin, yet they are arrayed in glory. With far too few exceptions, our Representatives and Senators check not, neither do they balance. They are not arrayed in glory. They bear the semblance of clinging vines and hollow stumps.

 

October 12, 2017

Another Day, Another Reason to Impeach Trump

Does a day go by without additional grounds arising to impeach Trump? I haven’t noticed any. Yesterday, it was his suggestion that NBC’s license should be revoked because what they reported was “disgusting,” i.e. it reflected unfavorably on him. News is what is favorable to him. Fake news is what is unfavorable to him. Truth is excluded from his calculations.

The file of grounds to impeach Trump by now is so voluminous that in our fast-paced succession of sensational news, it languishes in the margins like some bulky package that has been delivered but is yet to be opened. That’s why Trump and his enablers traffic in distractions aimed at crowding out what is most important: Trump’s monstrous civilization-imperiling presence in the White House.

It’s enough to make me want to wave a banner that says:

                              ANY MORON BUT TRUMP! 

By now, all but the stupid and stupefied know that Trump is spectacularly unfit. Why, then, don’t the Republican members of Congress do something about it? Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin explains:

“Republican lawmakers . . . don’t think Trump’s unfitness will fade away; they simply want the coverage of the president’s intellectual and temperamental unfitness to die down. How cowardly of them. We see the disturbing spectacle of the entire Republican caucus in something resembling institutional paralysis, unsure of what to do or how to do it, but doing it in sync with nearly identical bland statements of nothingnes."

 

October 11, 2017

Facebook, Twitter, and Google –– the Reluctant Dragons

Thanks to outstanding reporting by investigative journalists, more and more instances of rampant Russian manipulation of Facebook, Twitter, and Google to affect U.S. elections and public policy have come to light. These rich, powerful, technically savvy companies have been disgracefully lax in identifying these practices, taking measures to prevent their continuance, and failing to inform the public about them.

Are the executives who manage these companies afraid that establishing and disclosing that the degree of Russian cyberwarfare and clandestine propagandizing has been far greater than previously known will offend Trump supporters? They well might think so, because Trump has repeatedly claimed that the notion that Russians interfered with our elections is a hoax. If Facebook, Twitter, and Google had been aggressive about exposing and stopping the Russians, Trump and his enablers would have claimed that these companies were engaged in a baseless political attack. A significant number of Trump supporters might have stopped patronizing Google, Twitter, and Facebook, and that, as well as the costs of preventing such attacks, would have resulted in reduced profits. What could be worse?

What these companies have done and what they have not done could be, has been, and is much worse. Google’s motto is “Do no evil.” Larry Page, the company’s co-founder and CEO should be aware that a notorious form of evil is to do nothing. Mark Zuckerberg should know that too.

 

October 10, 2017

One Surreal Day after Another Until . . .

Trump says no one could have done as much for Puerto Rico as he did and that he’s so underappreciated. The secretary of state says Trump a moron. The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee likens Trump to a toddler and says he may lead us into nuclear war. The list goes on.

Republican members of Congress are empowered by the Constitution to remove Trump from office. They put us and themselves in mortal peril by failing to act. Are they cognitively deficient, cowardly, pathologically greedy, somnambulant, or all four? Will they realize that they have deluded themselves in time?

 

October 9,  2017

Trump and Ceaseless Criticism

Yesterday’s New York Times carried an op-ed piece by Peter Wehner, a senior fellow of a Washington think-tank concerned with “applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.” Mr. Wehner notes that, unlike most of his fellow Republicans, he has been a strong critic of Trump, but he is distressed by how politically polarized our country has become, a situation he says has been aggravated by confirmation bias –- our tendency to give credence and greater weight to reports and opinions that confirm our pre-existing beliefs. He says that “truth, including truth that unsettles us, has far too often become subordinate to justifying and defending at all costs our own, often unsound, preconceptions.” He quotes a fellow Republican who wrote him to say that Mr. Trump “has performed well beyond my expectations even in the face of ceaseless, unprecedented hate and criticism not only from the opposition party but from Republican ‘never Trumpers’ like yourself.” This comment does sound heated up by confirmation bias, lending support to Mr. Wehner’s assertion that “Our political culture is sick and getting sicker, and confirmation bias is now a leading toxin.”

Mr. Wehner implies that those who strongly criticize Trump are also probably afflicted with confirmation bias and are adding toxin to the national discourse. He cautions himself and us that “We need to emphasize greater epistemological modesty on our side and greater appreciation for the perspectives of the other side.” He asserts that “History will sort out those whose judgments were vindicated and whose were not.” With this remark, Mr. Wehner’s high-toned,  brightly polished lecture is reduced to mush. More than enough history has already happened to vindicate the judgment that Trump is spectacularly unfit to be president of the United States and that his possession of such immense  power is a grave threat to our country and to civilization itself. Rather than waiting for history to sort things out, Mr. Wehner would do well to follow Christiane Amanpour’s dictum: “Fight against normalization of the unacceptable."

 

October 8, 2017

Dark Portents

Washington Post  (Oct. 7):

"The influx of cash from Trump’s base is helping the GOP amass a major advantage as the parties prepare to battle for control of Congress in the 2018 elections, with the Republican National Committee pulling in nearly twice as much money overall as its Democratic counterpart this year."

The piously religious right; the racist xenophobic right; the gun rights-obsessed right; the government-phobic right; the greedy rich right; the Trumpian-conned right; the indiscriminately resentful right –– whichever faction or combination of factions you’re talking about, emotions of their members run strong.

Progressives, moderates  –- everyone with good will –- must be lucky, united, determined, and wise, if America is to make it through.

 

October 7, 2017

Populism and Elitism

Populism, in people’s minds, has a tincture of extremism in it, a hint of demagoguery, a suggestion of instability. Nobody claims or admits to being a populist. “Elitism” is associated with rich, powerful, arrogant, privileged types. It’s not good to be a populist, and it’s not good to be an elitist.

Trump and Bernie Sanders are both said to be populists. Joe Biden, who has been gearing up for a presidential run in 2020, is positioning  himself as anti-populist and anti-elitist. He undoubtedly hopes that, because of his sincere good nature and his record of “connecting” with regular working class folks, he’s likely to avoid attracting one of these unhelpful labels.

In actuality, all presidential candidates are elitists or populists. One or both of these qualities is how they get nominated, yet they are more likely to win the election if they can disguise that fact.

Contributing to Hillary’s loss was that in 2016 the political climate was such that it was much worse to be viewed as an elitist than as a populist, and she was viewed as a consummate elitist. Trump, of course, was an elitist too, but avoided being seen as one by being boorish, crude, ignorant, anti-intellectual, and having orange-dyed hair.

The best way to avoid being viewed as an elitist is to avoid acting like one, as Hillary did with her highly paid Goldman Sachs speeches and Mitt Romney did in 2012 by saying that 47% of the populace is dependent upon government and think of themselves as victims. The best way to avoid being viewed as a populist is to be honest and put forth sound progressive legislative proposals and explain with reasonable specificity how they will be paid for.

 

October 6, 2017

Republicans: Decertify Trump.

Trump is about “decertify” the Iran nuclear freeze deal. Maybe it can be saved by Congress. If not, as one observer noted, “we’ll be soon be confronting Rocket Man II.”

Blowing apart the Iran deal would be folly of the highest order. Why would Trump imperil it? Because during the campaign last year he said it was a terrible deal, probably the worst in American history, an example of how Obama’s policies were so horrible. He said he’d get rid of it, first thing. Even though all his advisors have told him it’s critically important to keep it intact, he feels that he will look weak if he doesn’t show how tough he is. He has to keep looking tough. Especially after not getting the Wall built. He said he absolutely was going to get that done. If he’d gotten the Wall going, or gotten rid of Obama care, or something big like that, maybe he’d feel okay laying off the Iran business. But now he’s got to show people he meant it about Iran. No matter what. This how Trump’s mind works.

Congress has the Constitutional power and ample grounds to impeach and remove Trump, yet Republicans, calculating that he will sign bills they want to get enacted, ignore the grave threat he poses to our country; indeed to human civilization.  Why is the elephant in the same room with them so hard to see?

 

October 5, 2017

Good People and Bad People

Yesterday, Robert Reich observed:

"Part of what made the Las Vegas shooting so deadly was a gun modification, legal in Nevada, that allows a semiautomatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon. When asked yesterday about banning such devices, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: 'The investigation has not even been completed, and I think it’s premature to be discussing legislative solutions if there are any.'”

One should be cautious about categorizing people as good or bad. People vary across spectrums of character in multiple dimensions, and all sorts of variables and factors come into play. Instances occur, however, when someone’s actions or words provide a clearly defined marker as to whether he or she is a good person or a bad person. This is one of those instances. It’s safe to say, without doubt or qualification: Mitch McConnell is a bad person.

 

October 4, 2017

Gerrymandering: Democracy at Bay

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, in which the Court will decide whether or not to uphold Wisconsin’s gerrymandering of electoral districts to ensure almost certain long-term Republican control of the state legislature. The Court’s decision will very likely be determined by how Justice Anthony Kennedy votes.

It’s quite likely that Kennedy, who is 81, will retire before the end of Trump’s term in office, in which case it is certain that Trump will appoint as his replacement a right-wing Republican ideologue in the mold of Neil Gorsuch, thus enshrining an iron-clad right-wing majority for years to come. Given that two elderly liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may also retire before Trump’s term ends, our country’s destiny may subjected to the rulings of right-wing activist justices for decades to come.

If, while Kennedy is still on the bench, the Court can’t strike down anti-democratic partisan gerrymandering as blatant as has been put into place by Wisconsins’ Republican-controlled government, this anti-democratic practice will become a permanent feature of American politics. If that happens, we will still be able to keep calling our form of government a “democracy,” if we want, but not without putting after that word an asterisk in bold-faced type.

 

October 3, 2017

Considering Puerto Rico’s Future

I’m not knowledgeable enough to propose a recovery plan for Puerto Rico, but I think I can safely suggest some principles that should be observed. Prior to hurricane Maria, the territory was financially on the ropes, burdened by tremendous debt. I’ve read that there was a long record of mismanagement on the part Puerto Rico authorities, but a big part of their problem stemmed from the behavior of the U.S. Government, which phased out tax subsidies, resulting in many companies ceasing operations on the island, depressing the Puerto Rican economy.

Prior to the hurricane, creditors wanted to institute an austerity regime on the island so they could recoup as much as possible from their investment. Investors take risks, including the risk of a hurricane of ferocity not experienced by the island in eighty years. My view is: Sorry, bond holders, bad luck. To the extent consistent with the Constitution, these loans should be written off. Rather than countenancing squeezing money from destitute Puerto Ricans, the U.S. government should take the position that Puerto Rican debt should be nullified, and to the extent that it cannot be, the U.S. should assume the debt and institute a plan for Puerto Rico modeled on the Marshall Plan after World War II, whereby our country provided massive capital and technological assistance to European countries, thereby materially accelerating recovery from the devastation of World War II.
 
In rebuilding Puerto Rico, renewable energy, durability and resiliency should be priorities. Financial controls should be instituted modeled on the kind of conditions the International Monetary Fund attaches to loans and grants to countries it is rescuing from collapse. A similar program should be instituted for the American Virgin Islands, and, while we’re at it, for ravaged independent Caribbean island nations such as Dominica.

Revenues for this grand project would require scrapping a portion of the Republicans’ tax cuts for the rich in the event that is not, as it should be, scrapped anyway. That should be acceptable to Congress and Trump. The alternative would be tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

 

October 2, 2017

Not Exactly a Love Letter Sent to Congressman Scott Tipton:

Dear Mr. Tipton:

I received your email endorsing the Republican tax plan. You enthuse about a modest net advantage it would produce for certain lower and middle income taxpayers, but you are silent on other provisions, or about how the loss of revenue would be offset. I'm sure you're aware that trickle-down economics has been totally discredited. And because, like me, you are not a robot, you are aware that this plan is both fiscally irresponsible and amounts to a huge give-away to the rich and very rich, including, conspicuously, Trump.

You are my Congressman. I keep hoping you'll have an epiphany and realize that your life will be more meaningful and noble, and indeed, happier, if you conduct yourself honestly and represent the people of your District instead of the Koch brothers and their kind.

Yours,

 

October 1, 2017

Populism and Elitism

Populism, in people’s minds, has a tincture of extremism in it, a hint of demagoguery, a suggestion of instability. Nobody claims or admits to being a populist. “Elitism” is associated with rich, powerful, arrogant, privileged types. It’s not good to be viewed as a populist, and it’s not good to be viewed as an elitist.

Trump and Bernie Sanders are both said to be populists. Joe Biden, who has been gearing up for a presidential run in 2020, is positioning himself as anti-populist and anti-elitist. He has good reason to hope that, because of his sincere good will toward people and his record of “connecting” with regular working class folks, he’s likely to avoid attracting one of these unhelpful labels.

Oddly enough, all presidential candidates are elitists or populists. One or the other or both of these qualities is how they get nominated; yet they are more likely to win the election if they can disguise that fact. Contributing to Hillary’s loss was that in 2016 the political climate was such that it was considerably worse to be viewed as an elitist than as a populist, and she was viewed as an elitist. Trump, of course, was an elitist too, but avoided being seen as one by being boorish, crude, ignorant, anti-intellectual, and having orange-dyed hair.

The best way to avoid being viewed as an elitist is to avoid acting like one, as Hillary did with her highly paid Goldman Sachs speeches, and Romney did by saying that 47% of the populace is dependent upon government and think of themselves as victims. The best way to avoid being viewed as a populist is to be honest and put forth sound progressive legislative proposals and explain with reasonable specificity how they will be paid for.