Thursday, September 28, 2017

Watch Your Wallet!

Everybody wants to pay less taxes. Most of us want a fairer distribution of the tax burden, and a simpler tax code. But overhauling tax law has always been treacherous territory, often vital to the wellbeing of the republic but always prone to political skullduggery even when in the hands of competent administrators. Under current conditions, with know-nothings in control of Congress and the White House, and power in the hands of the party most likely to kowtow to the wealthy, the vast majority of us have good reason to worry. Watch your wallet! Watch the wallets of the wealthy! And watch the government’s wallet!

Demand that your representatives explain their proposals in terms of “effective” tax rates. The effective tax rate is the percentage that people actually pay, the bottom line. Partisans will deliberately try to confuse you by talking about “tax rates,” by which they mean “nominal” tax rates. These are something different altogether. Nominal tax rates are the percentages that identify tax brackets and appear in tax tables. They are mere theories, goals, or hopes; they are not real. Thousands of pages of tax code, defining what is income, how income is classified, and who gets what kinds of exclusions and deductions, stand between nominal tax rates and effective tax rates. In particular, don’t be fooled by talk of the 39.6% tax rate for people in the highest income bracket, or the 35% corporate tax rate. These are both nominal rates, in fact paid by very few.

Don’t let them fool you with the tried-and-true tactic of slithering back and forth between percentages and dollar amounts.To say, for example, that the wealthiest Americans pay so many millions or billions in taxes is meaningless except as a percentage of their income. Conversely, talking about changes in various categories of budgets and deficits in terms of percentages is often quite misleading. If they’re talking about the fairness of the distribution of taxes, or comparing one group or entity to another group or entity, they need to express that in percentages. If they’re talking about budgets and deficits, they need to explain things in terms of total dollars. Anything else is just a blizzard of numbers designed to confuse.

Be very careful about the use of the term “loophole.” The difference between a “loophole” and a “deduction” is merely one of perspective. Closing a “loophole” means somebody, somewhere is paying more taxes. You have a right to ask who and how much, and having that information might change your evaluation as to whether closing the “loophole” is a good idea or a bad idea.

Demand a plain statement of the effective (not nominal) tax rate of the wealthiest American people and businesses. Ask what they’re actually going to pay as a percentage of their income. Under the current system America’s wealthiest pay a shockingly low percentage of their income in taxes, and aren’t going to want that to change. Why do you think Mitt Romney and Donald Trump refused to release some of their tax returns? Insist that your representatives explain this to you.

Don’t believe anyone who says that lowering taxes raises revenue. Only idiots or liars can look you in the eye and tell you that.

Demand an up-front explanation of where the federal budget is going to be cut in order to remain balanced. This is vital because the proponents of the current tax reform project aren’t even bothering to pretend the new plan will be revenue-neutral. If they keep taxes low for businesses and the wealthiest people, which seems inevitable, and they lower taxes for the middle class, which they’ve promised, then the total dollars taken in by the federal government will be dramatically reduced. This means that government spending must be reduced by the same quantity. Honest legislators and executives would set the budget first, then structure the tax system to generate the necessary revenues, distributing the bills evenly. Dishonest legislators and executives push tax reduction first, and worry later about what government programs will be cut. Tax reform, then, becomes a process of creating a fearsome weapon that can be used to ram through the Republican agenda for the impoverishment of the federal government. Do you think you might someday need Medicaid or Social Security? Ask your legislators how those programs will fare under their proposed new tax system!

Pay attention to the analyses of real experts who are less partisan than the President or Congress. Watch the evaluations made by the Congressional Budget Office. Check the summaries made by credible organizations outside of government.

Taxes are going to be reformed. The proponents of the current round of tax reform are going to try to lie to us all. Don’t let them get away with it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Killing ACA

The House tried once and failed. The Senate tried twice and failed. The plans they proposed would have been disastrous by most measures. Senate leader Mitch McConnell is still calling for "Repeal then Replace," although he seems not to have the votes to do that, and President Trump is calling to "let ObamaCare fail."

Let's be honest about what this really means. First, in spite of seven solid years of complaining about the ACA, Republicans have never had a replacement plan. Their endless harping was just political haymaking, without substance. When Trump surprised everybody, including House and Senate Republicans, by getting elected, they had to scramble to turn their empty posturing into some kind of legislation. But they couldn't do it. They couldn't even get the numbers at the bottom of the spreadsheet to balance.

A second take-home lesson is that this failure is entirely the fault of Republicans. They had time, years in fact, to work this out and align their votes. And as of January they've controlled the White House, the House, and the Senate. While Mr. Trump and party leaders have tried to paint Democrats as being obstructionist, the fact is that the practical differences on the ACA and its repeal and/or replacement lie between Republicans and Republicans, not between Republicans and Democrats. 

The third take-home lesson is that Mr. Trump's campaign bluster was never more than empty hot air. He promised Americans coverage for all, coverage that was better and cheaper. He didn't deliver. Realistically, he never had the slightest inkling of how to deliver on any of it This was, of course, painfully obvious to more thoughtful American voters even during the campaign, but was sadly irrelevant to Trump voters.

Mr. Trump and Republicans in Congress now have a huge opportunity, although there is reason to doubt they have the mental wattage to take advantage of it. They could save the Affordable Care Act. It works in broad outline, and needs some propping up in places, some additional funding here, some tightening of regulation there. While funding and regulating -- rather basic functions of government -- are things Republicans are philosophically opposed to doing, they could make a pragmatic choice for the good of the American people as a whole. 

The alternatives to saving the ACA remain terrifyingly cruel. Make insurance unaffordable to anyone with a pre-existing condition. Let insurers offer sub-standard policies. Lock healthy people who get sick out of health care. In other words, insist that health care in America remain the inefficient, expensive, and inaccessible mess it has been for decades. "Let the ACA fail" and "Repeal then Replace" mean the same thing. They mean ordinary Americans will suffer because Trump and the Republican party could not deliver on their promises. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Another Bad Day for Trump

It's already been a tough week for Trump and his administration, and today (Friday) certainly added to their misery.  

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner said today that he felt the President was focusing on the right issues internationally, but has been "a complete disaster" at everything else, and complained that "he's still learning how to be president." Boehner has long been known for his candor, but having resigned from Congress in 2015 is now freer than ever to speak his mind. Although the typical Trump voter might be immune to even so damning a turn of events as this, the fact is that a conservative Republican who has decades of experience in government and has known Trump personally for some 15 years has publicly acknowledged that Trump is not up to governing.

If that's not enough, the Washington Post has reported that Jared Kushner, son-in-law to Trump and now a senior White House adviser, actively sought a secret channel of communication between the Trump team and the Kremlin. It is alleged that this request was made in early December, AFTER the election. It is also alleged that this was a deliberate attempt to keep communication between Moscow and the Trump team hidden from U.S. Intelligence operations. Thus ongoing investigations are no longer just about the campaign and campaign advisers, but are now about the Trump administration and Trump's innermost circle. 

Of course, Trump supporters and the administration itself continue to claim this is all fake news, a witch hunts undertaken by sore losers. The noose is tightening nevertheless. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

It's a Schadenfreude Kind of Day

I'm sure I'm not alone in finding an odd kind of pleasure in the sufferings of our lost administration and the Republican establishment as revealed in today's news:
  • The New York Times (24 May) has an article titled "Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer." New details confirm what is already clear, that Russian intelligence attempted to influence the November election and were knowingly manipulating campaign advisers to influence Trump himself. It is increasingly clear that U.S. intelligence agencies have known about this all along.
There is more and there will continue to be more, but let's not belabor the point. This is life in the Trumpocene.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's news. I've been greatly relieved to to see that Trump managed to stay on script in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican. But tomorrow he'll meet with NATO officials and explain that he didn't really mean it when he called the institution "obsolete" during his campaign.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Despite the President's Harsh Criticisms During the Campaign . . .

On May 17th the New York Times reported:
"The Trump administration signaled on Wednesday that it would not, for now, jettison the Iran nuclear deal, despite the president's harsh criticisms of the agreement during the campaign."
This phrase, "despite the president's harsh criticisms during the campaign," has become a major theme of Life in the Trumpocene. Trump spent the campaign loudly and repeatedly proclaiming his ability to fix all the failures he said his predecessors had left behind. He had a secret plan to put an end to ISIS, Hillary was to be locked up, the North American Free Trade Agreement was to be renegotiated or junked, NATO was obsolete, China was a self-serving currency manipulator, climate change was a hoax, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was going to be easy, and the Nuclear agreement with Iran was the "worst deal ever." On these and so many other issues Trump has reversed course in a very short period of time.

None of this is surprising to the more analytical observer. It was painfully obvious that Trump's campaign rhetoric was "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (to quote Shakespeare's MacBeth).

More mysterious is the unwavering support of so many Trump voters. In endless arguments on social media, Trump supporters often cited one or more of the issues above as evidence that Trump was as superior as he claimed to be and therefore ought to be elected. With so many hopes dashed, what do continuing Trump supporters have left? Perhaps they still dream of a wall to keep out Mexicans, a travel ban to keep out Muslims, and a conservative Supreme Court to keep out abortion. Are simple Racism and Misogyny enough to sustain a failing administration?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Richard Milhous Trump

President Trump has now fired three different officials who were investigating him or his campaign: a US attorney, a Deputy US Attorney General, and the Director of the FBI. Since news coverage isn't going the way he wants, he has threatened to cancel press briefings altogether. It seems not to occur to him that these are the actions of a man with something to hide, of a man deaf and blind to the parallels he is fast creating between his own presidency and that of Richard Nixon.

These are just the latest additions to an already lengthy list of symptoms of a failed presidency, doomed before day one by the unfitness of the candidate. Trump has described the US Constitution as archaic and unfair, phrases that would have provoked apoplexy among self-styled "conservatives" had they come from a Democrat, the same apoplexy that campaign collusion with Russian intelligence should provoke, but does not. In a radical contravention of law and custom, Trump allegedly demanded a pledge of personal loyalty from the FBI director he later fired. Trump was angry that he didn't get that pledge, and angrier that Comey dared to use logic and evidence in contradicting Trump's claims that the Obama administration had wiretapped him. Just yesterday Trump signed an executive order establishing an "election integrity" commission, hoping to further his claim that he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud, a bit of dementia that even conservative media call a "baseless claim."  Trump praised Australia's socialized healthcare system even as he strong-armed congressional Republicans into passing a healthcare bill few understood and will price millions of Americans out of the market. The list goes on and on.

There is no doubt that Russian intelligence meddled in the American election and succeeded in keeping Clinton out of the White House. There is no doubt that Tump, members of his family, and members of his campaign staff had dealings and contacts with Russian agents. Whether or not any of that amounts to collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump's campaign remains to be seen. With nothing to hide, Trump could have taken the high road by practicing glasnost (openness). He has, instead, chosen the low road of smoke screens and obstruction of justice, and the public is justified in asking why.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump’s Rare Opportunity

After 100 days in office, the policy directions of the President of the United States remain as vague and unpredictable as they were during his campaign. This is, of course, no surprise to Mr. Trump’s opponents, who have always been painfully aware of his lack of readiness for that office. Mr. Trump’s supporters seem largely unfazed by the shifting enigma they elected, the idea of verifying assumptions against observable facts being foreign to them.

The only major campaign promise in which the President has remained steadfast is his desire for a border wall, although he is no more likely now than he was a year ago ever to get it. In so many other ways he has confusingly dithered. NAFTA will now be “renegotiated” rather than cancelled, NATO is suddenly relevant again, military action in the Middle East is once again feasible, and Putin might not be the ally Trump imagined. The President’s attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed spectacularly, and the entire health insurance fracas is now the fault and responsibility of the GOP. He has announced a planned reduction in the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%, but this is meaningless rhetoric without the details, since very few corporations pay anything near the nominal 35% rate now. Strategic thinkers on the Right and the Left, both domestically and internationally, can do little more than wonder what the future might bring.

There is a very small glimmer of hope, or at least some kinds of change upon which one might place a positive spin: Donald Trump appears to have learned a few things. Trump the campaigner was so delusional he actually claimed he’d be able to run his business empire and the U.S. government at the same time. He seems to have believed that the President governed by fiat, and that ideological commitment could substitute for governmental experience and knowledge of public policy. If his recent rhetoric can be trusted, though, it seems to be dawning on him that policy issues are often complex, that running the country is hard work, that the government is comprised of three separate branches, two of which are outside of his control, and that the internally conflicted Republican Party can’t or just won’t always deliver the votes he wants.

The President has an opportunity, here, if he has sufficient insight and strength of character, to be of great service to America. The best thing Donald Trump could do right now would be to confess to America what he didn’t know and what he now seems to be learning. He could confess that knowledge and experience matter, and that electing officials without them is a recipe for failure. He could confess that there are complex reasons for international treaties and trade pacts, and that changes need to be deliberated carefully by people with the expertise to understand their impacts. He could acknowledge that the manufacturing jobs he says “left” America have actually ceased to exist worldwide, and that government has a role to play in reskilling American workers. He could acknowledge that mere assertions cannot substitute for science and observable facts.

Such a confession by so influential a person might be one of the few ways to inject a critical dose of reality and practicality into the worldview of Trump voters. This is vital, because having an inexperienced know-nothing in the White House is really only the second biggest problem confronting America today. Our biggest problem is that a quarter of the American electorate were happy to give the presidency to that inexperienced know-nothing. Whether he resigns, is impeached, loses a bid for reelection or is President for eight years, the Trump presidency will end. But the ideological dysfunction that gave him the White House will still be a significant aspect of our culture. Trump is one of the few people who actually has an opportunity to change that.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why Diffuse When Escalation is an Option?

The Shrinking Department of State

If there had been one small ray of hope for the MAGA presidency, it was based on the hints of reducing the the United States never ending military escapades over the globe. He—Mr. MAGA—said time after time during the campaign he was against the invasion and occupation of Iraq (though the timing and sincerity of his commitment on this is questionable if one views the timing and wording of the clips); and he warned against repeating the same mistake by interfering in the Syrian civil war; and he posed the rhetorical "what's wrong with trying to get along with Russian?"  He was an "economic national populist", dedicated to creating jobs at home by cutting bad trade deals and making sure big corporations kept their money here in America (somehow, building a border wall to keep out the low-wage seeking hoards would help, too). Hillary was the war hawk; she was the neoliberal globalist promising to exercise the "Big Stick" policy against Russia and all others that didn't understand the Project for the New American Century or the Bush Doctrine.

You could have wondered, then, what the purpose was for increasing the proposed budget for the Department of Defense by 10 percent, when the only “military” action candidate Trump talked about was removing ISIS, “very rapidly”. Military or defense spending, already at over 50% of the discretionary spending allocation, almost 20% of the total budget,  and more than is spent by the seven next countries..combined. ISIS, cooler heads have reminded us, doesn't even have a rowboat.
Thursday’s shit storm of Tomahawk missiles launched as a curious retribution for the alleged use of chemical weapons in civilian populated areas contested by rebel forces exposed the "mettle" of the MAGA regime's resolve, or lack thereof in getting involved in a civil war in an already very unstable Middle East. It turns out that his isolated small coalition of radical ideologues, moderate Republicans, neocons, silver spoon-sucking daughter and in-law-in-training, with the straw-topped, empty headed scarecrow leading the way were either 1) desperate for a positive bump in job approval polls, 2) in agreement on at least one thing in an otherwise chaotic West Wing, 3) found themselves powerless in the face of pressure from the Deep State of corporatist-special interest-military-and evangelical religious power nexus that lies at the heart of the federal government, or (very unlikely) 4) assumed the uneven application of the international R2P.

The frail (read: unbalanced) emotional constitution of the commander-in-chief was pushed over the tipping point in his decision to unleash the explosive payback for disturbing his sense of decency. The sight (on TV, of course) of the babies sent him over the edge. Nothing amusing, of course, about the horror of poison gas attacks on civilians and babies, but it was a rare glimpse of the soft side of Trump that probably doesn't really exist. (This is the same person vowing to ban refugees from that war; the image of the four-year old, face down dead who seemed to have drowned in the shallow tide receding from the beach beamed across the world must have aired on TV one of the few times he wasn't watching.) The hypocrisy is disturbing, but the decision to make decisions on acts of war based on emotions rather than a thoroughly rational evaluation after the initial shock to one’s system is more likely to have negative consequences, not the least of which is that we have now engaged in military strikes against both sides of this conflict.

This episode hopefully ends here—but don’t count on it. And any glimmers of hope envisioned by his doubters and supporters alike about this POTUS making “greatness” are just superficial flashes of ritz and glitz from the imperial First Family. This was all only about getting there and whatever it took to do it. The kleptocrats will be the only winners.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Promise them the Moon

The Donald Trump we saw during his address to Congress on February 28th was remarkably different. Gone was the foul-mouthed street-brawler of the campaign and his first six weeks in office. For a while, at least, he eschewed his usual browbeating of the Media, intelligence agencies, judges, and anyone else who might disagree with him. The new Trump was more "presidential," uncharacteristically optimistic, painting a positive image of the future he wants America to become, appealing to patriotism and other emotions, even trying to build a bridge here or there. There can be no doubt that many Americans were taken in.

Those less susceptible to being hypnotized could not help but notice that the President's address left us with the same contradictions we saw months ago. Mr. Trump promised to cut taxes for businesses and the Middle Class. At the same time, he promised to begin building a "great, great wall on our southern border," expand the military, initiate a trillion-dollar infrastructure rebuilding program, and magically provide healthcare to all Americans through health insurance that is affordable and governed by free-market principles, yet covers pre-existing conditions. It is, of course, impossible to balance a budget while increasing spending and decreasing revenues.

The President's address did not cover some of the other budget changes implied by such a scheme, although these are slowly being clarified through other White House communications. We can reasonably anticipate major cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency, departments of Justice and State, Department of Education, and funding for the arts and scientific research, at a minimum. Much of this will be supported by Republicans in Congress, so there is no reason to doubt these outcomes, even if the more combative Donald Trump resurfaces. It is difficult to imagine, though, that such cuts in government spending and services will be enough to make up the difference between reduced taxes and increased spending.

Less easily evaluated, but equally dubious, are Trump's promises about industry and jobs. The mechanisms of cause and effect remain to be explained, but the assumption seems to be that a combination of deregulation and protectionist trade policies will bring long-lost industries "roaring back" to America. Handled artfully, one could imagine some modest, short-term successes along these lines. That this administration has such artfulness seems unlikely. Expecting larger successes over a longer term strains credulity, however. Do such jobs exist in vast numbers somewhere beyond our borders? Have they really been driven away by regulations and a lack of import tariffs? And assuming free-market principles still apply, would deregulation and punitive tariffs really bring those jobs back here?

Supporters of the Trump Agenda believe such policies will produce a better America. More pragmatic thinkers are justified in doubting their likely efficacy and in fearing the upheavals they are likely to cause. The Trump Agenda seems destined to increase American isolationism, destabilize international trade, throw America's health insurance and healthcare markets into disarray, upend the economic balance in the many states that depend on federal aid, increase water and air pollution, and eliminate protections for consumers and workers.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Shape of Things to Come

The great American experiment in Democracy may not be over, but it has certainly failed. America, once a wealthy, militarily powerful, and culturally influential nation, now marches toward a future position of poverty, weakness, and irrelevance. Historians of the future will emphasize that this American collapse was not brought about by competition from greater nations, nor by Russian meddling, Chinese currency manipulation, international terrorism or illegal immigration. Americans, they will note, had an election, and thereby made a self-destructive choice. As they analyze the election of 2016 they will find confirmation of what has always been known about Democracy, that its weakness, its Achilles’ heel, is the ignorance of the electorate.

But for us Americans today, that historical analysis is irrelevant. We are now on the other side of one of the the major pivots in world history. Ineluctable forces have been unleashed, and the outlines of a new order are beginning to take shape. Whither America?

While tensions run high, it seems likely that President Trump and the Republican Party in Congress will agree on enough to achieve a major shift of power away from Washington. The plan, in broad terms, seems to be to reduce federal regulations and taxes. Reduced taxes, especially if combined with increased spending on military and border control projects, implies reduced federal funds for states. Given the anti-regulatory stance of both President and Congress, any transfers that survive are likely to be in the form of block-grants with few regulatory strings attached.

This would be a major and voluntary reduction of the power of the Federal Government. Constitutionally, the direct authority of the Federal Government over the states is quite limited. The power and influence that the Federal Government now has is largely based in its ability to attach regulations to the money it gives to states and to regulate interstate commerce. If the Federal Government is going to give less money to states, attach fewer regulations to the money it does give, and regulate interstate commerce less, the basis for a great deal of federal power and influence in America will simply disappear. States will be set onto much more independent courses.

At a sufficiently theoretical level, this is neither good nor bad; it is just different. Many Americans imagine such a system would be close to paradise, presuming that deregulated businesses would flourish, resulting in comfort and stability for all. This is probably more magical thinking than reality. Nevertheless, some of the outcomes of greatly reduced federal power seem logically predictable.

Though rarely acknowledged, federal power is not just regulatory glue, but is economic and cultural glue as well. For example, states are eager to accept federal funds for public schools, and those funds come with federal rules that require schools everywhere to adhere to certain policies, such as not discriminating against students or teachers on the basis of gender, pregnancy, or sexual orientation. One result is that public school systems tend be structurally and functionally similar from state to state. Reducing or eliminating federal funds, and reducing the rules that are attached to those funds, gives each state more authority to set its own policies. Major differences in policy from state to state, both in education and other areas, will quickly result.

The biggest difference between states, of course, is economic, and this constrains state reactions to changes in federal subsidies. If they have the political will, more populous and economically diversified states such as New York and California can raise state taxes to replace lost federal revenue. They can expand their own welfare, healthcare, environmental protection, and other agencies to take up the slack left by the exit of the federal government from those areas of concern. But for many states, smaller and less economically developed, political will is irrelevant. They simply don’t have the tax base to draw on, and will be financially unable to expand their own bureaucracies to replace lost federal services. What the federal government does not do for them won’t get done at all.

In the long term, the predictable result is a much looser confederation of states, with enormous state-to-state differences in the distribution of wealth and poverty, commitment to public education, consumer protections, environmental regulation, access to health care, and the type and number of companies providing jobs.

In the shorter term, a period of adaptive upheaval is all too predictable. With careful planning and a willingness to phase changes in over time, some of the disruption could be minimized. There is, of course, no rational basis for expecting such deftness of the Trump administration, nor patience from congressional Republicans who need to make changes before the 2018 elections, certainly before 2020. These changes are going to happen fast! As a result, state regulations and taxes will be in flux for some time, and individuals and businesses will struggle to adapt in an unstable environment. A lot of us will be voting with our feet, looking for jobs in states more amenable to our personal values.

All of this assumes that Trump and Congress can maintain a working d├ętente for at least a couple of years, and that the Republican base remains as enthusiastic about the defederalization process as they now seem to be (or at least are assumed to be). There are some potential stumbling blocks. The states that most solidly support Trump and Republicans in Congress are also the states that can least afford to lose federal subsidies, and are the states most likely to suffer economic dislocations. A lot depends on how soon the residents of those states recognize the full impact of getting what they wished for. A lot depends, too, on whether or not the federal government remains pure in its intent to reduce its own power, or tries instead to force anti-regulatory policies on economically important states like New York and California. If that happens, those and similarly well-heeled states could decide they’re better off leaving the union. Regardless of the economics, increasing cultural differences between states, especially between urban and rural states, is going to make it a lot harder to keep America together as a single nation.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump Offers Confidence at Press Conference

“Chaos? There’s zero chaos,” Trump said today an press conference held to announced a replacement nomination, Alexander Acosta, for Secretary of Labor,  “We are running — this is a fine-tuned machine.” He continued: “We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done."
These statements were viewed with skepticism from many in the press corps, coming scarcely 24 after the previous nominee, Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration, 48 hours after firing of Mike Flynn as the President's National Security Advisor, and 3 hours preceding the decision by retired Admiral Robert Harward to decline the invitation to replace Flynn, and approximately four hours prior to this just-released video by a leaker that is untrustworthy, dishonest, and—quite frankly—criminal. It depicts a scene during the President's weekend in Mar-a-Lago last weekend and Trump's (wearing the campaign ball cap) reaction after learning of the release of details on the Flynn debacle:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is this a Confession?

One of the President's Tweets this morning sounds an awful lot like a confession: "the real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by "intelligence" like candy. Very un-American!"
This is in response to expanding news reports that some of Mr. Trump's close associates had repeated contact with Russian intelligence operatives during the presidential campaign. Intentionally or otherwise, in this Tweet the President seems to be acknowledging that at least some of the information now in the hands of the news media is real and came from well-placed sources.

Whatever results -- or fails to result -- from these revelations, such leaks indicate failures within Mr. Trump's administration. Perhaps this wouldn't have happened had the President not worked so hard to make enemies of the press and multiple intelligence agencies.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Three Card Monte

Is the charge of election fraud by Trumpelthinskin a consequence of his wounded ego? Is a man who won the presidency by a sizable margin in the electoral college so consumed by his desire to be everything and all that matters in the universe overly prone to delusion and conspiracy theory from the  cognitive dissonance that comes with losing the popular vote by almost 3 million? Could this loss of the popular vote even be a personal moral failing in the weird logic of the patho-narcissist? So much so that the fantasy of the conspiracy must be amended and given new angles and subplots ?

The latest revision of the voter fraud theory was expressed to a group of Senators, assembled to talk strategy about the Gorsuch nomination. Trump quickly turned the discussion into a refined tale of how New Hampshire’s election was a total fraud, with residents from Massachusetts taking part in the election. The assertion was so delusional Commissioner Ellen Weintraub of the Federal Election Commission called Trump’s bluff. “Allegations of this magnitude cannot be ignored,” she said. Such rampant misuse of the election process would be a serious crime, urging the President to come up with the evidence. The administration trotted out its new spokesperson, the youthful, stone-faced Stephen MIller (who has been described as the architect of the immigration policy), on the Sunday morning circuit of TV politics, who embellished the story with how the fraudulent voters had been bussed in from Massachusetts, and that approximately 10 percent of undocumented aliens in the U.S. had registered to vote. Maybe the most remarkable statistic that all of these fraudulent votes were cast for Hillary Clinton.

There will be no evidence forthcoming, as there has been no evidence forthcoming for past claims.

And why does the megalomaniac bring up his continually revamped tale of intrigue at unpredictable intervals, but general always following a setback on another front? This latest iteration of the voter hijacking came on the heels of the appellate court rejection of the district court’s temporary restraining order on his executive order banning of travelers from 7 Middle Eastern countries. Trump’s original accusation came soon after, on January 25th, the final tally of voter turnout showed that he had lost the popular count by 2.8 million votes. He pledged to launch an investigation into irregularities in two (unnamed) states. “You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states.” It turns out that some of his staffers are registered in two state. Details of an investigation were not mentioned again until this latest story; and he has appointed no one less that his second in command, Vice President Pence. To lead the election.

Large public demonstrations protesting Trump’s proposed policies were planned for  immediately after his inauguration January 21 and 22  by the worldwide Women’s March. Scattered demonstrations have sprung up across the country since. A scheduled appearance of right-wing firebrand and exhibitionist Milo Yiannopoulos drew a raucous crowd early at U. C. Berkeley, forcing Yannopoulos to cancel. The administration has claimed that the group Demand Protests had run ads recruiting protesters promising $2500 each for protesting against Trump during his inauguration. Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that those protesting the anti-travel ban Trump begun on February 3 were paid protesters, as were those at Berkeley. U. S. Senator Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) says the rowdy audience at a recent town hall meeting he hosted was the doing of paid protesters.


Given time and the likelihood of more demonstrations, this narrative will be reworked and modified with baleful details. The question of whether these plots are manufactured to neutralized the damage to the ego of the President, or could their invention be from something else; and is placing the root cause on an abnormality in Trump’s personality  a way of covering up more insidious motivations? Could the claim of voter fraud be laying the groundwork for getting even more voter restriction legislation on the books? Several states, including Texas and North Carolina, were already on this bandwagon; and if the fear of illegals stealing elections is contagious, it could make it even harder for citizens (primarily Blacks and the elderly) to vote.

And the protesters? The charge that they are in large part “paid” does one thing, if nothing else: it delegtimatizes the purpose and authenticity of the participants. These folks are either phonies and not to be taken seriously, or pose as a threat to incite  dissension where it is not warranted, or, worse, anarchists with violence and destruction in mind. Either of these could serve as  “emergency” situations where it would have more public support for restricting the right of assembly.

Rather than advancing what might be called a conspiracy theory itself, the fabrication and promotion of these two tales could probably be a result of both—Trump’s ego and the white nationalist agenda of Bannon and Miller—along with a third: in their throroughly maddening incredibility, they function as smoke and mirrors to distract from the ineptitude of the administration, like figurative Keystone Kops doing a security detail at the House of Horrors that has become the White House. We are so amused at the folly and tail-chasing  that real proceedings become a boring sideshow.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our Legal System is Broken?

It is often difficult to tell whether President Trump is deliberately lying or is simply ignorant. A good example is one of his Tweets from this morning (11 Feb): "Our legal system is broken! '77% of refugees allowed into U.S. since travel reprieve hail from seven suspect countries.' (WT) SO DANGEROUS!"
There seems to be both ignorance and mendacity here.

The "77%" statistic is probably true, at least according to the Washington Times article Mr. Trump is quoting. But anyone reading the article, rather than just glancing at the title, quickly gets an understanding of the problem that is quite different from the President's claim. The sudden uptick in the number of refugee applications being processed from the "seven suspect countries" comes from within the State Department, not the courts. The Temporary Restraining Order only prohibited the administration's newly implemented restrictions, it didn't require any accelerated processing for those recently denied or likely to be denied entry in the near future. The State Department, of course, is part of Trump's administration, directly under his control. The failure here is with the President himself, not the courts.

No, our legal system is not "broken." Many conservatives, like Mr. Trump, have difficulty remembering that the federal government consists of three distinct powers, and that the judiciary is one of those. The "legal system" is doing exactly what it should do when the executive branch behaves with such incompetence that it gives explicit evidence of acting with discriminatory intent and creates upheaval in the lives of individual people.

Our inexperienced President and his equally inexperienced administration have only two choices. They can either fume ineffectively every time they don't get their way trying to govern by fiat, or they can learn to work together with Congress and the Courts. Unfortunately, the crash course they must undergo will generate a great deal of turmoil for ordinary Americans and around the world.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Some of those Pesky Facts

    In the new world of “alternative” facts, it is worth remembering some of the undeniable facts of which conservatives and Republicans so often disapprove:
  • The government of the United States is divided into three equal powers; the judiciary is NOT just a rubber stamp for Congress or the President. 
  • Running a large country and economy is complicated, and doing it well requires real knowledge and experience. 
  • Republicans don’t actually know anything more than anybody else does about business or public finance. 
  • Among wealthier and more developed economies, socialized medicine is normal; the U.S. is a rare exception. 
  • Budget deficits matter. 
  • Cutting taxes does NOT raise revenue. 
  • It is the nature of unregulated Capitalism to produce economic instability in the form of alternating cycles of boom and bust. 
  • Corporations cannot always be trusted to be good citizens. 
  • Most U.S. manufacturing jobs did not go “offshore;” they were eliminated globally by automation. 
  • Jobs that pay well generally require employees with higher levels of education. 
  • Charter schools and vouchers don’t automatically provide children with a better education. 
  • The vast majority of undocumented immigrants come here to work. 
  • U.S. laws and government are NOT based on the Bible; nothing even vaguely resembling a constitutional republic, universal suffrage, trial by jury, or a Bill of Rights can be found there. 
  • The United States was consciously designed to be a secular state. 
  • Neither scientific facts nor the scientific method change with political party. 
  • Global warming is real and is caused to a large degree by human activity. 
  • The most effective means for reducing abortion is to make sure everyone has affordable access to birth control and has medically accurate sexual education before puberty. 
  • No, the nuclear family is not a universal aspect of all cultures in all times. 
  • It is natural and normal for human populations to contain many variations within the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality. 
  • Much of what you think you know about gender, race and ethnicity is an arbitrary fantasy invented by the culture in which you grew up.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Incompetence Begets Incompetence

The Senate's confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education continues -- one dare not say completes -- the pattern of incompetence that started with the election of Donald Trump himself.

This should be no surprise to the 63 million Americans who turned the most powerful elected position on earth over to someone with no governmental experience and no comprehension of the responsibilities of the office. Their basic disrespect for knowledge, experience, and qualifications is embodied in Trump the President, who is now paying that favor forward. Rick Perry in Energy, Ben Carson over Housing and Urban Development, and now Betsy DeVos in Education, form a kind of trifecta of abysmal inadequacy with the President at the center.

Denying this post to DeVos should have been easy. Her position on public education is not central to the conservative or Republican identity, although the charter and voucher ideal of siphoning billions of tax dollars away from public schools and into the hands of private corporations may simply have been too tempting for Republicans to resist. With no experience running public schools or teaching in them, and no knowledge of the regulatory environment that applies to them, rejecting DeVos should have been automatic, regardless of political party. But only two Republican senators had the common decency to demand that the President's nominees actually be qualified.

The handwriting is on the wall. This administration intends to get the federal government out of its guiding role in public education. It wants schools that accept tax dollars to be able to discriminate against students and parents however they wish, to ignore curricular standards at will, and to force other institutions to accept substandard results. It might be a long time before they cut federal funding, but the administration will be gutting federal regulation of public education in short order. If Congress chooses not to intervene, K-12 education across the United States will be unrecognizable within four years.

The Liar in Chief

That the President of the United States would flat out lie, on the record, about press coverage of terrorist attacks, is beyond comprehension. Yet that is exactly what just happened. President Trump publicly stated that the "dishonest" press don't want to report on many terror attack, implying that the press had some motivation he did not clarify.

Mark this episode well. In time, Mr. Trump will deny having ever made this claim, as he has so often before denied saying or doing things the public has seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.

Naturally, the media challenged the administration's claim. The White House today responded with a list of 78 terrorist attacks that were supposedly underreported. Of course, most of these were reported on, extensively, by multiple news agencies, both in the United States and around the world. On CNN, Anderson Cooper testified to his personal reportage, much of it at the scene, on many of the attacks on the list. CNN's Jim Acosta described the President's claim as  "a talking point that is in search of a set of facts that just doesn't exist" (click HERE to see the video). 

What the President himself actually believes or is trying to accomplish is difficult to assess. This lying administration needs to cast doubt on the mainstream news media, and needs to convince Americans that the world is a more dangerous place than, in fact, it is. However, most governments inclined to propaganda would manage the process well enough not to get caught in the lie the moment the paperwork was filed. 

Dishonesty coupled with incompetence! Welcome to the Trumpocene!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Take Responsibility!

On Sunday afternoon President Trump tweeted: "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!" The Judge he's referring to, of course, is U.S. District Judge James Robart, who has temporarily blocked the Trump administration's poorly executed ban on travel into the U.S. from selected majority-Muslim countries.  A day earlier Trump, angry about the temporary halt, referred to Robart as a "so-called Judge," resulting in broad criticism for the President's lack of respect for the legal process.  Naturally, that criticism failed to stop him from further demonstrating his lack of understanding of the U.S. legal system works.

It is quite a reach to claim that a temporary halt to Trump's ban will "put our country in such peril." Extensive vetting of applicants for regular visas and for refugee status has already been in place for years. Judge Robart's order hardly flings open the door. It just removes some of the extra locks put on the door by Trump. The Judge's order simply will not result in "people pouring in."

More importantly, Trump and his administration are failing to take responsibility for the mess they created. If they don't take responsibility for their mistakes they're unlikely to get better at avoiding them in the future.

As a practical matter the President has broad powers to control immigration into the U.S. There is a good chance that Trump's ban, or at least large portions of it, will eventually be upheld by the courts. Had the administration implemented the ban with greater deference to the skilled and experienced people within the State Department there never would have been a legal challenge. Stranding people in airports, forcing people off of planes they're boarding, dashing research plans at universities and work plans in corporations, and failing to give airport and border security personnel the guidance they need, all produced the "irreparable harm" to which multiple judges have now responded. Trump and his gang of incompetents have only themselves to blame for the resulting law suits and any security breakdowns that result.

This lack of nuance, this basic lack of skill, seems already to have become an established habit of the new administration. Welcome to the Trumpocene!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Finding Wall Funds

Clandestine Planning Left on Bar 

 The Trump administration may have to come up with new ideas to reinvigorate the enthusiasm for a southern border wall that was so much a part of his campaign and election last fall.
Congressional skepticism about the project has been growing, even from some usually reliable southern and Republican delegations. Texas senior Senator John Cornyn (R-Tx), whose home state has the longest stretch of border common to Mexico, is wary of the economic impact a twenty percent border tax levied as a funding source for the construction would have on his state's economy.

"The United States imports into our refineries a lot of heavy crude...Those would all be subject to the tax. One refiner told me that they believed that would increase the cost of gas by 30 cents...We have a unique relationship with Mexico, with maquiladoras (factories which have duty-free privileges) right across the border and in the car-manufacturing business in particular." Cornyn isn't alone in the Republican congress. True to conservative principles, others, including Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak), vow that a 10-12 billion dollar expenditure for a wall would need be offset with reductions in other parts of the budget, which would be difficult to find.

As far as the demand that Mexico pay for the construction, Senator John McCain (R-Az), said curtly "No, that is not viable."

The junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, however, has made no public comments on the proposal, possibly still fuming about recent Obama initiatives normalizing relations with Cuba. He really seems to hate Cuba, so is holding out support until Trump undoes Obama's work.

Our sources have revealed a posssible contretemps that might have been an intentional leak of the administration's strategy to breath new life into the project. A bar service operator—call him "Moe"—related events at a recent evening in an out-of-the-way D.C. watering hole, in which he served White House dignitaries Kellyanne Clownway and Shaemus Spicer. After a couple of drinks the couple left, but not without leaving a scrap of paper, which, as it turned out, was an opened but empty envelope, and fairly covered with a scrawl of whirls, smiley faces, and what is now determined to be a literal back-of-the-envelope brainstorming session between the two about how to revive the national and White spirit for closing America that fueled support early in the campaign.

"Good fences make good neighbors" was printed fastidiously at the top. Between the doodles and check marks, the envelope gave up the following: Plan A and Plan B. It was unmistakable. Despite the attempt to render the notes to  hieroglyphical code, it was possibly a pseudo-cryptogram, intended to float a leak of possible strategies to reverse flagging interest in The Wall. After each bullet point was a short, abbreviated stream on consciousness.

A. Offset in spending--big one: Military ± $750 B--but OP [code for "orange president] want to stengthen military--How Jibe?--Reductio ad absurdum: 12B = only 1.6% of 750B! That now seems very affordable! Also make libs and pacifist Catholics  happy---win-win
B. OP to guarantee loan--has extensive open lines of credit in Russia--has bundles of cash--trustworthy? (good for it?)--he's a builder, anyway--would he?--Got It!: Naming Rights! Trump Wall Texas—Trump Wall Arizona—Trump Wall....well, you get the idea.

The chicken scratch near the end of Plan B., calling for the President himself to personally back the financing of the construction became less legible, as if the scribe, whether Clownway or Spicer, was losing confidence in B. and her cursive effort was weakening. And come to think of it, for good reasons: it wouldn't be like the OP would from $12 billion of his own cash, and getting a signature or collateralized loan for that sum would require proof of income, preferably in the form of a tax return. Not happening. The proposal seemed doomed.

Trimming even a measly 1.6% from the nearly trillion dollar defense budget (the estimated amount when all the spin-off costs are accounted for) would meet with much resistance from the generalissimos, supply contractors, and weekend militiamenas as well, given WWIII threats being exchanged between North Korea's Kim and the OP; and as an impediment to the previously planned "Pivot to Asia" and nuclear arsenal modernization plans are already underway. There is no glossing over reality or utopian dreaming about world peace allowed when it comes to freedom, right?

And maybe that was why the envelope was carelessly left behind: not as a plot to leak hare-brained trial balloons to bolster support for a bad idea, but just another dead-ended strategy session, a worthless crumple of paper, not worth a second look, like so many others lately that have been coming out with bad policy.

But just in case, just saying, you heard it here first!

Marty Bankson.  Updated and revised 02/04/2018

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Presidential Overreach

A clear and focused example of the kind of presidential malfeasance we must expect from President Trump appeared in one of his recent Tweets:

"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"
This is about campus protests opposing a scheduled appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, famous for the extremity of his right-wing views. Scheduling Mr. Yiannopoulos as a speaker at a major university is not a choice I would have made, not because I disagree with his views, but because of his habit of spouting opinions without bothering with factual support. Discourse such as his lacks academic value. But no matter. U.C. Berkley scheduled him, and many students on campus protested peacefully. Up to that point, all was as it should be.

The situation turned ugly when some individuals chose to use violence to express their opposition to Yiannopoulos. This left the university with little choice but to cancel Yiannopoulos' appearance. This is a point worth emphasizing: the university had allowed Yiannopoulos to speak, and revoked that permission only after physical violence broke out on campus.

This brings us back to the Trump's problematic Tweet, which spins and blames and threatens. Trump makes it appear that Berkeley was selecting which parts of the political spectrum to allow to be heard, which is clearly NOT the case. Trump makes it appear that the university itself organized the violence, which it simply did not do. These, obviously, are just more examples of this administration's "alternative facts."

But that's just spin-doctoring. The worst part of the tweet is its very last phrase: "NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" The President of the United States just threatened to withhold federal funds from a major American university unless it allows a speaker the President is promoting.

Could he do it? Absolutely! There are aspects of U.C. Berkeley's funding the President can't touch, because California state tax dollars get mingled with federal funds in ways that are not easy to separate. But a large school and major research institution like Berkeley also receives a vast array of direct federal grants, and as the Chief Executive of the all the granting departments, the President most certainly can interfere.

This wouldn't necessarily make such interference legal. Such selective and discriminatory interference in academic freedom is probably prohibited by a vast array of rules the President can change and laws he cannot. But Trump has already demonstrated his lack of concern for the rule of law.

This is the kind of micromanagement we are fast coming to expect from a President who has yet to learn what the powers and responsibilities of his office are. When a particular incident gets his attention, or the attention of one his cronies, he will act in a most non-presidential way, jumping over layers and layers of his own administration, disrespecting state and federal boundaries, and imposing his own brand of "political correctness" on others.

Welcome to the Trumpocene!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Donald's Date with Cinderella

On Thursday, January 26, a grim announcement  ticked across the news wires and internet but was buried to the point of near-obscurity by the blitz of executive orders and incessant accusations by the new administration of widespread voter fraud and media manipulation of  inaugural crowd reporting.

On November 14, 2016, an interview of Noam Chomsky— linguistics scholar, political philosopher, and public intellectual—by C. J. Polychroniou was published on the website of political news outlet Truthout. In the interview, Chomsky made the assertion that the Republican Party had become the most dangerous organization in world history. The assertion expectedly drew criticism for being preposterously partisan hyperbole, and some other things not quite so nice.

Chomsky’s point was made on observations about the two most potentially destructive human creations ever, each having within its exclusive characteristic to cause “catastrophes that could wipe out all of humanity or, at least, devastate modern civilization.” Either of the two acting alone and left unimpeded could fulfill  its nightmarish potential in due course. Those two Frankensteins-in-waiting are Anthropogenic Global Warming (climate change) and nuclear war. And to those, the members of the Republican Party either—on the subject of climate change—sneer at the overwhelming consensus of individual researchers and the esteemed agencies of NOAA, NASA, and many others based internationally, or—in the case of nuclear weapons—make frequent loose-lipped referrals and jingoistic threats to nukes as possible solutions to conflict, as did Sen. Ted Cruz did in recommending “making the sand glow” in combating ISIS; or the even more ominous suggestions to restart the arms race to add even further destructive power to those running the show.

The announcement Thursday was made by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the publication of a group that is comprised of physicists and environmentalist working in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which currently sits 15 Nobel Laureates—including luminaries Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss. The Bulletin originated at the University of Chicago by some of the same scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear bomb. In 1947, reports The Bulletin on its information webpage,

the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors...

"The clock was initially based on the threat of nuclear conflagration only, but in 2007 was expanded to include other potential civilization-altering calamities including climate change, and cyber-and biological warfare. It was first set at 7 minutes before midnight, and has been reset 20-odd times in the last 70 years. The furthest from midnight was in 1991 when the SALT agreement was signed by the U. S. and Moscow, soon followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The closest it was moved toward the bewitching hour was 11:58—just two minutes shy—in 1953, when the U. S. tested its first thermonuclear device, followed in the same year by the Soviets."

Thursday’s announcement advanced the clock to two and one-half minutes before twelve, the nearest it has been since that “two-minute warning” in 1953. The symbolic time-setters at The Bulletin have no supernatural ability to foresee the future, but given their familiarity with the history of this project, and the serious nature of their opinions and the effects of their pronouncements, one could only hope they make them only after rigorous evaluation and with religious regard the weighty consequences involved in their interpretation. Reasons for advancing the clock this year were: “the rise of nationalism, here and in Europe; the threat of a new arms race between the U. S. and Russia, along with heightened tensions in eastern Europe and NATO; President Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons; and the disbelief in the scientific consensus on climate change by the Trump administration.”

You would think Noam Chomsky was on the Board of Sponsors, having basically said much of the same thing two months earlier. Chomsky might wish, however, to rephrase his comment about the Republican Party to include the volatile and unknowable Trump as its leader as being a major factor in making his judgement. Such an amendment could change what seemed preposterous partisan hyperbole for some to an undeniable truism for all.

Your Government Takes Shape

Committees sent these Trump nominees to the full Senate today:

Betsy DeVos - Education
Rick Perry - Energy
Never taught  in public schools; never ran a public school. Wants to siphon tax dollars from public schools to private schools without requiring the private schools to meet state standards.
Proclaimed he wanted to shut down the Department of Energy, until he was offered this job. Staffers had to explain to him what the department actually does.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Malicious Counterproductive and Inept

"Malicious, counterproductive and inept," is how Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson characterized President Trump's recent travel directive. Formerly a policy adviser at the Heritage Foundation, and for five years a speechwriter for George W.  Bush, Gerson is hardly a "bleeding-heart liberal." No doubt there are Republicans and other conservatives who support the president's order, but criticism from both the left and right has deservedly reached vitriolic levels.

Gerson further described the Trump administration's travel ban as "the half-baked work of amateurs who know little about security, little about immigration law and nothing about compassion." "Every U.S. president since World War II has disagreed with the stunted and self-defeating view of the country now held by Trump," he criticizes. He ends his essay with, "When Donald Trump speaks on foreign policy, tyrants rest easier and dissidents and refugees lose hope."

This seems an apt summary of our situation. It would be bad enough if the President and his cabinet were merely inexperienced tinkerers, but the current administration are not so harmless as that. They have real goals and objectives, and suffer from the delusion that they know how to achieve them. This delusion runs so deep that the administration aren't even aware of their need to check with staffers who actually understand how immigration, national security, or the global economy work. Having chosen, on day one, to make enemies of the press, they have no way to explain themselves to the public. Having chosen similarly to make enemies of multiple intelligence agencies and replace knowledgeable staffers with sycophants, there is no expertise on hand to guide them.

I fear for America, and now I fear America.

Thinking About Consequences

In a Public Radio interview this morning, Aaron Levie, CEO of cloud storage company Box, had this to say about Trump's immigration directive:

"I'm very sensitive to the need to keep the U.S. secure, and also highly driven by data and logic and thinking that through. There's no data to suggest that anything about this particular ban would improve our security.  In fact, most of the bright minds on the subject reinforce and suggest this will harm our security in its ability to fan the flames of our enemies and, importantly, divide us from our allies."
(Listen to the Marketplace Podcast here).

This is a particularly brilliant quote from a CEO of a successful enterprise. Note the emphasis on something radically missing within the current administration: let's start with DATA, rather than campaign rhetoric; let's apply LOGIC and THINK THINGS THROUGH; let's consider the consequences of our actions; let's check with the BRIGHT MINDS, people who actually know how things work and have demonstrated a tendency for incisive and rational thought.

Mr. Levie and many other leaders in the High Tech sector understand something that President Trump and his Cabinet simply do not: that U.S. isolationism is not an option in today's global economy. Sadly, the incompetence with which Friday's new immigration rules were put into place is fast becoming the hallmark of Trump's administration. With the most experienced people gone, and with ideologues and propagandists calling the shots, no one bothered to consider the difficulties that might be caused by the Presidential Order, or even whether the order could pass constitutional scrutiny.

I've written before about manufacturing in the 21st century, which is often a global process for even the simplest of products. Many service businesses as well are international in scope, and many more rely on the free travel of sales people, scientists, and technical experts from around the world. A large part of the grocery business in the United States relies on imported goods. The administration seems unwilling to acknowledge that basic facts of modern life. Or perhaps modern life itself is what they want to stop. 

In the hands of amateurs such as now govern these United States, there is grave danger. The complex web of exports and imports of goods and services has never been planned out at a high level. It has, rather, developed organically, emerging from millions of independent decisions to buy a certain product from a certain source or hire an individual with a specific set of qualifications. By changing the flow of personnel, altering the availability of information, and changing import taxes, the Trump administration is making massive changes in the economic web, apparently with little thought to the consequences. The economic web will respond as organically as it developed. Markets will seek lower costs, new sources and new customers will be found, tariffs will be met with tariffs, qualified experts will go to different employers. This will happen nation by nation, company by company, and buyer by buyer, and not even President Trump can stop it.

I hope Americans are willing to give up their bananas, avocados, and cellphones.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Poetry Corner

Sometimes the worst of times brings out the best of us in one way or another.  Angst and trepidation have been inspirations for all forms of artistic release, and often serve as beginnings for previously latent or suppressed talent. The editors at Life in the Trumpocene are not sure if the author of the following poem would claim any of those circumstances as his personally, but know he is on the right track. Check out this free verse styling  from  local Jared Elliot:

Oompa Loompa what did y'all doopity doo? Trump's signed another Executive Order without thinking shit through. Orange leathery looks like a shoe; booted brown people from the country, cause they got the wrong hue. Stranded banned wondering what the hell to do. Fuck you Donald Trump, the ACLU is gonna sue you. America will not stand for that radioactive nutria teeth colored tan. Man, you glow like weapons grade shot straight up from Iran, but we know Chernobyl is where Putin slipped the ring up on that tiny hand.
We do not speak your language, your values give us anguish. You will not take us back to the white washed utopia that you languish. So with red canisters in our hand, we resist, cue white foam, bye girl, you're...... 

Friday, January 27, 2017

In Case You're Counting...

Mark Rudd, an activist in the New Left in the 60's, is still active, though not quite as militant as in the days of the SDS, and published this list on his Facebook page earlier today. The authors of this blog do not claim to have fact checked this list, but have no reason to doubt that most of the claims could be verified. (This side has enough alternative real facts.) Not to mention the last couple of days worth of bad news, including, but not limited to, reaffirmations of the voter fraud case by administration spokesmen, executive orders banning suspected terrorists and people from suspect countries, beginning of border war and "end" of border wall with Mexico, and  Vip Pence as clarion and evangelical bitch of anti-choice at a large anti-choice rally in D. C. 

Several very close friends contend that there's ultimately no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Here's a list of actions taken by Trump or his advisors in the last few days. Read them and weep. Amazing. It's the complete ultimate rightwing agenda.
This is from a guy at Amherst:
For those who wanted to give Trump a chance, see below. I take no pleasure, no self-satisfaction in saying I'm not surprised; this is what I expected. We're only four days into his administration and with the conservative Republican agenda now empowered by this maverick, we could feel the effects, the repression for decades to come.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Minority Business Development Agency.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Economic Development Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the International Trade Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Fossil Energy.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after RTing factual, side by side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
* On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
* On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
* On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
* On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
* On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
* On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
* On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
* On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
* On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
* On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
* On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
* On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
* On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources