Sunday, November 19, 2017

Top Ten Reasons Why 2017 Is A Precursor Of 2018

I'm surprised at myself for not writing sooner about this year's Election Night, almost two weeks ago at this point.  On the other hand, as I mentioned previously, I did wait 12 days to write about last year's disaster, as it took me that long to recover enough to write about it.  So I guess it's fair to say that I had to wait this long before the excitement over this year's progressive victories died down within enough that I could write about them meaningfully.  Or even coherently.  My initial reaction was to start planning, for next year's Election Night, a march on the White House from all sides, right up to the fence, with thousands of people participating, all yelling a single phrase:  "LOCK HIM UP!  LOCK HIM UP!  LOCK HIM UP!"

OK, I think you get the idea.  And I'm literally knocking on wood in between typing sentences.  I'm not one for tempting fate.  But I believe next year's election results may be able to support a rally at that level.  I'll outline my reasons for believing that in a moment.

First I want to emphasize that Election Night 2017 was not just a victory for the Democratic Party.  It was, in every sense, a progressive victory.  Organizationally, by taking the Governor's mansion in New Jersey away from Chris Christie (and who isn't grateful for that), and by flipping a state Senate seat in Washington state, the party gained unified control of two state governments.  And, depending on the results of recounts in races for the Virginia House of Delegates, they may yet gain a third.  As it is, the number of seats gained there by the Democrats exceeded even the most optimistic projections.

But the victories extended beyond merely picking up offices.  Voters in Maine approved the Medicaid expansion made possible by the ACA, and thus far stubbornly resisted by the state's Neanderthal Republican governor.  And in Virginia, New Jersey, and local offices all across the country, diversity won the day and offered a stinging rebuke to the white-nationalist politics currently coming from the White House.  Take a look.

And I'll use that as a starting point, with apologies to David Letterman, to provide my top ten reasons for believing that next year's Election Night will be no different than this one.

10.  The so-called civil war in the Democratic Party is effectively over.  Progressives control the agenda.  Progressive candidates are getting on ballots and winning.  Even the party establishment in Congress now pays effective lip-service to the progressive agenda.  Whatever battle was going to happen between Hillarycrats and Berniecrats is effectively over.  The Berniecrats have won.  It's time to move on, because America is dying from a lack of liberalism, not a surplus of it.  Maybe, just maybe, that explains why this guy won.

9.  Governors know what's happening in their states; they have to, or they won't be governors for very long.  If the Virginia and New Jersey results were only explainable by the states status as perennially blue states, governors in red states wouldn't be worried.  But they are.  Oh, boy, are they.

8.  Buyer's remorse, which always occurs after every presidential election, is alive and well after 2016.  And it's possible to find it in some of the most unlikely places, such as North Carolina, which, despite being carried by Obama in 2018, has lurched very far to the right in every election since then.  But it's just possible that Tar Heel voters, and their counterparts elsewhere, may be ready to lurch in another direction.

7.  As a matter of fact, they have already been spending a good part of the past year lurching in that direction.  Despite what you may have heard about GOP victories in special elections for the House of Representatives, they were all in deep-red districts where the Democratic candidates outperformed their predecessors.  And there have been many more special elections in which Democrats have done far more than outperform.  14, in fact.

6.  Suburbs, once a reliable source of Republican votes and victories, have also shown a readiness to move toward the Democrats.  That was certainly true in Virginia this year, and there are signs that it may be true across the country.  David Brooks, no one's idea of a blue voter, thinks that way, for example.

5.  Virginia also illustrated, as did Obama's victories, the importance of the African-American vote to Democratic fortunes.  It's past time for Democrats to embrace this fact and make the most of it.  Hopefully, what happened in Virginia will inspire them to do so.

4.  GOP Representatives and Senators are retiring from Congress in droves, as they fail in one attempt after another to pass rancid legislation over the objections of the American people.  And their last-gasp effort, the so-called "tax reform" bill, may suffer the same fate; it's certainly helping to drive Republicans out of Washington.

3.  On the other hand, if the bill becomes law, it will all but certainly destroy the economy, as it is structured in such a way so as to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.  Even worse, it is a warped version of Robin Hood economics, as it takes from the productive social-welfare states to benefit those that have time and again adopted failed policies that favor the rich.

2.  The bill's only redeeming value is that it sums up the state of corruption in the current government; it is at DEFCOM 5 and climbing.  Especially when the party pushing so-called "tax reform" admits that it is doing so solely to reward its supporters and get re-elected.

AND (drum roll), the number one reason to expect 2018 will be like 2017 is ......................

1.  Trump himself, a consistent breaker of promises whose only talent is his ability to create a moral vacuum.  Politics, like nature, abhors a moral vacuum, and voters will empower Democrats to fill it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Yes, It Is Time For Democrats To Reckon With Bill Clinton

Currently, in the center ring of the full-scale media circus that defines the Trump Era, is the saga of the special election in Alabama to replace Jeff Sessions' former seat in the U.S. Senate.  Now that the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, is all but confirmed as a child molester of epic proportions, and there is a chance (albeit a wafer-thin one, because it is Alabama) that the seat might actually go to Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, all hands--and rhetoric--are on the conservative deck to save the ship from Moore's past and control of the Senate's future.  Some have urged Moore to step aside; some have urged a write-in campaign for another candidate, and a few have even gone so far as to suggest that they might vote for Jones.  Even the idea of refusing to seat Moore if he wins the election has been discussed.

But a few pundits, and not a few of their followers in social media, have decided that this is an opportunity to practice the politics of deflection, one of Trump's favorite tools.  Specifically, they have chosen to throw Bill Clinton and his ugly history with women in the face of liberals, and feminists in particular, as a rebuttal to any attacks on Moore.  How, they ask, can Democrats and their supporters attack any Republican for sexual deviancy when one of their most beloved leaders was, and perhaps still is, a deviant himself?

In one sense, the circular nature of this line of argumentation is obvious, so obvious that even a child can understand it:  two wrongs do not make a right.  Using Clinton as a vehicle for defending Moore effectively concedes the point that those of us on the left are trying to make about Moore.  If the bad behavior of one matters, so does the bad behavior of the other.

But, because it is painfully obvious that two wrongs do not make a right, it is time for liberals, and feminists in particular, to reclaim the high ground in the only possible way:  by acknowledging that what Clinton did was wrong, and that, whether or not it fits the very flexible definition of what constitutes an impeachable defense, it disqualified him from public office.  Every bit as much as Moore's bad behavior disqualifies him from taking a seat in the Senate.

I have said before that I believe Hillary's defeat was due in part to concerns about giving Clinton's appetites a second shot at residing in the White House.  Truth be told, Clinton's misconduct linked the personal to the political; he gave away large chunks of the New Deal to a Republican Congress, hoping that doing so would spare him a close examination of his private life.  It didn't work.  We all lost in the process.  The lingering stain of personal and political betrayal probably cost Al Gore the Presidency in 2000, and almost certainly lost it for Hillary last year.  In between, we were fortunate to have Barack Obama, who knew how to act like a Democrat and a President at the same time.

That's why I share the thoughts expressed here, and I hope you do, too.  It may be the only way we can regain the moral authority needed to stop the immorality of Donald Trump and the GOP.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Is The Future Of Farming Indoors?

As I am fond of saying, it's always important to be reminded that, even in troubled times, there are places where good things are happening, pointing the way to a potentially brighter future.  Here's one such instance, one that could make a difference in our ability to survive on this planet (if we don't blow ourselves up first, knock on wood).

Perhaps the most obvious advantage of indoor farming is the fact that, as the world's population continues to grow exponentially, and we begin to run out of usable land for traditional farming methods, indoor farming contains the potential to stack crops in much the same way that residences in cities are stacked in high-rises.  And, as the need for office and retail space shrinks in an age of telecommuting and digital shopping, even more land could become available for indoor farmers.  It's possible to see political effects coming out of this as well.  

If farming can be turned into an indoor activity, it can also become an urban activity, which could bring significant numbers of rural residents into center cities and suburbs.  This, in turn, would bring them into greater contact with each other in ways that ultimately could upend traditional liberal-and-conservative formulations of how people vote and how parties campaign to get those votes.  That may seem far-fetched at this point.  But I'm convinced that a large part of the political divide in this country is about proximity to people who agree or disagree with each other.  If people are surrounded by like-minded individuals, they tend to become more hostile to differing points of view than they are if they are surrounded by more people with those differing points of view.  Iowa is an example of a purple state that has become redder and redder as blue voters move away from it.

For that matter, the potential for changes in land use, and related changes in political views, is by no means limited to urban areas.  If, for example, a state like Iowa does not have to use as much of its land for farming, as indoor farming begins to take hold, much of that land could be used not only for residents, but also for a whole host of existing uses (educational, medical and so forth) as well as uses that are just on the near side of the horizon of practicality (automated factories, for example, as well as solar and wind farms), which in turn will create new jobs and new fields of knowledge for people to explore.  And that, in turn, could bring people back from the coasts to the proverbial heartland.

And this does not even touch on the aspects of indoor farming mentioned in the linked article such as food that can be made to specification of taste, and without the use of harmful pesticides.  As I've said before, if we're serious about reforming the tax code, we should reform it to encourage more innovative ideas like this one.  It might do more than guarantee our future; it might lead to a more harmonious present.

Sexual Assault: The Straight Line From Election Day Last Year To Today, And Beyond

Well, it's been more than a year.  I vividly recall what it felt like after Election Day last year.  I don't want to, but I do.  I took a few minutes just now to revisit my first post-election blog post, and can only say it expresses the pain and despair I felt at that point.  This says it all, about back then:  it took me 12 whole days to write about it.

And now?

My analysis of the general badness of Donald Trump and his cronies, inside and outside of government, hasn't changed a bit.  At the time, I doubted that it would.   On the other hand, I wasn't sure to what extent the non-Trump majority would sink into despair, as opposed to fighting back.  And, needless to say, now we know.  The response, from the initial marches around the country on Inaugural weekend, to the current controversy involving the special election for Jeff Session's former U.S. Senate seat for Alabama, has been, in scale and inspiration, inspiring.

And yet, it still leaves me to ask the question that I asked in the earlier post: where to begin?

I could start by talking about the election results from around the country last week.  But there's enough to unpack there that I think that subject deserves its own separate post, and I will give it one later.  I will say that, in any case, there is an obvious straight line from last year's election results to this year's.  Some pundits, over the past year, somehow thought that Trump was so phenomenally talented that he managed to stop the application of Newtonian physics ("for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) to national politics.  No, he isn't, and no, he didn't.  That's all I'll say about that for now.

Instead, I want to talk about a much larger story, not only political in nature but highly personal as well.  And I believe that there is a straight line from last year's election results to this story.  I'm referring to the explosion of media accounts over the past several weeks regarding women (and, in some cases, men) who have come forward and identified themselves as the victims of sexual assault.

It's considered good journalistic form, as well as good civil rights observance, to refer to these stories as accusations until a court says otherwise.  I may be wrong in some cases but, frankly, I believe the accusers.  Even though many of the incidents reported happened at various points in time that are significantly past, that is not a reason to doubt their veracity.  Whether the assaults are violent or not, they can bring about a significant amount of shame and embarrassment, making it easier for the victims to say nothing. 

I have to confess that, in this regard, I speak from a small degree of experience; in my 20s, I was (mildly, but physically and rudely) propositioned by men on two occasions.  It was uninvited in both instances, but I have talked about it with other people and found myself being asked questions like "What did you do to provoke it?"  As if, somehow, mere physical attraction is enough to excuse boorish behavior.  Such are the sometimes ambiguous nature of relationships, and the general tendency of people to assume that "it takes two" to make a conflict that, in the absence of significant physical evidence (witnesses, injuries, etc.), people make the assumption that the victim must have somehow "deserved" it.  I don't.  Nor do I make apologies for that stance.

Indeed, it could be said that, since we have now elected a man who has the credentials of a serial rapist, it could be asked by some why all of these woman have kept silent, until Amber Tamblyn's revelations about James Woods in late September.  Since then, the proverbial floodgates have opened, as men and women have come forward to share their painful accounts of mistreatment--and worse.  In the process, careers of several of the perpetrators have been effectively destroyed, most notably Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.

Perhaps the floodgates were just waiting for one person to stand up, effectively for everyone.  Perhaps the fear generated by having a known pervert like Donald Trump in the world's most powerful job became so great that, for many, it helped them overcome the fear of exposing people who could merely destroy a career, as opposed to the entire world.  Perhaps it was the righteous anger generated by Trump's unearned election, in combination with the fear he generated.  In any event, it's hard not to see a straight line from electing a molester to a willingness to expose everyone else who, like Trump, time and again abused a position of trust to gratify his baser desires.

This much is clear:  there have been straight and gay victims of sexual abuse.  This is not a question of sexual orientation.  This is, sadly, a question of gender.  With very few exceptions among both the perpetrators and their defenders, this is a problem that stems from the aggressive, narcissistic behavior of men.  By and large, they are the perpetrators.  And, in one sense, no one should be surprised by this; men are the gatekeepers in our society when it comes to defining sexual behavior for both genders, to the detriment of women not only by victimizing them but also by refusing to allow them to define their own sexual identities.  Men are allowed to decide what is "acceptable" sexual behavior from women.  And men are allowed to decide whether or not to victimize them.

This must stop.  And it will not be complete with the removal of Trump and other professional lechers from positions of power.  Men must learn, once and for all, that women are people and not things.  If it took Trump's Presidency to serve as the starting point for making that happen, then it may, against all odds, have some redeeming value.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Future of Environmentalism: Sue And Adapt

It overstates the obvious to say or write that, with Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans in power for the foreseeable future, we can't expect any serious public policy at the federal level on behalf of the air, water and earth that all of us share, regardless of our partisan orientation.  Not even when Trump's own Administration puts out a report like this.  Instead, what we are more likely than not to get is more nonsense like this.

So, since giving up altogether or moving to another planet aren't alternatives, what's left?  Well, it isn't much, but it is something.

First, there are the courts.  They have thus far been the first line of defense against Trump on the immigration front, and that may prove to be the case with protecting the environment.  In fact, the courts provide an avenue for bypassing the federal government altogether, and going after the main culprits:  the oil companies whose products produce the greenhouse gases that warm our planet and threaten the future of the human race.

This is the path that the San Francisco city government has decided to take, as outlined in this article from Mother Jones.  The article also points out that other local governments in California are considering the same tactic to address the costs of planning and preparing for rising sea levels.

Will it work?  It's admittedly a long shot at best.  The Mother Jones article compares suits like the one filed by San Francisco to lead-paint cases filed by local California governments along similar lines, but that have spent years already in the courts and appear ready to last for decades.  Simply put, the planet (and its inhabitants) really don't have that much time.  But it's clearly better than doing nothing and, if enough state and local governments band together in similar efforts, perhaps the timetable will not be nearly as long as in the lead-paint cases.

On the other hand, there's another strategy that could yield direct results faster, and that may even provide unexpected benefits in the process:  adaptation.

Consider the case of Tottenville, Staten Island, which is planning a project that involves creating a combination barrier/oyster reef that would protrude out of the water and reduce the amount of water coming in during a severe storm, but simultaneously create an ecosystem capable of further reducing the potential damage from such a storm.  Best of all, the funding for the project, as well as similar ones, has already been provided by the federal government.  You can read more about all of this here.

Adaptation, in the end, may be the wiser course of action, as opposed to confrontation in the courts.  But perhaps the best strategy, simply to make sure that good things happen on the scale at which they need to happen, is to go all-in with both.  It's better than waiting for Trump and his cronies to come to their senses.

Mar-a-Lago: Where Trump Hypocrisy On Immigration Reigns Supreme

You've probably heard more about Donald Trump's weekend golf trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida than you would like.  It's not my job to be unpleasant here at TRH but, since I can't stand hypocrisy in any form, Trump has left me with no choice but to bring up the subject.  Mar-a-Lago, as of right now, is the arena on which The Donald's hypocrisy on his signature issue--immigration--is on full display.

As is described in greater detail here, Trump has received approval from the Labor Department--the one that, as President, he is in charge of overseeing--to employ 70 foreign workers through a visa program, H2B, that allows American employers to hire foreign workers for seasonal resort jobs, in addition to 24 similar workers at other Trump resorts.  Trump was able to do this in part because, despite the availability of more than sufficient American-based workers, he made minimal compliance with the programs requirement that the positions in question be advertised in such a way as to make those workers aware of them.

Full disclosure requires me to state that my wife and I, in our law practice, bring in foreign workers through a similar program, H1B, for highly-skilled workers, and through petitions for permanent residency.  The differences, in ascending order:  (1) American-based workers are in fact in short supply for the positions in question; (2) on our advice, our clients comply fully with the requirement, in the case of permanent residency petitions, to advertise the positions in question; and (3) neither of us is the President of the United States, and therefore in a position to manipulate who gets selected for available visas, or to increase the number of visas that are available, as Trump has done with regard to the program through which his resorts will be staffed.

But let's the the conflict-of-interest question behind us at this point.  Do you remember that Trump, during his campaign, made a big point about making sure that chronically unemployed or underemployed workers were about to "work their asses" off once he got elected?  Do you remember the big show he made during the transition period of saving Carrier jobs (most of which eventually went overseas anyway)?  Well, here was an opportunity to hire some of his most devoted supporters.  And he gave them the employment equivalent of the finger.

Ah, but for club members, there's a very different standard, even if they're an immigrant.  One of them can be an alleged rapist--and Mr. Conflict-of-Interest will step in an save him from deportation.  A far different fate than he would have endured had he been a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, but no Mar-a-Lago membership to save her.

G-d only knows (literally) how much more of this hypocrisy we have to endure before we are set free from its curse.

A White Party Versus A Party Of Color?

My first involvement in a political campaign came in 1972, a year that ended up teaching me many lessons, including and especially the fact that you can't win them all, even in a clear-cut choice between good and evil (especially when good shoots himself in the foot more than once).  Perhaps my most enduring memory from that experience, however, involved my eleventh-grade English teacher, who, on the first day of classes, took exception to my McGovern buttons and announced to the entire class that he was a "Buckley conservative Republican."  This led to a year's worth of bantering back-and-forth in class between us about politics, in the middle of what was supposed to be a survey of American literature. 

I mention all of this here for one reason only:  the day after the election, on which I assumed he would be gloating, he wasn't.  Instead, he began the class with some rather somber thoughts about the outcome, concluding with the observation that the politics of the nation were shifting to the point at which, one day, we would no longer have a Democratic and Republican two-party system, but a system with a liberal and a conservative party.  Curiously, he did not seem to think that this was a good thing.  I say curiously, because I am inclined to agree.

There is a major difference between a politics of ideas and a politics of ideology.  Ideas can be debated, even within parties.  That's why both parties once had politicians who could be liberal or conservative on a variety of issues.  For all of the talk about the disappearance of Scoop Jackson Democrats, there's not very much reflection on the disappearance of Jack Javits Republicans.  Both of those men had their virtues.  And all of us are losers for not having a political system that makes people like that possible.

In some ways, however, ideology is not the true fault line in our national politics, even though my teacher's prophesy has, to a large degree, proved to be true.  As the demographics of our nation have changed, and as we are rapidly approaching the point at which people of color will outnumber white people, the ideological identities of the Democratic and Republican parties seem to be attracting voters along an identity divide.  People of color, and women of all colors, are predominantly Democrats, and white people, especially men, are predominantly Republicans.

And, yet, despite this seemingly obvious fact, the Democrats still are obsessed with chasing white votes and, in the process, ignoring the presence of millions of voters of color who would be happy, or at least willing, to help them win elections.  This was true last year, incredibly, despite the fact that the Democrats had just elected and re-elected America's first African-American president.  And, incredibly, less than one year later, they are on the verge of potentially making the same mistake again and, in the process, perhaps losing what should otherwise be a highly winnable governor's race in Virginia.  Take a look.

It begs the question:  Why?

As I said before, I'm a big believer in the politics of ideas over the politics of ideology or identity.  But, as the difference between Barack Obama and Donald Trump has proved thus far, the Democrats are still the party with better ideas and, as they proved with the ACA, the only one willing to accept any degree of thinking from the other side.  And, to borrow a thought from Donald Rumsfeld, you win elections with the party you have, not the party you would like to have.  As much as I would like to have a county in which gender and color did not matter in our politics, the fact is that they do.  And, given a choice between those who deserve help and those who don't, going with the former is an easy choice for me.

It may very well be the case that the significant divide in our politics is within the Democratic Party itself, between the embedded racism of its establishment/donor class, and the rank-and-file voters who aren't afraid to embrace their rainbow status and who look for candidates who are willing to do the same.  It seems, in fact that, as that divide becomes more apparent (as may be the case in Virginia), more members of the establishment/donor class will actively move in the direction of the rank-and-file.

Consider the case of Donna Brazile, a solid member of the triangulating Clinton camp since the early days of Bill Clinton's presidency--so much so, in fact, that she got into a little bit of trouble a year ago for feeding debate questions to Hillary in advance of the debates.  Suddenly, she seems to be very concerned about the possibility that Hillary may have somehow undermined Bernie Sanders' chances of winning the Democratic presidential nomination.  Her concern, however, doesn't seem to hold up very well under a closer examination of the facts.

Is there another explanation?  Is Brazile simply trying to make a bid to break away from the Clinton camp in a major way?  Does she see Bernie and the politics he represents as the future of the Democratic Party?  Is she positioning herself to be a party of that?

Only she knows.  She is a canny political operator, and she would not be the first such person in American political history to sense a change in the wind, and feel a desire to follow it.  My advice to all Democrats, especially in advance of Tuesday's election and the one-year anniversary of the Trump disaster, is to do likewise.  It may not be the best reflection of democracy for us to have followed a progression (or regression, if you will) in our politics from ideas to ideology to identity.  But, if in fact that's happened, I know where the identity of the future lies, and I'm more than happy to be a part of it.  Hopefully, more and more people will feel the same way by 2018.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Peculiar Brand Of "Populism" That Rewards Banks

In an earlier post, I touched on one of the Republican Congress' only two substantive achievements to date (including, of course, the stolen Supreme Court seat).  That was the repeal of a rule issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that gave consumers the right to file class-action suits against financial institutions, regardless of whether the consumers had previously agreed to settle all disputes with the institutions via arbitration. 

The CFPB's issuance of the rule, like the existence of the agency itself, was one of the results of the Dodd-Frank fnancial reform bill enacted by President Obama and congressional Democrats before the Tea Party revolt in 2010.  The agency was given the power, via Dodd-Frank, to study the abuses by financial organizations of binding arbitration provisions in consumer agreements.  These provisions, typically buried in the proverbial fine-print of these agreements, strip away all consumer rights to sue in court, either individually or via a class action.  In return, the arbitrators selected via the terms of the agreements are almost without exception pro-business both in their orientation and their rulings.

The repeal of the rule sailed through the House of Representatives, but ran into more trouble in the Senate, where Mike Pence was needed to break a 50-50 tie.  In any event, this repeal, which Donald Trump can barely wait to sign, now has GOP fingerprints all over it.

And that couldn't come at a worse time for the GOP, with Congress' approval rating in the dumpster and on fire, and the financial services industry coming under scrutiny again, thanks to the Equifax data breach and Wells Fargo's unauthorized opening of account.  In the short run, this is going to result in an entirely foreseeable lack of pressure on financial services companies to treat consumers responsibly, with the entirely foreseeable result of yet another crisis in the financial services industry, perhaps threatening the economy as a whole.

The Republican takeover of the federal government, first by the Tea Party and then by Trump, has been advertised as a form of populism, with the people taking back control from the insiders and the proverbial special interests.  As the repeal of the CFPB's rule illustrates, however, theirs is a very peculiar form of populism--an inverse form, one in which the insiders and special interests are actually allowed to reinforce their control over the people at the people's expense.

We can only hope against hope that progressives will stop fighting with each other and cease to re-litigate the results of the 2016 Democratic primaries.  We have a country to save.  We can only do it by coming together, and showing America what populism really is.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Three Thoughts On Immigration

A recent Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post suggested that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer should give Donald Trump the Mexican border wall he has promised his supporters over and over again--but on one condition:  that Trump agree to allow undocumented immigrants not convicted of crimes to apply for a visa that would require them to return to their home country, but then allow them to return and work legally.  This so-called "touchback" program is something that Trump has, in the past, at least rhetorically extended some degree of commitment on his part.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether Trump is truly capable of keeping any commitments to anyone other than himself, it's a modestly clever piece of political strategy.  On the other hand, why be so modest?  Trump and congressional Republicans have let it be known that, in exchange for granting citizenship to a handful of the children born in the United States to undocumented parents, they want virtually every enforcement provision that would have been enacted had the House of Representatives voted to approve the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate.

Well, fair enough.  Why not simply put that bill back into play, with the addition of Trump's wall, additional provisions to protect the American-born children of the undocumented, and perhaps one or two other tweaks to make the bill more up to date?  Why should the Democrats accept the concessions they made to make that bill happen, without also getting the concessions made by the Republicans?  Why not end this divisive debate once and for all?  Or, if not once and for all, at least for a decade or two, since that seems to be roughly the standard interval between public opinion flare-ups about immigration in this country.

Two other thoughts:

Jeff Flake, Republican U.S. Senator from Arizona, has abandoned his plans for re-election rather than submit to the type of campaign style he would need to adopt in the Tea Party-Trump era, especially with the likelihood of a highly contested primary looming.  It's a shame, because his position on immigration issues, while representing a state where immigration is a true hot-button issue, is a reminder of a time when immigration was not automatically a wedge issue, but could be a place where both sides of the proverbial aisle could find common ground.  And I feel that way even though it does increase the likelihood that the Democrats will pick up his seat.

To give you an idea of Flake's reasonableness on the issue, take a look at this, in which he recognizes hard work as a skill that is undervalued in the debate over prioritizing skilled immigrants.  Food for thought, especially considering all of the red-state unemployed Trumpsters who won't move west to do the labor often done by the undocumented.

And, finally, as a reminder that no state is either completely red or blue, and that all of them are filled with good people who care, take a look at this.  As long as there are people like that, there is hope for all of us, no matter where we come from.

Our Conservative Government, Tethered To A Liberal, Global Culture

I've lost count of the articles I read discussing the inability of our allegedly all-powerful Republican government in Washington to enact a single piece of significant legislation.  By "significant, of course, I mean something beyond the naming of a new post office.  Of course, there is the tax bill that was just unveiled today and, as disastrous as it may be for Republicans in states where the soon-to-be-gone deduction for state and local taxes matters, tax cutting defines and unifies the GOP more than does anything else.  So the bill, in one form or another, is likely to pass. 

But, other than that, and the stolen Supreme Court seat, and the repeal of the Obama-era rule allowing consumers to sue banks, zip.  Not much.  And all three of these are likely to has devastating consequences for the American people.  As a consequence, the Republicans may not even be "all-powerful" in name, before very long.

In the meantime, why is it that their reach seems to have consistently exceeded their grasp?  I think that it boils down to one thing:  the disconnect between our politics and our culture.  While the former may have become consistently conservative over time, the latter has not.  And that is due, I think, primarily to the fact that culture, now more than ever, is a global phenomenon, not controlled by a single nation, but by the citizens of every nation.

This is why, despite limited consumer demand in this country, and an Administration ready to--pardon the pun--pull the plug on government support for alternative forms of energy, American auto manufacturers are all-in on all-electric cars.  Why?  Because global demand for world cars is--again, pardon the pun--accelerating.  And so-called "American" auto manufacturers are dependent on foreign purchases of their products to meet their own bottom lines.  Donald Trump can "dig" coal all he wants.  It's going nowhere.  And his coal country supporters are going to figure that out, sooner or later.

And the non-conservative nature of our culture shows up in even more fundamental ways.  Take a look at this article.  It turns out that the development of social networks through the Internet has led to an increase in interracial dating and marriage.  Even more phenomenally, the marriages that are based on Internet-initiated relationships seem to have a greater propensity for stability than do marriages that came about through more traditional ways of meeting people.

Why, then, if our culture is so liberal, does our government not reflect that fact?  I think, for the most part, it has to do with (a) the influence of "big money" in our political system, and (b) the revulsion that many progressives feel toward having any kind of connection to a system that has been polluted in this fashion.  Even by voting. 

Obama, once upon a time not so long ago, seemed to have the ability to change many of their minds about that.  Perhaps, if we're lucky, someone else like that will come along, and we can see a government that accomplishes more because it is more in line with the thinking of the people who vote for it.

A Color-Coded Approach To Justice?

The other day, two headlines caught my eye in rapid succession, which happens easily when you get most of your news digitally.  They are here and here.  Together, and in conjunction with other stories, they make the case for our color-coded system of justice.

White nationalists march in Charlottesville, and a young woman dies.  A white man who manages to arouse no suspicion when he checks into a Las Vegas hotel armed to the teeth kills dozens and wounds hundreds.  How do we react?  Our "President" says he needs more facts.  Our law makers posture in a public pretense of caring.  And otherwise, except for a handful of arrests by local authorities, nothing is being done.  Absolutely nothing.

Oh, there was a brief frisson of bipartisan excitement about the possibility of banning "bump stocks," one of which enabled the Las Vegas shooter to reach his high casualty count within minutes.  But it has quickly gone nowhere, as those of us who follow these atrocities, and the gun-worship that lies behind them, fully expected it to do.

But there is a different standard for people who are not white nationalists, or, for that matter, white.  And it was sadly on display yesterday as a consequence of a terrorist attack in Manhattan in which a Uzbekistani holder of a green card drove a truck onto a bike path, killing eight people in the process.  Is the memory of deceased honored by those in power?  Is restraint exercised for the sake of gathering facts and administering justice?

Hell, no.  Not if you're Donald Trump.  Not if the murderer is a brown-skinned man from a Muslim country.  You fire off "SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY" tweets, which will almost ensure that the perpetrator won't get the death penalty once his lawyers are finished with it.  And you suggest that he should be sent to Guantanamo, which also allows you to poke the legacy of your predecessor in the eye yet again.

Is it even remotely possible to look at these facts and conclude that Republican-style justice is blind?  When it comes to the question of race, never mind the scales and the blindfold for them.  They see skin color and, as Trevor Noah pointed out, that's the only fact that Trump and his GOP enablers need.

And here is perhaps the greatest irony of all:  According to the FBI, white nationalists are a far greater danger to the nation than ISIS.  Doubt it?  Take a look.

Don't tell me American justice isn't color-coded.  It's not a difficult code to crack.  All you have to do is pay attention.  Are you doing that?

Why Progressives, And The Democratic Party, Should Support Doug Jones

Thanks to the presence of Jeff Sessions in the Trump Cabinet, Alabama is having a special election this December to select a replacement for the balance of Session's U.S. Senate term, due to expire in January of 2021.  Hillary Clinton lost to Trump by nearly 28 percentage points, so it's not surprising that the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, is every bit as incendiary as Trump when it comes to rhetoric and political stances. 

Moore, for the benefit of those who don't know, was twice removed as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, both times for defying court orders.  One order related to his insistence on a Ten Commandments monument at a court building, while the other related to his opposition to marriage equality.  And this is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Moore's willingness to jump off the deep end, bounce back up with the help of Alabama Republicans, and promptly jump off the deep end again (as they say on shampoo bottles:  lather, rinse, repeat).

You can, assuming your stomach is sufficiently strong, read more about Moore here.  But the good news--the surprising news, in fact--is that you can also read about Moore's strong Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.

Past Democrats from Alabama on the national scene (and by past, I'm talking about decades) have tended toward the conservative side of the spectrum.  And, given the history of the state and the South as a whole, that shouldn't be surprising.  Nor should it be surprising that, as the national party has moved further to the left, Democratic fortunes in Alabama have crashed and burned.

All of this makes Jones a pleasant surprise.  A U.S. Attorney who successfully prosecuted the bombing of an African-American church by the Ku Klux Klan, he supports the Affordable Care Act, acknowledges the need to address climate change, and even supports a woman's right to choose.  From a down-the-line progressive perspective on the issues, Jones is as good as it gets.  From the perspective of traditional Alabama politics, his election would send a real shock wave through the nation's political system.

Alas, that shock wave may not occur.  Although Jones' poll performance is stronger than might be ordinarily expected in Alabama, especially given his progressive stances on issues, he is no better than deadlocked with Moore in any of them.  In most of them, he is behind by low double digits.

Is that an excuse for bailing on Jones?  No, it isn't.  Bailing is what Democrats do best, and it is often what hands undeserved election victories to Republicans.  Bailing is what makes a party a permanent minority.  Bailing is what fails to prepare a party for a change in the political win that might favor it.  And bailing is what fails to prepare a party, once elected, to fight for what it allegedly believes in.  Just like revolutions, elections aren't won by people chasing what is popular and doable.  They are won by people whose self-esteem rests on commitment, and whose ambitions are defined by what is right.

That's why I'll do everything I can to help Doug Jones become a U.S. Senator.  And that's why I hope that you will, too.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Light (Solar-Powered) At The End Of The Republican Tunnel

You may not often hear the words "innovation" and "Republican" in the same sentence.  For that matter, if you hear the words "alternative energy" and/or "climate change" in the same sentence as the word "Republican," it's fairly safe to assume that the sentence describes the opposition of the latter to some form of the former.  That's the stand of the GOP on the national level, at any rate.

But one of the rewards of looking at politics at the municipal/county level is that, at that level, problems cannot be punted off to someone else.  Problems have to be solved, or the people in change of solving problems--mayors, county executives, and city and county council members--will not be around for very long, and deservedly so.  This tends to make the people who do the best jobs of solving these problems less ideological and more pragmatic in their thinking.  They don't care about the political birthplace of a solution to a problem.  They care passionately instead about whether it works--and whether it's affordable.

With that in mind, the news in this article from the HuffPost did not completely surprise me.  It may be surprising to some of you, however, so I suggest to take a moment to read it, and then think carefully about what it says, and the implications of what it says.

First, not all Republicans fit the stereotypical mold, just as not all Democrats do on their side of the fence.  When their work is local in nature enough to bring them into direct contact with the lives of the people around them, they can't afford to be.  Not all of the people around them think like they do, and those are the people who have to be convinced that a proposed solution is worth buying into.  In other words, in local government, the need to understand the thinking of those who disagree with you, and to get along with them enough to get them to see your point of view, is absolutely essential.

There's a lesson in there for Democrats at all levels.  If you truly believe that your policies are the best ones for the nation as a whole, learn what motivates people around the nation, and then figure out how what you have to offer can be related to that.  Don't buy into the right-wing view that we're two inseparable nations.  Yes, we have real differences.  But we also have commonalities that can be used to build bridges over those differences, without pretending that the differences aren't there.

Second, and following directly from this, there are practical arguments for progressive causes that can and should have built-in appeal for Republicans, as this article demonstrates.  Conservatives are big believers in increasing the value of property and in saving taxpayers money.  Going green can and does both.  I believe that this is the biggest obstacle to progressive causes:  the refusal of progressives to do and share the homework that supports the idea that progressive politics need not be expensive and, done the right way, can and should be cost-effective.

It's time for progressives to take a glimpse into the minds of "the other."  After all, they are part of the country you want to reform.  There's no harm in showing how it will benefit them.  It's good for business, for forward thinking, for patriotism and America.  Go for it!

Democrats Are Trying To Beat Nothing With Nothing

As I mentioned in my previous post, and despite their self-identification as America's tax-cutters, first and foremost, Republicans are having a very hard time trying to come up with any content for their proposed tax-cutting bill.  That's proof enough that people no longer buy the idea of self-financing tax-cuts anymore.  Voters understand, however reluctantly, that any tax cuts will have to be paid for in one or both of two ways:  revenue hikes elsewhere, in the form of user fees or the reduction/elimination of tax breaks, or reduced spending on government programs.

From the looks of things, it appears that we're going to get a mix of both.  The GOP-controlled Congress has already passed a budget blueprint that reduces funding for Medicare and Medicaid by $1.5 trillion dollars over the next 10 years.  The rest of the bill for the plutocrats' dream-come-true will apparently be paid for by the middle class, in one form or another.  In particular, blue-state working families will pay through the elimination of the state-and-local-tax-deduction, a purely punitive move designed to punish the states that, in fact, provide the majority of Federal revenues.

Bruce Bartlett, whose interview with Bill Moyers I quoted in my previous post, has been fairly actively lately on Twitter, making several of the points he made in the interview (see here and here, for example).  But he also makes an important point here, regarding the Democratic response to the GOP tax-cut push.

And what is the Democratic response?

As they say in the world of social media:  ,

Well, that may not be entirely fair.  As always, there has been a lot of attitudinizing, along the lines of reverse-Robin-Hood rhetoric of the sort that most Democrats and other progressives have mastered a long time ago.  There has even been this commendable, if politically, unrealistic proposal to reduce the level of child poverty.  But a comprehensive proposal that would reduce taxes where they need to be reduced the most--not only on working families, but also on emerging, "green" industries--and would be paid for by closing loopholes for those who don't need them?  Forget it.  Too risky.  Too hard to defend.

Or so they think.

To borrow a piece of rhetoric from Trump (which I loath to do), why not stand for something?  It's not like Democrats are down in the polls; in fact, the reverse is very much the case.  People are listening to you, Democrats.  They're expecting you to put something on the table other than "I mean, have you seen the other guys?" or "Make Congress Blue Again."  And the other side is making it easy for you:  on their signature issue, they're going to come up with either nothing or disaster.  Hell, they've even got someone on their side who might be willing to work with you.

Get out of your defense crouch, Nancy and Chuck.  Americans want to give you the ball.  For G-d's sake, and for the sake of the rest of us, come up with a plan to run with it.  You can't beat nothing with nothing and, if you don't at least try, nothing is all any of us may have.

Thank G-d For Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett, in case you didn't know, was once a pillar of the Reagan-era conservative establishment.  In fact, he drafted the tax cut that became the signature piece of legislation for Reagan's term and, arguably, his political legacy.  But, after his service in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations, his views on tax cuts and their economic effects shifted, and it cost him his insider status among Republicans and their supporters in Washington.

Yet that is all the more reason that, whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or anything else American, you should stop what you're doing right now and take a look at Bill Moyer's interview with Bartlett.  It will help you to understand why what seemed to many people like a good idea in 1981 has not aged well with regard to the results it has produced.

If you read it, you will see that there are three major takeaways from it:

First, that the tax cuts currently being proposed by congressional Republicans will only go into the pockets of the wealthy, creating no new wealth (or higher wages), and further depressing already historically-low interest rates.

Second, that the cuts will be paid for by working Americans, through the loss of valuable deductions and the slashing of public benefits (Bartlett specifically cites the recent experience of Kansas as an example of how something similar has in fact already happened).

Third, that historically, tax cuts have not in fact produced higher wages, and that a colorable case could be made for the view that, far from raising wages, tax cuts arguably depress them (here, Bartlett cites statistics from the period after the enactment of the 1986 tax reform bill).

What do we need, then, as an alternative to tax cuts?  Bartlett doesn't seem to have a problem with taking a $20-trillion-dollar national debt and adding an extra $1.5 trillion to it, so long as it's done not with tax cuts for the rich, but with infrastructure spending that would, in addition to repairing our deteriorating national physical plant, create jobs, generate tax revenues, and encourage consumer spending--in other words, actually help narrow the annual deficit and ultimately begin to pay down the national debt.  And now is the time to do it, he says, while historically-low interest rates still exist.

We desperately need, as a people and as a nation, to get out of the trap of thinking that comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted is the fuel that we need to get our economy soaring and restore some sense of "normal" to our lives.  My hope is that Bartlett's words will help, but I have to wonder why, if his common-sense advice is so obvious, we haven't heeded it by now.  Even as I type, GOP members of Congress are still trying to square their ideology with reality, and are coming up with nothing.

In the meantime, thank G-d for Bartlett.  May his words be echoed by many more of us.