Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Maybe Democrats Can Win Converts, After All

As I've stated previously, I'm frustrated by the inability of most conservatives to see that progressive ideas work, and benefit them.  Election after election in red states, voters reflexively vote over and over again for the party that's systematically shafting them.

But, perhaps, there's some small room for hope.

I don't know how representative the experience of the author of this article is.  It may be a small island of hope in a sea of despair.

But I would like to think it represents something better.

I would like to think that it means people are learning to think for themselves again, instead of getting all of their thinking from Fox News, talk radio, and Breitbart.

I would like to think that it means people are beginning to understand that it's easier to face the truth, even if it means admitting you were wrong, than it is to go on pretending that you're wrong.

And, most of all, I would like to think that it means that, in 2018 and later, that there will be an avalanche of "snowflakes," and an end to alternative facts.

I hope and pray that I'm right.

Why Giving All The Money To The Rich Is A Bad Idea

Actually, there are several reasons.

One is that they just put it into overseas tax shelters, meaning that the money is doing absolutely nothing except propping up the finances of playgrounds for the wealthy.  Another is that they put the money into buying elections, so that they can keep their current tax cuts and get even more of them.

But, I've just discovered another reason:  they waste the money on preparing for the Apocalypse, failing to realize that, in a true Apocalypse, their money won't last very long.  In an end-of-the-world scenario, scarcity would create price gouging beyond belief.  A simple bottle of water could cost millions.

And, in the meantime, people around the country do without the most basic resources.  For them, it's already a world in which a simple bottle of water might as well cost millions.

Can we somehow get past this idea that the rich need to be endlessly pampered at the expense of all of us?  At the rate things are going, we're being propelled toward the Apocalypse--and we don't have to be.

The Glass Ceiling May Yet Break, After All

After Hillary Clinton's defeat, the people I felt sorry for the most were all of the women who had invested so much time, energy and money into her historic campaign.  I worried that they might feel so discouraged (and understandably so) about the outcome that it would be a long time before we would witness any kind of sustained effort by women to run for office on a national scale.

Turns out my worrying was for nothing.  If anything, the presence of the misogynistic Trump in the White House seems to have motivated women to double down on their willingness to run for office.
Take a look.

Women represent a majority of the population.  If anything, the House and Senate should both have majorities of women.  And we should have had a female President long before Hillary's candidacy. For my part, I would like to think that I'm as enthusiastic a backer of woman's rights and issues as any man can be.  But, like other men, I can't have the same understanding of those rights and issues that women have.  We need them in public life--all the more so in the age of Trump.

Single-Payer Health Insurance: Is It Too Costly?

In a word, no.

In fact, as this article illustrates, it would cost less than the current system, through reduced administrative costs and the ability to negotiate prices on a nationwide level.  This is why single-payer exists and works well in every other industrialized nation in the world.  But not in the United States, the richest country in the world.

This is just another example of how conservatives smear a perfectly good idea by calling it "socialism."  The only socialistic aspect about it is that it would not allow private companies to profit off of the misery of others.  Health care is not like other private goods and services:  you never know exactly when you're going to need it.  That's why it makes the most sense to spread the costs of health care out among the entire population.  That, in fact, is the basic rationale behind all insurance schemes, even private ones.

Will we ever get past labels and just look at and discuss ideas?  Sometimes, I wonder.

Why Defined Contribution Retirement Plans Don't Work

This article discusses in detail the failure of so called 410(k) plans to ensure a comfortable retirement for their participants.  As it turns out, even the creator of them is unable to retire on his 401(k).  Bravo for life's little ironies (thank you, Garry Trudeau).

Defined contribution plans, like 401(k) plans, derive their name from the ability of participants to put in to the plan a specified dollar amount, tax-free, and then invest the money in the markets, which means that the ultimate amount of the plan balance at retirement depends strictly on market performance.  If the markets do well, you do well; if not, you may find retirement to be a long way off, if ever.

The only real solution?  Either increase Social Security benefits, or make it easier somehow for businesses to create defined benefit plans, which require the plan sponsor to invest enough money to fund specified benefits.  That was what retirement was like in the pre-Reagan era.  If only we could go back to that world!

Can You Talk About A Subject Without Talking About It?

That's apparently what's happening in America's breadbasket, where farmers, politicians and educators are trying to discuss the effects of climate change, and how to reverse them, without actually using the politically loaded phrase "climate change."  Even then, it isn't easy, as the article illustrates.  The closer you get in your language to sounding like an environmentalist, the more people turn you off.

It seems incredible that it's literally impossible to have an honest discussion about something that affects all of us, regardless of what part of the country we live in.  Have we become so full of hatred for each other that we can't even see when all of us are being mutually threatened?  If that's the case, there's no hope for us.

Maybe the efforts of the people described in this article will begin to reverse the trend.  But we're a long way from the trend being actually reversed.  And we may not have much time to wait for it to be reversed.  I hope I'm wrong.

It Really Is As Bad As You Think

There's nothing like information from an insider to tell you about what's really going on in Washington.  And, thanks to digital technology, it's never been easier to share than information.

With that in mind, I offer these excepts from a Twitter account set up by a mid-level staffer in the Trump White House.  It's tempting to react to the excepts as a spoof, and some of them almost read that way.  But it appears to be the real deal--that is, before the account disappeared.  One hopes that its author does not suffer a similar fate.

At any rate, if you've followed the exploits of Donald Trump for any significant length of time, is there anything in these tweets that's particularly surprising?  They expose him as vain, insecure, disrespectful of facts that get in the way of what he wants, and utterly undisciplined.  And yet, he's your President for the next four years.

G-d help us all.

A Grace Note

We now live in such a polarized political age that, when one can find an instance where folks on one side of the aisle can treat those on the other side with kindness and generosity, it's a small cause for celebration.  Which is why I was pleased to find this letter written by Barbara and Jenna Bush to Sasha and Malia Obama, on the occasion of the Obama's departure from the White House.

It's no doubt written with a special awareness of the burdens families carry when one of its members enters the Oval Office.  I've always found a lot of news coverage and satire of Presidential families to be very mean-spirited and utterly unnecessary, and, in any case, I avoid commenting on the personal lives of any family member other than the President.  Considering the level of meanness that Barbara and Jenna had to endure, both personally and toward their father, they deserve credit for their classiness here.

Then again, perhaps they related to the meanness that Sasha and Malia had to endure.  It would be better for all of us if we could think of each other more as people, and less as partisans.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Why I'm NOT Willing To "Get Over It" Or "Give Him A Chance"

You've heard it.  We all have.  The pleas or demands (depending on the source) that the opposition to Donald Trump's Presidency "get over it," or "give him a chance."  It's just another election.  It's just another transfer of power.  The people have spoken.  Move on.

Well, leaving aside the fact that 54% of the people who spoke didn't get anything close to what they wanted (i.e., a President who at least respected the fact that he's responsible for their interests, even if they disagree with him), there are very real reasons reasons to not move on.  To not give him a chance.  And, above all, to not get over it.

I'll leave the biggest, and most obvious, one alone for now, although I'm sure I'll be writing about it later:  the direct interference with the campaigning and the voting by persons inside this country (including members of the federal government) and outside of it.  I suspect that, as time goes on, we'll be learning more about that interference.  That is a story that is not going away.

In any case, there's a more immediate story: the morphing of the Republican Party into a criminal enterprise.

This hasn't been a recent or short-term process.  Much has been written (including some pieces by me) about the public scandals, like Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the hanging Florida chads of 2000, and the not-quite-as-public ones, like the behind-the-scenes manipulation of overseas events in 1968 and 1980 to ensure the elections of Nixon and Reagan.  And this only covers events within my lifetime.  To study the history of the Republican Party is to understand why its members are so anxious to be known as members of the party of Lincoln.  After Lincoln, and with the notable exceptions of Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, the history of Republican Presidents is not an inspiring one.  Not at the national level, at least.

But what about at the state and local levels, as well as Congress, in isolated cases.  Aren't there "reasonable Republicans" who put all of the people ahead of the party, and are willing to forge compromises with their opponents?  And haven't a lot of what's best about this country come about as a result of these compromises?

Maybe.  But say goodbye to the species known as "reasonable Republicans."

Finding cause and effect relationships in politics is a tricky process.  But it's difficult--no, it's frankly impossible--for me not to think that the election to the Presidency of a self-serving con artist like Donald Trump has emboldened his party's basic self-serving, criminal interests.

It was bad enough at the end of last year when the GOP-controlled North Carolina state legislature enacted laws to limit the power of the incoming, Democratic governor.  It's even worse when the GOP-controlled South Dakota state legislature decides that the approval by the state's voters, in a direct referendum, of a new ethics law for state public officials is worth of an emergency session to try to overturn the law.

That's right.  The good GOP citizen-legislators of South Dakota have decided that the outbreak of a concern for ethics among the voters of their state is an "emergency."  I'm not kidding; you absolutely can't make this stuff up.  Take a look.

I am honestly shocked that these stories, and others like them, have not gotten more attention. How can we talk about "reasonable Republicans" when the very idea that the voters might disagree with them is just cause to stop the democratic process dead in its track.  What the hell is reasonable about that?

Do you get it now?

I'm not "getting over this."  I'm not moving on.  And I absolutely am not giving these people any chances.  Every time you extend a hand to them, they bite it off.  While I've still got both of mine, I intend to use them to fight like hell.  One way or the other.

My advice to Republicans who object?  Get over it.  You first.  When you stop talking about democracy, and start practicing it (win or lose), I'll consider the possibility of being "reasonable" with you.

Do Liberals And Progressives Need To Arm Themselves?

I found myself asking this question recently.  I apologize in advance if it is offensive.  Unfortunately, I believe that it's unavoidable.

Over the past three decades, America's love affair with guns has reached a level that, to extend the metaphor, borders on the pornographic.  All over the country, fear has driven individuals to collect entire arsenals, and to band together to form so-called "citizen's militias."  This phenomenon may be more prevalent in red states than in blue ones.  But make no mistake:  this is truly a nationwide phenomenon.  It has the backing of the National Rifle Association, which has degenerated from an organization devoted to the proper use and handling of firearms to a lobby for gun manufacturers that care about nothing except sales.

And make no mistake about something else:  guns are meant to be used, and used to kill.  And kill they have, with the help of people who often have no clue about what they were doing or why they were doing it.  Sadly, during the Obama years, guns were used in that way to horrifying and tragic effect.  More specifically, they were used in ways that, taken in the aggregate, illustrate the terrible truth about America, past and present:  we the people are divided not by state boundaries, or by economic classes, but by race.  White violence perpetrated against black people, by white men fearful of having lost the privilege of skin color in an age when a black man can occupy the Oval Office.

Truth to tell, however, it wasn't always this one sided.

There was a time, during the 1960s, when an organization known as the Black Panthers sprung up in Oakland, California, in response to the inability of the (white) police force to protect them.  The Panthers provided a number of social services to the community, but its main reason for being was self-defense.  Armed self-defense.

And the thought of guns in the hands of African-Americans scared the living daylights out of white male conservatives, so much so that they became strong advocates of ... wait for it ... gun control laws.  Interesting how different the politics of the issues changes when the trigger is being pulled by the other finger, isn't it.  All Bill of Rights amendments are equal, but some are, at different times, more equal than others.

You can read a little about this history here, in a online chat I discovered when I took the title to this post and turned it into a Google search.  You can also see that not a few progressives think, in the current climate, that the idea of liberals reclaiming their Second Amendment rights is not a bad one.

Does that surprise you?  It doesn't surprise me.  I've been thinking about doing it myself.

I haven't done it yet.  My wife discourages me from doing so, because she's afraid of having guns in the house that our granddaughters visit on a regular basis.  And, thus far, I've respected that concern.

But I'm not sure I'll be able to do so indefinitely.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not interested in organizing, or joining, a militia.  I'm not interested in possessing or carrying firearms for the sake of threatening others in any way, shape or form.  But I am interested in protecting the lives of my family, and perhaps others that I care about.  And the combination of an all-Republican federal government and its racist gun-toting supports makes me think that protecting those lives is a priority that is higher and more real than I would like it to be.

I'm not enjoying this state of affairs.  I'm just trying to face it, head-on.  It may very well be the case that the only way to get this country to a sensible place on guns is for liberals to become as dangerous to conservatives as they are to us.  They only seem to speak in the language of bullets. For our own sakes, and for the nation's sake, it may be time for progressives to become fluent.

Barack Obama Was A Test, And We Failed It

No small amount of my own political depression over the past few months come not just from the arrival of Donald Trump, but also from the departure of Barack Obama.

I have lived through nine Administrations that I can remember, not counting the one that just began (Eisenhower and Kennedy were also part of my life but, except for Kennedy's assassination, I remember nothing about either of them).  I am not just saying this as a Democrat, or even as an American, but as an individual:  I regard Obama as the best president who served during my lifetime. I do so not only because of his substantive accomplishments, which are very real whether conservatives wish to acknowledge it or not, but also because of the manner in which he conducted his presidency.  Without scandal, with an unwavering commitment to reason over passion, and with a sincere and badly underrated desire to serve all of the people of this county, he inspired in me, and I'm sure in many others, a rare and unforgettable kind of quiet confidence about the way our country was being governed.

Without a doubt, what was most inspirational about that confidence is that Obama managed to deliver it, day in and day out, in the face of opposition from Republicans and other conservatives that, day in and day out, bordered on the hysterical and irrational, and frequently crossed the border, especially after they learned that Obama was not going to be intimidated by them.  Perhaps this is best illustrated by his signature policy and political accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act. It was enacted at great cost to Obama's political capital and to the Democrats political position at the national and state levels.  It took years to fully implement, and that implementation at times left a great deal to be desired.  None of this stopped Obama from standing behind it and seeing it though.

As a result, today, the ACA has helped at least 20 million Americans gain health insurance, and has presented Republicans with a problem:  how to repeal and replace a program that they have staked their success on eliminating, now that polls show that people like it.  It has been heartening, even amusing at times, to see the varying ways in which this has unfolded, from the voices of Republican governors urging their Congressional counterparts not to move so quickly in repealing Obamacare, to the sight of a Republican House member fleeing angry Obamacare supporters.  My, how the tables have turned on this subject.

The sad reality, however, is that Barack Obama could have accomplished so much more than he did. The fact that he did not, however, is not his fault.  We failed him.  And, by "we," I'm referring to Democrats in one instance, and Republicans in another.

Democrats have a tendency to be impatient with the pace of progress, and frustrated by the fact that progress requires the occasional compromise, especially when it takes place in a federal system that is designed to stymie rapid, unilateral action.  Worse, Democrats also have a tendency to neglect the grass-roots dimension of politics and, along with it, the need to show up for elections year in and year out, even when the Presidency isn't at stake.  They got Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 and said, in effect "Okay, that's enough."  And, by doing so, they created a vacuum in the political life of the country that Republicans were determined to fill at any cost.

And fill it they did--at any cost.  Last year's blockade of Merrick Garland' nomination to the Supreme Court is without a doubt the most notorious example.  Purity has a very high price--in this case, the balance of power on the highest court in the land for at least a generation.  The harm that may be done to progressive interests is incalculable.  And all because Democrats couldn't be bothered to show up at the polls in 2014 to stop Mitch McCONnell from seizing power and shredding constitutional government.

But that's not all Republicans did.

Obama's Presidency gave them a chance to shed their image as a party largely based on white power. As illustrated during the debate on health care reform, Obama was willing to give them an alternative based largely on Mitt Romney's reform plan in Massachusetts (or "Romneycare,") as it was known back then.  He did so in the hope that they would see it as a gesture of good faith, as well as with the calculation that it would be a good way to co-opt their potential opposition to reform.

What Obama failed to appreciate, and what Republicans didn't fail to appreciate, is the fact that, without race-based politics, there is no Republican Party.  And so, they doubled down on a bad bet because it was the only bet they had, in order to avoid extinction.  Fortunately for them (but not for the country), there are still enough bigots to make it work.  And it did, with surprisingly little cost, but leaving a legacy of hatred that will compromise political debate in America for years to come. Perhaps forever.

I'm skeptical about whether or not we will see another African-American President.  And that's tragic, in so many ways.  Barack Obama was a unique appeal to the ideals of this country, and to the better angels in our souls.  And all of us blew it.  Frankly, I'm not sure we'll get another chance for redemption.  But, as long as there are people in this nation who support the America Obama was trying to build, we have to go on trying.

Get some rest, Mr. (former) President.  You've earned it.  And forgive us.  And, above all, please find a way to stay engaged in the political life of our nation.  We need you.  Even if we didn't deserve you.

Should I Be At The Airport, Or Should I Be Writing This Blog?

The Trump Administration--and I can't understate how much I loathe typing those words--is now just a little more than a week old, and it has already sown a level of national discord that it has taken past Administrations months (years, in some cases) to achieve.  Democrats are outraged. Republicans are either silent, or pretending nothing is wrong (or in their default mode, blaming the Democrats for it all).  The people, on the other hand, are in the streets.

Last Saturday, I was one of them, along with my wife.  Along with a friend of hers, and the friend's son, we participated in the march in D.C., each of us wearing our pink hats, along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans who refuse to accept the "President" that 46 percent of the voters have foisted upon the rest of us.  It was an amazing experience.  The march attracted so many participants that it was forced to be re-routed, and even then the streets felt absolutely clogged with people everywhere we went.  The four of us ended up breaking off from the main group of participants before we reached the White House, which was supposed to the the terminal point of the event.  We all ended up going home, thoroughly exhausted.

And yet, I have to say that, for all of that, I was inspired by not only the sheer number of participants, and their energy and enthusiasm for participating, but also by the number of political activists who were taking advantage of the opportunity to sign people up for future efforts to mobilize public opinion against the nightmare of our new government.  I signed up with two of them.  I was especially happy to see this because, ever since the election, I have sensed that most of the people on my side of the political fence have been deeply depressed, feeling powerless and spending more time on their smart phones and laptops looking for some sign of encouragement.

On Saturday, we discovered the best source of encouragement of all:  each other.  We discovered once again that Barack Obama was right.  We truly are the change that we seek.  And, despite the gloomy weather, despite the horrible configuration of national power that now faces all of us, I could easily look around and see the difference just being together can make.  Despite some of the logistical problems created by the unexpectedly large number of people, I heard no complaints.  I sensed frustration with politics, but not with each other.  People helped each other out in different ways, people encouraged each other, and, in spite of the political frustration, people seemed happy.

For many, including me, that happiness came just from the sense that, after more than two months of just trying to absorb the awfulness of the election outcome, something was actually being done. But I think it was also about something else, something that's easy to forget in a digital, talk-to-the-rest of the world from behind a screen.  Each person at the march, and at similar events around the country, discovered once again that they are not alone.  That's a powerful thing to remember, and to hang onto as well.

Perhaps the success of the events on last Saturday is the sense I and many others have that those events never seem to have actually ended last weekend.  In one form or another, they have continued throughout the week, encouraged in part by an Administration that seems to get its fuel from provocation.  The past few days in particular, since Trump's executive (and, to a large extent, illegal) executive orders on immigration, immigration advocates, including attorneys (including my wife) have descended on airports in an attempt to assist green-card and visa holders, including refugees previously cleared for entry.  This is opposition in its most practical form, going beyond advocacy to the actual hard work of making a real difference for those who are--there's no other way to say it--being oppressed.

Which raises a question in my mind, especially since this is the first post for TRH in 2017:  in the present four-year emergency, is blogging the best use of my time?

To be honest, I'm not really sure.

I'm an attorney.  I'm trained as a journalist.  I've been involved with various types of political campaigning.  There are lots of other ways in which I could be contributing to the downfall of The Donald and his would-be empire.  At this point, I honestly don't know if blogging is really the best way I could be doing this.  And, whatever contribution I make at this point, in my mind, has to be the best possible contribution that I can make.  I'm 60, and at a point where I could just say "the hell with it all."  But I have children and grandchildren, one of whom may be profoundly affected by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (if it happens).  I can't give up.  But, by the same token, I can't afford to waste any time.

For the time being, I'm going forward with blogging.  But, frankly, I could really use some feedback. If nothing else, it would help to remind me that I am not alone.  And, whatever I end up doing, whatever all of us end up doing, may it make a difference that will be cherished by history and our posterity.  We can't screw this up.  Too much depends on it.  Whatever happens, don't give up--whatever I end up doing, I won't.