Thursday, November 30, 2017

The New York Times: On Bended Knee To The Right Wing

This past week's controversy over an apparent attempt by the New York Times to "normalize" a young white man who has moved from leftist to libertarian to white nationalist without the slightest understanding of how he made these shifts made me think about a book that came out in 1988, toward the end of the Reagan presidency.  "On Bended Knee" described the success Reagan's media handlers had in de-fanging the post-Watergate Washington and national press.  Success, in fact, that was so remarkable that worship of the President replaced coverage of him and his Administration, and nearly allowed a number of major scandals to slip by without notice.

The Times was rightly called out for the profile of the young man (I'm not going to help the normalization by mentioning his name), which seemed long on trivial information about his life and unforgivably short on any attempt to analyze how he made his ideological journey.  Not only was the article decried by Times' readers, but the publicity the young man received for his rancid, uncritical views of Nazism and related subjects has cost him his job and his place of residence.  Frankly, good riddance.  There is no larger First Amendment advocate than me, but it is axiomatic and settled law that the First Amendment protects ideas.  And, as I have said previously and will say again and again until everyone agrees with me, hatred is not an idea.  It is not a philosophy, a policy, or a program.  It's just hatred, and it destroys everything it touches.

But the Times has always been fussy about being pilloried by the right as a leftist rag.  That's why it employs more than one conservative Op-Ed writer, even while its local right-wing counterpart, the New York Post, employs less than one.  (I won't even get into the Wall Street Journal.)  And that's why it publishes embarrassingly bad stories like the one about the white nationalist.

Just so you can be absolutely certain that said story is not an isolated case, consider the following piece not long ago about Ben Shapiro, a young conservative social media personality who enjoys carpet-bombing campuses with incendiary and dishonest rhetoric.  The Times' writer portrays Shapiro as a logician on the order of Plato or Darrow.  The one concrete example he gives of this, on the other hand, reveals him to be little better than a grade school bully, cutting off an audience member rather than giving her a chance to blow up his argument.

Giving the other side its props when it's due to do so is one thing; going out of one's way to praise them in the absence of praiseworthy characteristics is something else.  A paper of the relative importance of the Times would do well to remember that, if journalists focus on telling the truth without fear of doing so, the fair-and balanced thing will take care of itself.  Stop bending, and start reporting!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

An Update, And An Opportunity To Say "I Told You So" ...

... when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline and its predecessor.

By far, the single biggest argument against this monstrosity, apart from the fact that building it is not going to halt the end of the fossil-fuel age, us a problem common to all pipelines.  They leak.  Especially if they are not properly maintained, or constructed in the first place.  And when they leak, they release dangerous chemicals not only into sensitive natural landscapes, but even into areas with significant residential populations.  And, worst of all in the case of the original pipeline and its offspring, the Keystone XL, they leak oil from tar sands, the most toxic and dangerous oil from the standpoint of environmental and human contact.

None of this has ever mattered to the oil industry and the politicians that love it (and who get showered back with love, in the form of campaign contributions).  "Keystone is a job-producing machine!"  (It isn't.)  "Keystone will ensure our energy independence!"  (It won't; all of the oil flowing through it will ultimately end up overseas.)  And, worst of all, especially in light of recent events, "Keystone is being built so as to be absolutely safe!  Leaks, shmeaks!"

I'd like to think that this recent leak would be strike three, and that Keystone XL is finally put out of our misery.  But, as that well-known anti-Semitic Baltimorean, H.L. Mencken once wrote, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.  Even after this fiasco, an administrative board in Nebraska approved the final leg of the Keystone XL route through its state, although they did specify an alternative route that will require TransCanada, the pipeline's owners/builders, to use land they have not already acquired.  This apparently throws the pipeline's entire future into doubt, as it increases the cost of building the pipeline even as failing world oil prices sabotage the likelihood that TransCanada will ever profit from Keystone XL even if it is built.

Perhaps the good folks of Nebraska were attempting a sneaky form of sabotage of their own, rendering a decision that outwardly appeases political interests in a heavily Republican state, while effectively laying the economic groundwork for the entire Keystone XL project to collapse under the weight of the rancid, calculating thinking that launched it in the first place. Perhaps they remembered that their state is part of America's breadbasket, and that it would be social and economic suicide to endanger that breadbasket for the benefit of a Canadian company that wants to sell oil to China.  Perhaps they realized none of this, but did a good thing anyway.  It happens; life can be charmingly random like that.

In any case, regardless of why they did what they did, I hope it destroys Keystone XL.  Not just because it would tweak the noses of Donald Trump and other Republicans, but also because it would prove that, despite the election of Trump to the contrary, history hasn't lost its ability to destroy bad ideas.

Al Franken And John Conyers: Should They Go?

So, here we are, in the middle of the most intense political debate this country has ever had about sexual harassment of women.  And, on the partisan side of things, it looks like we might be headed to a draw.

Or, perhaps, much worse.

You would think that the Democratic Party, the party that has for decades made expanding opportunities for women a signature issue, the party that in fact actually nominated a woman as its Presidential candidates, would be leading the change on behalf of justice for abused women without fear or favor, in turn being able to count on election victory after election victory as a consequence.  Think about the background against which all of which is unfolding.  A Republican President who has no fewer than 19 sexual assault claims against him (and who knows how many others?).  A Republican candidate in a special U.S. Senate race, the outcome of which may be crucial to Senate control and avoiding a legislative shutout, exposed as a serial pedophile.  And who knows how many other GOP officials who are just waiting to be exposed, like this one?

Well, however many there are, it may not matter.  The Democrats seem to be on the verge of surrendering every inch of territory on an issue that they should be able to publicly own effortlessly.  The reasons can be summed up in two names:  Al Franken and John Conyers.

Franken's story has been in the media for several weeks now; Conyers' misdeeds, on the other hand, have come to light more recently.  But both of them, perhaps to varying degrees, have probably been bad actors in their treatment of women, based on the allegations against each of them.  (Let me be clear on one point; while the allegations at this point are precisely that in the legal sense, I believe the women, in no small part because, as I have noted in a previous post, I know that it takes no small degree of courage to come forward and demand accountability with regard to sexual assault.)  Conyers faces two accusers, including one with whom he reached a settlement paid for with public funds, while Franken is facing four.

And Conyers' story has been joined at the hip by a parallel story about non-disclosure agreements between members of Congress and those who have accused them of wrongdoing, raising additional questions about the potential misuse of taxpayer money and whether the public interest is served by such agreements.  Perhaps it says something about how jumbled the politics of all of this has become that I agree with the National Review that, at some point, these agreements should be voided in favor of the accusers and their rights to a public confrontation.

What the situation shared by Franken and Conyers holds in common for both men is the reality that it severely compromises the ability of Democrats to not only hold Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and other sketchy Republicans accountable for their sketchiness, but also to otherwise advance the interests of women across the country (and indirectly, perhaps, around the world).  Franken's situation, in particular, has provided several weeks of media fodder that has allowed Republicans to deflect, to some degree, the accusations against Moore in the special Senate race.

This latter fact has been part of the case that some journalists have made that Franken should leave the Senate immediately, even if that terminates the investigation currently being made into the allegations against him, and leaves his reputation in a (perhaps) undeserved limbo.  What has strengthened that argument is that Franken's case is one of those rare instances in which Democrats can claim the moral high ground without paying a short-term political price.  Franken's replacement would be appointed by a Democratic governor from a very large pool of talent, and the replacement would then have to survive a special election in a reliably blue Democratic state.

On the other side of the question of whether Franken should stay or resign are those who feel that due process is as much of a liberal value as is upholding respect for women.  To deny Franken an opportunity to confront his accusers and ensure that the full story is told sets a dangerous precedent, one that holds the potential to turn the process of uncovering sexual misconduct into a weapon that could easily be deployed, fairly or not, against any public figure in the cross hairs of someone inconvenienced by that public figure.  In fact, at least one writer has suggested that the accusations against Franken amount to a political hole card, one that needed to be played when the Moore story exploded.

So, what should Franken--and, for that matter, Conyers--do? 

As much as part of me hates to say it, I ultimately come down on the side of those who feel that they should step aside, provided that the accusations against them are fully investigated and resolved.  As citizens, they do not surrender their constitutional rights by being elected to public office.  But the holding of public office, in and of itself, is not a right; it is a privilege afforded by the people to conduct their public business.  That business has to be conducted in such a way that the appearance of impropriety, to say nothing of actual impropriety itself, must be avoided.  The fact that we have a President who is shredding that standard of public conduct does not change the need to uphold that standard; if anything, it arguably amplifies that need, as well as the desirability of ultimately bringing him to account.  And, in order to do so, Democrats must leave no areas of its political house out of order.

Yes, it means Franken and Conyers are effectively casualties of war.  But that is how Republicans have redefined politics:  as war conducted by other means.  In war, there is no way to avoid casualties.  And, in war, there is and can be no substitute for victory.

Lecturing Others About Being "Above The Law" Is Not Always A Good Idea

Take, for example, the case of Jeanine Pirro.  Or, if you will, "Judge Jeanine," as she is known on her Fox News program.

A former judge and district attorney in Westchester County, New York, just north of New York City, Pirro has used her Fox show as a platform for promoting law and order, in particular with reference to Hillary Clinton, to whom she lost a U.S. Senate race in 2000.  About a week ago, on the air, Pirro ripped into Hillary and Bill Clinton for acting as though they were above laws that "each and every one of us must follow."

Well, no disagreement here.  Except that one's life conveys a more powerful, more admonishing message than one's words.  And such was the case with Pirro, who, shortly after her denunciation of Clintonian arrogance toward the rule of law, she violated it herself by driving 119 miles per hour (according to a police report) in upstate New York.  For this, she was stopped and given a ticket for excessive speeding.

That's right.  Just for speeding.  And not for speeding a little bit, but nearly twice the maximum legal speed limit.  No criminal charges, such as reckless endangerment, which might ordinarily accompany such a violation.  And just a citation that can be paid through the mail, without a court appearance or the need to hire an attorney.

And it's not as if speeding to the extent cited in the police report is, in and of itself, a minor violation.  According to this story in the New York Daily News, speeding in excess of 40 miles per hour can give the violator enough points to result in an automatic suspension of his or her license, and the payment for three years of a Driver Responsibility Assessment, to say nothing of the impact on the violator's car insurance rates.

And if you're not lucky enough to be Jeanine Pirro, you may very well have the book thrown at you, including handcuffs, a court appearance, jail time and a criminal record.  Just ask some of the Daily News' readers.

Pirro, of course, realizing the hit her image would take from this incident, blamed it on her concern for her ailing mother, toward whom she was travelling at the time.  I don't doubt the sincerity of the excuse, but am forced to think that her mother might feel better if her daughter got to her in one piece--and without knocking others to pieces as well.

Hopefully, if nothing else, Pirro will develop a little humility from her experience.  It won't prevent her from going after the Clintons and, perhaps, it shouldn't.  But it may save her life, as well as the lives of others.

Donald Trump Absolutely, Positively, Doesn't Give A Damn About Anyone Except Himself.

Even if you are a Trump supporter, and your life is at stake.

Permit me to provide two examples.

By now, whether you like it or not, you know that Trump "digs coal."  During his presidential campaign, he build a lot of his appeal to blue-collar America on the unkeepable promise of bringing back to America blue-collar jobs that had fled this country decades ago, specifically aiming at workers in fossil-fuel industries--and, even more specifically, on coal miners.

It utterly amazes me that this appeal worked.  Even if it's all you've known, coal mining is, and always has been, incredibly dangerous work.  People often lose their lives while performing it and, even if they don't lose their lives on the job, they lose it eventually through the damage that coal dust does to their lungs in the form of black-lung disease.  And, putting all of this aside, which is a lot to put aside, the reality is that coal power is a dying industry, and is beyond the efforts of any President or other political leader to save it.  The future is in renewable, clean energy sources, whether Trump, the coal mining industry or the miners can accept that fact or not.  Had the Democratic candidate gone into coal country to explain how this future could be made to work for them, and put them back to work in safer, more reliable jobs, the miners and the rest of us would be better off.  It didn't happen, so we're not.

And who pays the ultimate price?  The same people who always have--the miners.  Efforts to enforce mine safety under Barack Obama have apparently been undone under Trump, with the result that mine deaths are increasing.  That's right.  For all practical purposes, Trump is killing the people who are his most dedicated supporters.  Do you honestly believe Trump cares?  Not so long as he can point a finger of blame elsewhere, which he will no doubt do if this receives any media coverage beyond the linked story.

And then, there's Trump's use of members of the armed services as political props.  This was highlighted this past Thanksgiving week in a particularly ugly way, as Trump used an opportunity to send holiday greetings to troops on overseas active duty to tell them that they had been losers under Obama but, thanks to him (and, presumably, only to him) they could now consider themselves winners.  Seriously.  What level of narcissism does it take to use a moment that should be as above politics as anything and use it to score points against your opponents?  All you need to is take a look at this to view Trump's revolting behavior from the vantage point of someone putting his or her life on the line for the sake of the country.

Trump is on your side, but only so long as you're Donald Trump.  Which means that the rest of us may well be seriously screwed.  I hope and pray that I'm wrong.

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.

A Fish That is Rotting From The Trump On Down

In the past, all Presidents have understood, without needing to be tutored on the subject, that, although they are not elected by all of the voters, they nevertheless serve all of the people, voters and non-voters, including voters who voted against them.  Their primary responsibility--to take care that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed--extends to everyone, without fear or favor.  That is ultimately what is meant by the rule of law.  The law, in both its benefits and burdens, must be applied fairly and equally across the board, or America ceases to be a nation of laws.

Enter Donald Trump, stage very far right, carrying a switchblade with which to carve out the benefits for his friends, and a hammer for pounding the burdens into his enemies.

Actually, that might be giving him too much credit.  Whatever else is true of Trump, he is a profoundly lazy man, one who has all but had to be told what to do in the face of obvious crises for which the past is a ready guide on how to behave.  Ultimately, it may be the quality that prevents him from becoming a true tyrant.  Just as some people are too stupid to be corrupt, Trump may simply be too lazy to step into the dictator role.

In any event, Trump had to all but be told to go to Texas and Florida when they were hit, respectively, by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Even then, he made a botch of it, telling people that he was doing a great job and that they should be grateful that the damage wasn't worse.  Still, it was probably somewhat better than his performance in Puerto Rico in his response to Hurricane Maria.  He delayed waiving the Jones Act which would have permitted instant foreign aid, deferring to fears of foreign competition from American shipping interests.  He finally did waive it, and subsequently went to the island to throw paper towels to people and (yes, you guessed it) lecture people on why they should be grateful that it wasn't even worse.  This latter tendency seems to be a favorite of his; more about this later.

But the media glare has largely faded from Puerto Rico and Maria, as the click-conscious MSM and social media race off to the newest traffic accident.  And what has Trump done in its absence?  That is, other than hide statistics about how bad the situation is?  Or turn it into yet another example of cash-and-carry cronyism, Trump-style, by giving a nine-figure contract for the restoration of the island's power to a company with only two employees (which the island subsequently cancelled)?  Lie about the extent of the "recovery" and his own Administration's ability to respond to it.

That's Trump.  If the media isn't forcing him to focus on a problem, he ignores it.  If he is forced to do so by the media, then, for the sake of what's left of his ratings, he'll make a show of dealing with it.  But it's never more than a show, as was the case with him before he became President.

And, when you have a really high spot on his S-list and you get sporadic coverage at best, you really get a cold shoulder from him.  Take, for example, California, which just might be the most reliably Democratic state in the nation, and which is currently being consumed by wildfires.  California's government and residents are still waiting to hear from Trump.  I suspect that Trump's attitude about contacting them is a little like the caption from one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, where the harried businessman looks at his calendar to make an appointment and tells his caller "How about never--is never good for you?"

On the other hand, when it's a rapist who's a member of Mar-a-lago, poof!  His anti-immigrant stance disappears, and he helps the rapist avoid deportation.  If you're a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy and don't have a membership in a Trump club, there's a pretty good chance that you won't be so lucky.

To return to the top:  the rule of law benefits everyone, or it benefits no one.  Under Trump, the rule of law benefits only him and his cronies, and their need for power above everything else.  Q.E.D., there is no rule of law.

And this attitude seeps down from Trump to those who are most loyal to him.  And, by "him," I mean him above all else, even when they are presumed to have subscribed to a higher calling.  Exhibit A:  General John Kelly, Trump's chief of staff, who was supposed to be the "adult in the room" keeping Trump focused on the proverbial bigger picture.  Well, whatever he was supposed to be, General Kelly has appeared seems to have taken the bigger picture and tossed it out of the nearest window.

He aided and abetted the botching of Trump's condolence call to the family of a fallen soldier (a task for which any competent adult should not have needed aid in the first place).  He then denounced the presence during the call of a member of Congress who was a mentor to the soldier and a friend of the family, saying that it took a trip to Arlington National Cemetery to calm him down after he learned about her presence.  He then lied about a speech she had made, was silent for a week while the White House ran interference for him, and subsequently refused to apologize for the lie when confronted with it.  To top all of this off, he then launched a bizarre defense of Robert E. Lee, and stated that the Civil War came about due to an inability to compromise.

This is the supposed "adult in the room?"  I can understand, after this, why some people might want to question the value of officers in civilian roles, although I'm not one of those people.  Rather, I think that the real issue, the real thing to be frightened of, is the ability of one deeply corrupt man, one deeply corrupt President, to take the loyalty that normally goes with serving the most powerful person in the world, and allowing that loyalty to be perverted for base ends.

Kelly, and anyone else in the White House, should get out now while they can.  Because they are part of a fish that is rotting from the orange, combed-over head on down.  And exit is the only way to escape becoming part of the rot, as well as stopping it altogether.

Friday, October 27, 2017

When A Film Is As Offensive As A Statue

Several weeks ago, in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, I offered my opinion on the debate at the heart of it:  the presence or removal from public spaces of monuments to the Confederacy and the "Lost Cause" it attempted to protect and vindicate.  At the time, I offered the opinion that any so-called "free speech" issue inherently raised by this debate was a matter largely resolvable by the application of the maximum that context is all, especially when the "all" in question consists of cultural artifacts.  You can see my post on this subject here, in full.

I'll use a few lines here to expound on my views as expressed in the earlier post.

The purpose of placing a monument in a public space is typically to honor the people, organization or event that forms the subject matter of the monument.  A monument may, or may not, be a great work of art, or even a work of art, period.  But it is, in fact, meant to serve as an honor.  And, like it or not, societies do not build monuments to those who stood in opposition to it, especially through war.  The reality of the Civil War is the following:  the North won, the Confederate states were re-admitted to the Union as part of the United States of America, and slavery was abolished.  Since the end of the Civil War, we have gone forward as one nation.  That fact is the true "heritage" to come out of the Civil War, not the attempt of a morally bankrupt kleptocracy to form its own nation.

Having said that, I must also acknowledge the fact that there is a cultural consideration as well.  Many of the Confederate monuments in question are statutes and, as such, constitute works of art, however primitive their creation.  A large number of the monuments in question were mass-produced from molds and using cheap materials, which might call into some degree of question their merits as works of art.  But, for my purposes, I'm happy to waive that point.  That is at least in part because there are simple ways of resolving this debate:  either move the monuments to private locations at museums or historical societies, where many appropriate ways to provide context exist, or to leave them in place and provide context on the spot, perhaps with signs, additional monuments, or other methods.

Equally important, if not more so, all of us should be wary of any effort to resolve a political controversy by the destruction of art, however primitive or offensive they may be.  There is no bottom to that approach once it is taken, and the pursuit of it can lead to the loss of any ability within a society to peaceably communicate about anything at all.  Moreover, if progressives go down that route in dealing with Confederate monuments, they would have as little moral standing as did many of the historical despots they rightly protest.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the subject of the 1939 classic M-G-M film, "Gone With the Wind," and this article about it from Slate.com, focusing as it does on the question of whether it deserves to be treated in much the same manner as the statutes that make up many Confederate monuments.

Even accounting for the grosses of modern-day blockbuster films, "Gone With the Wind" is still, when adjustments are made for inflation, still the most successful film of all time at the U.S. box office.  That's a fairly impressive accomplishment for a film primarily celebrated as one of the screen's all-time great romances.  Personally, I tend to take issue with whether the "romance" itself is truly classic, as it involves two world-class narcissists whose narcissism allows each of them to survive individually, but overpowers any sense of the level of sacrifice needed to make a romance last a lifetime.  This is why I believe, unlike most people (I suspect), that when Rhett Butler walks out the door without giving a damn, it is really and truly final, and Scarlett O'Hara finds a way to go on without him.

I'll let that pass, however, and get to the point.  "Gone With the Wind" is popular and, as noted in the article, still popular.  Yet, like the statues at the heart of the Charlottesville controversy, it is a celebration of a society that existed entirely on the legal ability to import, use, and ultimately destroy human beings as though they were property, simply on the basis of the color of their skin.  The film effectively asks us, especially though its ubiquitous title cards, that the destruction of this society was some sort of great tragedy, one to be mourned throughout the ages.  Descendents of plantation owners may have one view of that subject; descendents of slaves just might have another one.

And yet, "Gone With the Wind," purely from the production-values standpoint, is without question an impressive film, particularly in the Atlanta siege sequence, where the horrors of war, from an amputation without anesthesia to the burning of a railway depot, were re-created to such a realistic degree that the film as a whole set a new standard for subsequent historic epics, and one that even today is still difficult to beat.  William Cameron Menzies, the production designer for "Gone With the Wind," brought the same level of talent and technical ability on display in his 1936 film, "Things to Come," a "future history" of the world by H.G. Wells which is itself tarnished by traces of Wells' anti-Semitism.

Even without those values, the appropriate way to treat the film would be, and is, in the same way that the Confederate monuments are treated--not by a ban or by destruction, but by proper curation with the provision of the appropriate context.  If the article is to be believed, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be, that is happening, and hopefully will serve as a guide for resolving similar controversies in the future.*

*Full disclosure:  Russ Collins, who is quoted in the article, is a personal friend though our mutual membership in the League of Historic American Theaters (lhat.org).

Tax Cuts And The Velocity Of Money

To borrow one of Ronald Reagan's most legendary phrases, there they go again.

A Republican Congress, and a Republican President, hell-bent on enacting major tax cuts without regard to their short-term (and long-term) effect on the national debt, to address a crisis in economic growth that, in point of fact, doesn't even exist.

How do I know it doesn't exist?  Donald Trump says so himself.  If you have the stomach to look at his Twitter feed--and it's OK if you don't, since doing so successfully requires a strong stomach--he'll tell you over and over again about the greatness of the country's current economic numbers.  He'll also make the mistake of taking credit for them, even though, for the first nine months of his Presidency, we've basically been living in the economic world Barack Obama helped to create.

But then, there's the problem of the legislative achievements of this new era of all-Republican government.  To wit:  there haven't been any.  That's one of the main reasons that Trump and his congressional cronies are now doing everything they can to ram a tax-cutting bill through the legislative and executive branches and into the lives--and the pockets--of the American people.  More about the "pockets" part later.

The other main reason, however, is even more nakedly political.  The Republican Party, to paraphrase Voltaire on the subject of the Holy Roman Empire, is neither Republican, nor a party.  It is a collection of angry vested interests representing different forms of conservatism (fiscal, social and military), all of whom agree (just barely) on one thing:  tax cuts.

But let's give them the benefit of the doubt anyway, at least for a little bit.  Wage growth has been, as it always is in an economic recovery, the most lagging number to pick up any steam.  The heart of the GOP argument for current tax cuts is that they will magically change all of that.

There's a big hole in that argument, and it has to do with what is called, in Wall Street parlance, the "velocity of money"--that is, the speed at which dollars are turned over in multiple transactions throughout the economy.  Despite the government flooding of money into the nation's banking system after the 2008 economic crisis, which was supposed to put the velocity of money into warp speed, the velocity of U.S. dollars has remained incredibly slow.  "Lazy," in the word of one author.  But tax rates are not the reason; debt is.  Not just government debt, but corporate and consumer debt, which has accrued over decades as a result of conservative economic policies based on--wait for it--tax cutting.

Frankly, it would be better for both the national and international economy to work out some sort of debt-forgiveness program, one that would free everyone from the burden of past debt transactions that no longer make any sense, and give everyone--individuals, companies, and nations--the proverbial "fresh start."  Even somewhat conservative, in the strictly Biblical sense.  But that's not what we're going to be getting, folks.  We're going to be getting tax cuts.

This, despite the fact that conservative voices outside of government disagree on the value of these cuts.  (See here, and here, joining liberal voices in the process.)

This, despite the fact that many of the tax-cut advocates are having to eat their words about Obama-era deficits, or discuss paying for the current round of tax cuts with tax hikes on constituencies they hate, or budget cuts that hurt society's most vulnerable members.  These methods of payment, incidentally, will not help the velocity of money at all; they will simply pull more consumer spending out of the economy, thereby lowering tax revenues even further.

This, despite the fact that past tax cuts have been largely a boon primarily to offshore tax shelters (again, reducing the velocity of money) and foreign investors (and are very likely to benefit the latter group again).

And this, despite the fact that even the Trump Administration admits that one key portion of the tax-cut bill--elimination of the estate tax--will only benefit the wealthy.  Historically, that has been the point of having the estate tax in the first place:  to prevent the development of a permanent economic aristocracy.  Once again, a blow against the velocity of money, especially since the estate tax serves as a powerful incentive for charitable contributions.

It appears, then, that the only way to reverse this latest round of tax-cutting insanity is to let it come to pass, and then suffer through the inevitable recession--or worse--that will come about as a result.  Go ahead and laugh (especially if, pun intended, you're Arthur Laffer, the supply-side "guru").  It's only happened twice before after a big round of Republican tax cuts:  in 2008 and 1982.  No one should be fooled into thinking that the third time will somehow be the charm.  But many will be, despite the fact that it was actually tax hikes--under Reagan (yes, Reagan), Bush I, Clinton and Obama--that set the stage for economic recoveries in each case.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it is tax hikes, and not cuts, that promote the velocity of money, by forcing those who have it to put it to work in the economy.  Wait under after the next recession/depression, and after Trump is thrown out of office (one way or the other), and you'll get another chance to see how it works.