Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Just over a week ago, America suffered through the worst mass shooting in our nation's history, with more than fifty people killed and over five hundred wounded. The shooter was an older white man with no religious affiliation or history of violence, who horrifically carefully set up his hotel suite to be a killing stronghold to maximize the number of people he could shoot before being stopped.
As always, the first reaction in the wake of such a shooting is for the blue side of this country to say that some kind of gun control laws must be passed, while the red side responds that now is not the time to have that discussion because it politicizes" the tragedy (although if the shooter had been a Muslim, there would have been no hesitation to politicize the shooting). While it appears that this shooting will inspire the same thing as every other recent mass shooting has, that is, little to nothing, there does appear a possibility that both the NRA and their friends in congress will support banning bump stocks, a device that the shooter used, which can, when attached to a rifle properly, turn a semi automatic into a fully automatic. While this is hardly a major shift in the NRA's normal reaction to mass shootings, it does show that they are at least open to some kind of legislation.
But then a cynic may point out that bump stocks are mostly manufactured by a small independent company that can't afford the kind of enormous donations to the NRA that other larger gun manufacturers can. In other words, banning bump stocks won't hurt the bottom line for the gun companies who pump millions of dollars into the NRA every year to support what they see as their unfettered right to sell guns to almost anyone with the money to buy one. And that really gets to the root of the problem: money.
American politics is awash in money. Although there are some limits to just how much money can be donated, there are numerous loop holes that allow the rich and the powerful far more influence than the average voter. And it's only gotten worse in recent years: in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that donations from corporations and unions are considered a form of free speech and are unlimited when given to a candidate's Political Action Committee instead of a candidate directly. Which opened the floodgates; in 2016 Clinton raised over a billion dollars for her campaign, with Trump closely behind. And that doesn't count the countless billions that go into congressional elections, state and local elections and votes on propositions.
Personally, I think that the Supreme Court's ruling that equates money with speech was undemocratic, essentially legalizing political bribery. While running a campaign is obviously expensive, the debt that politicians owe to big money donors dwarfs the debt they owe to their constituents, not to mention the amount of time they have to spend calling potential donors and attending fund raisers instead of doing the jobs they were elected to do.
And then consider just how much advantage political spending gives to the rich in spreading a message to the world. For decades now, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have been funneling massive amounts of cash into campaigns and think tanks with the intention of discrediting the science behind climate change. Sadly, their spending has had an effect; even as more Americans believe that climate change is happening and is man made than not (48% to 31% according to a 2016 Pew research poll), the Koch brothers money has brought victory to conservative candidates opposed to any kind environmental regulations across the nation, public opinion be damned.
Money in politics effects so much in this country: it's why Republicans tried to pass a repeal of Obamacare that was supported by only 20% of the country, because their big money donors demanded action. It's why our income taxes are so complicated, because big corporate accounting companies like Turbo Tax don't want Americans to do their own taxes. It's why we keep minting new pennies every year, even though we certainly don't need any, because the Jarden Corporation lobbies congress to get the penny minting contract every year.
So what can we do about this situation? Well, other countries have realized that a mix of government funding and private funding, but as long as we have a Supreme Court that feels that money is speech, there really isn't much that we can do. Unfortunately, political groups like the NRA and donors like the Koch brothers will pushing their agendas with cash for years to come.
Saturday, September 30, 2017
With his continual lying, childish insults and petty vindictiveness, Donald Trump has proven to truly be a president like no other. But in some ways, he has been just another modern Republican: he denies the science of climate change, surrounds himself with hateful homophobes, and now he has just released a tax plan that greatly favors corporations and rich Americans, in much the same way that Ronald Reagan and George W Bush's tax plans did. So much for the forgotten middle class man that he claims to stand for!
The constant drum beat for more and more tax cuts really began in the nineteen eighties, when Ronald Reagan, promoting a theory put forth by the ironically named Arthur Laffer, claimed that tax cuts paid for themselves by increasing economic growth. During the primaries, then primary opponent to Reagan George Bush called the idea "voodoo economics", although he later swallowed his pride and supported Reagan's tax cutting after becoming vice president. And while there definitely was some economic growth during those years, the massive national deficit that those tax cuts created, showed just how absurd the idea of tax cuts paying for themselves was. And the eighties sadly began a trend that continues to this day, with the middle class losing ground in this country as the rich get richer.
And yet, here it is decades later, and the Republican party is still pushing this crazy idea. This despite the enormous economic growth that occurred in the nineties even after President Clinton raised taxes, and the lack of growth that occurred after George W Bush cut them.
The tax issue is just another way that the modern Republican party is both supported by and completely out of touch with its base. They win elections on racial divisive issues like building a wall with Mexico and demonizing undocumented immigrants, and then once in office go about trying to overturn Obamacare, which would hurt states that went for Trump most of all, and cutting taxes for the rich, which has hardly any benefit to the blue collar middle class white voters who put him in office.
Trump's response to this is, as always, to lie, claiming that the tax cuts wouldn't benefit him at all, even though his most recent released tax returns show that he would save millions every year under the plan. The rest of the party is more subtle in their lies, claiming that the tax plan would help "middle class" families, implying that people who have six figure salaries are somehow in the middle class! While I do think some Republicans honestly believe that tax cuts will help the country on the whole, I believe privately most of them realize that modern politics is run on money, and big money donors to the Republican party expect a return on their investment with tax cuts for them or their businesses.
There's an even more cynical aspect to this: the Trump plan, if passed, would blow a hole in the federal deficit to the tune of one and half to two trillion dollars over the next ten years! It would take an awful lot of economic growth to make up for that, but do Republicans really want to? Remember that for years now they have wanted to reduce the size of (or privatize) Social Security and Medicare, despite how popular those programs are with the general public. Why? Because they disprove the argument that federal government programs designed to help the poor (Social Security was created during the depression to help impoverished seniors) actually work. Just cutting the programs as a matter of course would be politically dangerous, but by saying that the cuts would have to be made in light of the government having less revenue might be the way to convince the public that those cuts are necessary to save them. It's the kind of bait and switch that is falsely called "fiscal responsibility", when what it should be really called is a hand out to rich donors, paid for by the poor and middle class.
Friday, September 1, 2017
In a depressing, but not surprising move, last Friday Donald Trump pardoned convicted Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was famous for his racially motivated profiling of latinos in the state of Arizona. In a typical lack of sympathy and human emotion, the following Monday Trump admitted that he picked the day that Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Texas to make his announcement of the pardon because, “Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they were normally.” Yes, that is the President of the United States saying that he wanted to use the media hurricane warnings to help raise the ratings of his controversial announcement. Once again, Trump has shown that his only interest in office is the same as it is in the rest of his life: to pump up his own bloated sense of self worth!
The Arpaio pardon is just the latest chapter in Trump's long string of playing to white supremacist attitudes, from saying that Barack Obama was not an American citizen to calling Mexican immigrants rapists. But the Arpaio pardon is particularly galling in that his crimes were so horrible; known as "America's toughest Sheriff", he was actually far worse: he and his men would round up anyone that was Latino, demand citizenship papers, and jail anyone without such papers. The conditions of his jail were so bad, he himself referred to it as a "concentration camp". The prisoners were routinely brutalized and humiliated. One woman claimed that she was shackled during her pregnancy, and not allowed to hold her baby after giving birth. All in all, the legal bills the state was forced to pay out during his reign of terror ran into the tens of millions of dollars. The final straw came when he refused to follow a court order that he stop racially profiling people who were not accused of committing a crime, an order that he publicly said he would refuse to follow. Can we just sit back and take a minute to gawk at the spectacle of a self styled law and order candidate pardoning someone who openly broke the law?
Now let's look at the recent history of white supremacy in this country: the Klu Klux Klan, which had mostly disbanded in the 1870's, began their second reign of terror around a hundred years ago. The number of Americans involved in that movement, or others like it, has waxed and waned over the last century. A real spike in their membership began in the year 2000, when the gallup poll reported for the first time that white Americans were projected not to make up more than 50% of the population within forty years. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 also sadly led to an increase in their numbers.
Given all of this, Trump's successful sowing of white resentment was really more an inevitability than many of us thought: Trump is much worse than a terrible president, he is a negative reflection of the racist attitudes of country, attitudes that so many of us wished were at the very least in decline. Recently, in the wake of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, a recent poll found that 9% of Americans are OK with people having pro Nazi or white supremacist views. While that may not sound like a lot, remember that in a country that has around three hundred and twenty million people, that 9% amounts to somewhere around thirty million. Look at the math, Trump won the presidency with sixty three million votes; assuming that all of those thirty million people who are OK with Nazi views voted for him (a safe assumption, given his campaign) and we can see that almost half of his voters were racially motivated bigots, who will never turn on him, no matter what he does, as long as he continues to do things like defend Nazi marchers and pardon people like Arpaio. Those thirty million are single issue voters of the worst kind. (Clinton was right, half of Trump's supporters were from a "basket of deplorables"!) All we can do is hope that we can sway the remaining thirty million not to support him next time. Assuming he isn't impeached or resigns before then, which, given his erratic behavior, is a possibility.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
As the situation got uglier and uglier, Trump inevitably had to make some kind of statement. Speaking in a bored monotone, clearly annoyed at missing his golf game, Trump at first seemed to be issuing a standard presidential statement, until he paused and repeated the now much analyzed phrase, that there was violence on "many sides". He also did not once mention any of the white supremacist groups at the rally by name. Yes, we now live in a country where a president can look at a literal Nazi rally and not condemn them by name. It's clear why he feels this way: he and his advisors realize that a large part of his unlikely victory lay in the white resentment and anger exhibited in the rally; that these marchers and the voters who agreed with him were his base. Furthermore, Trump's bloated ego clouded his mind and showed him a group of people cheering for him, so he couldn't condemn them; not when they supported him so strongly. They saw him as being as wonderful as sees himself as being.
While it was good to see quick and strong criticism of Trump's comments, I am unmoved by the fact that many Republicans also were critical. Where were they we he was making racist comments on the campaign trail? Paul Ryan once described Trump's attack on a Mexican American judge as the "textbook definition of racism", why then did Ryan wind up supporting Trump? The fact of the matter is that the Republican party has been playing up white resentment to get an electoral advantage for decades. Trump is just the inevitable culmination of the racist dog whistles blown by the likes of Ronald Reagan and George H Bush. The party lost all credibility on this issue the day they decided to make an unexperienced egotistical bigot their party nominee. Don't tell me you're surprised that a hateful campaign produced a hateful president!
It should be mentioned that on Monday, Trump finally gave a stronger statement in which he called racism evil. While his words (which he obviously didn't write) were an improvement, it still was a case of a little too little, a little too late. If he really hates racism, why is his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who was considered too racist to be a judge back in the 1980's? Why is one of Trump's top advisors Steve Bannon, a self proclaimed member of the white nationalist alt right movement?
Amazingly, this has all gotten even worse! Today, Trump gave a press conference in which he ignored his stronger words delivered on Monday and doubled down on his original comments. Conjuring up some imaginary image of the violent "alt left", Trump implied that many of the marchers were not actual white supremacists (did he not see the flags?) and that the violence that occurred happened because of the alternate protestors attacks. He failed to mention that the man who plowed into a group of anti-Nazi protestors was described by a former teacher of having once written a paper that was “very much along the party lines of the neo-Nazi movement,”. Instead, as Trump put it: “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.” Words fail me as to how many excuses one man can make to not condemn a racist rally in the proper way that an American leader should in 2017. So I'll just close this by quoting David Duke again in a tweet: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville."
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump broke precedent by using blunt, unsubtle rhetoric time and time again. This especially applied to his talk about the military and his expected roll as commander in chief; saying he would "blow the shit" out of Isis, and use "waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse" on suspected terrorists were common statements from him. These childish comments were often mentioned when people like myself said that he lacked the proper temperament to be president. Sadly, his base seemed to love him for it.
So here we are, less than a year into his presidency, and already that blunt talk of his may lead to some dangerous consequences. Recently, in the wake of the UN passing sanctions against his country, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has ramped up his own threats against the US, discussing the possibility of attacking Guam, which has an American base. He has even raised the specter of launching nuclear missiles at the US, although according to the New York Times, there's some debate as to whether such an attack is possible. Trump's response to these threats was something no president has every publicly said before: he said that North Korea faced "fire and fury like the world has never seen." Although the implied use of nuclear weapons against our enemies has been part of American foreign policy since the late 1940's, no president has ever so openly and forcefully threatened another country in this manner. The fact that he made those comments while vacationing at a golf course adds to the surreal nature of what this country has become since he took office!
To be fair to Trump, there are no easy answers to the problem of North Korea; Kim Jong-Un is an absolute unstable dictator, and the new round of sanctions will probably have little affect other than making him angrier. He seems determined to develop more and stronger weapons, realizing that the possibility of a vicious nuclear strike will prevent invasion from other countries. Despite all of this, Trump's approach of threatening some kind of a massive attack is frightening and over the top; hopefully he and his advisors realize that both a nuclear strike or a military invasion of North Korea would be an epic disaster, with perhaps millions of lives being lost. Given those stakes, it's terrifying that the fate of the world now rests in the hands of two hot headed, egotistical men. All we can hope for now is that the people around them are smarter and more level headed then they are, and that they will listen to them.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Shortly after he won reelection in 2004, President George W Bush, armed with Republican majorities in the house and the senate, planned to spend the political capital he had gained from his victory by "reforming" Social Security. His plan for privatization proved so unpopular that congress never even debated it. At one point, the more he promoted it publicly, the less people seemed to like it. The Republicans in congress now have made a similar discovery when it comes to repealing Obamacare: people who rely on a government program don't like to see changes in that program, especially when it appears that those changes will hurt them or their family members. It's common sense: people would rather stick with something that seems to mostly work for them, rather than try something that may not work at all.
It may only be seven years old, and it may have had a wobbly beginning, but Obamacare (or as it should be known as in the future, the American Health Care Plan) is starting to reach the same sacred space that Social Security and Medicare have in this country: that is, it's a program that has helped millions of Americans and that most people don't want changed. It's also painted the Republican party into a corner; for years, Republican congress members repeatedly voted to repeal it, knowing full well that then president Obama would veto their repeal, making their vote a purely symbolic one, a simple way to whip up their anti Obama constituents without actually having to do anything. But when Trump somehow won the presidency, they were forced to actually work out a plan that would not only repeal but also replace Obamacare. And then their problems began, the major one being that the Republican economic philosophy of tax cuts for the rich and the defunding of federal government programs is not one that coincides with making health care more widely available for Americans. While millions of citizens are still without healthcare under Obamacare, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reviewed every version of the Republican bill and estimated that it would result in around twenty two to twenty three million more people losing their health care in this country, and in a cruel bit of irony, most of those people live in states that went for Trump. These estimates have rendered the bill's popularity in the country as toxic (it's popularity has reached as low as 17%!), so toxic that even several Republican members of the senate have said they can't vote for it in its current state, and it appears that repeal is dead.
For his part, President Trump has done a poor job of pushing for the bill, discussing it without seeming to really know what's in it, and at one point even calling the House of Representatives version "mean"! Certainly, it does fall short of his lofty promises made on the campaign trail about replacing Obamacare with a system in which everyone would be covered and see their premiums go down (hardly a plan that would have gotten through a Republican congress!). Unfortunately, his new plan of "letting Obamacare fail" can gain some traction, as he has certain powers (like refusing to release federal funds to repay health care companies that cover the poor) that he can employ. Hopefully, one of his advisers will sit him down and point out to him that the American public will not allow a president to continually blame his predecessor for everything that goes wrong in his presidency. If Obamacare fails, voters will know who to look at to blame for its failure. And I doubt they will forget.
Friday, June 30, 2017
“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”- Donald Trump, THE ART OF THE DEAL
Our president is a liar, and that doesn't even scratch the surface of him; he lies constantly, in nearly every speech or interview. He lies to support his policies, underline his childish insults and puff up his bloated ego. And he doesn't just evade, use obfustication, or exaggerate, like all politicians do, he just straight up says things that are factually incorrect. How much does he lie? The New York Times recently ran a huge list of all of his lies since he took the oath of office on January 21st.
Here's what it looked like:
|100 lies in 6 months|
And note that those are only the lies he's told as president, it doesn't count his years of lying about Barack Obama's birth certificate, or mention the fact that when he finally, reluctantly, admitted that Obama was a legitimate American citizen, he still lied about who started the conspiracy!
So our president lies constantly, in a manner unprecedented for any other president. But what's worse to me is why he lies; I've said before that I believe that Trump is truly a psychopath, and they have an enormously inflated sense of self importance, which is where a large part of his dishonesty comes from. Here is a man who never apologizes, openly refers to himself as smart, and sees his six bankruptcies as good business moves. His main guiding principle in life (perhaps his only one) is that he, Donald Trump, is a great, amazing, and virtually god like person, and he wants all other people to agree with that principle. So it's easy for him to go from being a man who's donated to Democrats and Planned Parenthood to being a rabid Republican who wants to defund Planned Parenthood. When he started publicly questioning Obama's birth certificate, he found that it made him popular with Republican voters, so he just kept repeating it, soaking up their adulation and doubling down on his dishonesty (He once claimed to have investigators in Hawaii who were finding out "amazing things" about Obama's birth certificate. We still haven't heard from them.). And when he started giving speeches at his rallies, his posture and body language clearly showed him feeding off the crowd's adulation, literally almost swelling up with pride as he spoke. From the beginning, it was obvious that he would just say things to make the crowd cheer for him, with his lies getting bigger and bolder ("Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the cofounders of Isis!") as the campaign went on. Many people in the crowd realized that he was not telling the truth, but they were untruths that they wanted to hear, that espoused a world view they agreed with, so they cheered anyway, building an almost circular symbiotic relationship of lies between him and his crowds.
And he can pivot on a dishonest dime if he needs to; during the campaign, Trump spoke repeatedly about The New York Times, saying that it was "failing" and "dishonest". But after he won, he did an interview with reporters from The Times, in which he openly praised the paper and humbly said that he hoped he would "make them proud". And then he went right back to giving speeches assaulting the Times, as if he had never met with those reporters! How can he do this? Again, his guiding principle is to convince everyone else in the world of his greatness, so he will calibrate what he says to one group of people, and then completely change his words when speaking to another, and again, while all politicians learn to do this, he takes it to an extreme. He can be superficially charming to a person's face, and then have no qualms about stabbing them in the back once they're gone.
Will Trump's lies every really catch up with him? Sadly, they haven't so far, but hopefully someday, when the coal and manufacturing jobs don't come back, and his healthcare policies harm people who live in states that voted for him, people will start to see him for the habitual liar that he is and turn on him. Really, it can't happen soon enough.