Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

Trump Couldn’t Care Less

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

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By now everyone on earth knows that Trump sometimes behaves like a pubescent middle school jerk.

His excuse is that this sort of stuff goes on in places where men gather all the time. As a man who has spent a lot of time in locker rooms from my youth to the present day, I can testify that many men tire of these conversations as we grow older. About the time that we become parents or uncles, we appreciate the hurt that objectification can cause. We choose not to associate with those men who remain focused on their own desires. We certainly don’t encourage it, as Billy Bush did. But some men never grow up. Trump appears to be one. The significant difference is that 12-year old boys are talking about what they would like to do. 70-year old billionaire celebrities have the power to live out their adolescent fantasies.

He said it was all talk. No harm was done. He didn’t actually do any of the things that he claimed he did on that video. He admitted that it was a mistake. He asked voters to forgive him and move on.

What moving on in this case means is criticizing perhaps the highest profile woman in US politics today who happens to be his opponent — Hillary Clinton.

The primary point of attack is Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. This particular incident has been thoroughly investigated by both the Congress and the FBI. No charges were filed. Clinton admitted that it was a mistake. She said that no harm was done to anyone. She apologized for her mistake and has asked voters to move on.

Trump has built his campaign on the claim that Clinton did something illegal.Unbiased fact checkers dispute that claim. So I’m not going to dwell on the details of his false claims. They appear to motivate his base and they certainly are doing damage to the whole political process.

Hopefully the hypocrisy of these similar requests for forgiveness is obvious.

But there is more here that needs to be discussed.

That’s the claim against Clinton that her email use was an arrogant disregard for the law. That perceived arrogance is what fuels the deep distrust and even hatred of many Trump supporters.

Trump’s claims regarding this tape, whether true or not, also reveal an arrogant disregard not only for the law, but also for the dignity and respect that all women deserve just because of our common humanity.

Trump blames his actions on the way that beautiful women make HIM feel. He can’t resist the urge to go up and kiss them. What’s worse, there are many documented incidents where he has done just that. He has a pattern. People with OCD who also struggle with impulse control have behaviors that they repeat over and over again. Trump’s pattern involves consuming a breath mint so that his breath will not offend prior to “stealing” a kiss. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that it isn’t his breath that is offensive. It’s his assumption that every woman would welcome that sort of unsolicited embrace. This is the core of his arrogance. He can’t imagine why a woman would object.

He feels that his process of rating women based on their appearance is a complement to those at the top of his scale. He fancies himself as a connoisseur of beauty. But if a woman fails his test, or worse yet, objects to being treated that way, then he feels entitled to demean her in every way imaginable. Worse, he feels no remorse because, in his own words, they deserved it. They deserve it for their failure to “take care of themselves”, or their gall to reject him.

Some of his comments about groping women reveal another dimension to his delusion. Women allow themselves to be groped because he is powerful.

In Trump’s mind, his ability to assault them without consequence is part the privilege that he has earned as a star and a billionaire. Even if this were true, and women did allow those with that sort of power to fondle them without complaint — what sort of man would take advantage of this power?

That’s the difference between Trump and Clinton.

Clinton has used her power and position to protect her private life from those who would seek to use that information to attack her. She uses her power to defend herself and her family from powerful men like Trump who have attacked her from her earliest days in politics. As the first woman to be nominated by a major party for the most powerful political office in the country, she has had to confront sexism her whole life. Her success can in part be attributed to her willingness to acquire and use the power that she needs to accomplish her ambitions. Trump’s supporters admire his unbridled ambition. Unfortunately, an ambitious powerful woman is still feared by many in our country.

Trump has used his power for self-gratification. He doesn’t appear to have any concerns about how his actions affect others. I suspect he equates empathy with weakness. He celebrates his ability to prey on beautiful women because it supports his basic narcissism. When asked by Howard Stern about how he satisfies all of the women that he sleeps with, Trump said “I couldn’t care less”.

Trump’s Twilight Zone

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

 

This has been a remarkable week or so in a remarkable campaign. There appears to be another dimension that the Trump campaign and their supporters live in. It’s the twilight zone where belief trumps fact and reality is defined by the campaign and the candidate.

Exhibit 1 — Who won the debate?

This one is easy on several different levels.

The debate happened. Reputable organizations polled the public using scientific methods. They reported the results of those polls. They all indicated that Clinton won by a wide margin.

The second measurement is what happened to the polls after the debate. Again Clinton’s polling numbers have gone up and her prospects for winning the election have improved. That improvement was directly related to her debate performance and the actions of the Trump campaign following the debate.

To hear it from the Trump campaign’s perspective, he won the debate because a number of online unscientific polls on conservative sites said he was the winner.

Any problem with the debate was the result of a bad microphone that affected sound in the auditorium. Then there was the moderator who attempted to fact check Trump. And of course there is the crooked media who are now operating as an arm of the Clinton campaign in attempting to report the facts on the ground.

Perhaps this approach makes some sense in perpetuating the “us versus them” meme that is at the heart of the Trump campaign. The problem is that this meme makes it very difficult for the Trump campaign to recruit any new voters. When anyone who isn’t with you is your enemy, how are you going to convince some of those that you have been treating as enemies that they should change their minds?

Exhibit 2 — I did not have sex with that woman. Oops sorry, I meant to type I opposed the Iraq War.

This was one of the key moments in the debate.

Trump has made this particular position his Big Lie. He insists that he was against the war in Iraq FROM THE START.

The fact is that in answer to Howard Stern’s question “Are you for invading Iraq?”, he said, “Yeah, I guess so.” That isn’t a hearty endorsement of the invasion, but it is clearly not opposition either. He also provided an equivocal answer to Neil Cavuto, “it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it.” Trump clearly was not a supporter, but he also was not the opponent FROM THE START that he claims.

In the debate, he doubled down by attacking the media for reporting the facts (again) and then suggested that the moderator give Sean Hannity a call. While they may have had private conversations, there is no public record of it. Since Sean Hannity is now an official advisor to the campaign, he is hardly a reliable reference to past private history.

The result is that many Trump supporters now question whether fact-checkers can be trusted rather than admit that Trump was again making stuff up.

Exhibit 3 — Trump loves women

Hillary Clinton set several traps in the debate and Trump fell into most of them.

The Alicia Machado trap was a public confirmation of two of Clinton’s basic claims. Trump is unstable and Trump mistreats women. In front of a national audience he not only admitted to attacking Rosie O’Donnell, but said that she deserved it. He continued to attack Machado after the debate suggesting that she deserved the treatment that she received because she gained weight. This caused a whole avalanche of new information about Trump’s past statements and behavior with other women including many of those who were involved with The Apprentice show.

Trump and his campaign have reacted by attacking both Bill and Hillary Clinton for their treatment of women who have claimed past relationships with Bill.

Women represent a substantial swing vote in this country. Trump is doing himself no favors by perpetuating his attack on Machado and attempting to drag around old news about Hillary and Bill.

Those old white men who are the core of Trump’s support appear to have no problem with either Trump’s past history or his current aggressive response any time a woman criticizes him.

Exhibit 4 — Trump and taxes

We finally found out that Trump lost a lot of money in the 90’s and may have used those losses to shelter roughly $1B in income.

Trump and his campaign have not disputed those figures. Instead they have tried to spin Trump as a savvy business man who is an expert in tax law and will fix the tax system that he took advantage of.

This fails to answer the basic question that many people have regarding Trump’s loss. How does a savvy business man manage to lose $1B. His weak defense is that it was a tough time and many people were losing money. So does that mean his business skills are going to be effective only in good times? In bad times he is going to lose money just like everyone else?

His debate comment that he was “smart” not to pay taxes is also losing him blue collar votes. His campaign has gone further by suggesting that he does pay a lot of other taxes. But that’s not the issue. Everyone else also pays all of those other taxes too. The issue is how does he support his populist stand when he pays no federal income tax? It isn’t a question of whether or not he has done anything illegal. It is the fact that he IS part of that .1% who have benefited at the expense of working people. So it is curious that some of those very same working people still trust him.

Trump and his campaign have been trying to cast the NYT as the culprit by releasing the documents. The reality is that he could have avoided this by releasing his tax returns as every other candidate has done for the past 50 years. The NYT has a responsibility to its readers to provide them all of the information that they need in order to make an informed choice. They are doing their job. Trump isn’t.

Trump supporters believe that the tax returns aren’t important. Clearly that’s not the case with the rest of the country.

Exhibit 5 — Trump and OPM (other people’s money)

The Trump Foundation may turn out to be the smoking gun, at least from a financial point of view, that Trump opponents have been looking for.

Trump already had to pay a fine because of a “contribution” that was made “in error” from the foundation to the Florida AG Bondi’s political campaign shortly before she declined to participate in the Trump University lawsuit.

Now it turns out that Trump hasn’t contributed to his own foundation for a decade. Instead he has used other people’s money. Why did those people contribute that money? Turns out that most of those contributions were directly connected to business dealings that Trump had. The contributions were NOT because of the charitable mission of the foundation.

We also learned that Trump used the foundation like a piggy bank to pay personal expenses to the tune of $250K.

Now we also have learned that Trump not only used the foundation to pay his personal bills, he also used his foundation to purchase speaking engagements at various conservative gatherings over the past six years. These speaking engagements were the start of his presidential campaign.

Finally, the NY AG confirmed that the foundation was operating illegally in taking contributions from third parties when they were licensed to only distribute family money. Until the foundation resolves those issues and provides more detailed reports on past activities, they are effectively out of business.

Trump and his campaign have not denied any of these claims. Instead they have said that Trump contributes millions of dollars of his own money to charity in addition to the money that comes from his foundation. They also say that the foundation is a volunteer organization that can’t be expected to get everything right. Finally, they are suggesting that the NY AG actions are just partisan politics.

But there is big difference between making a mistake and the pattern of behavior that the NYT and Real Clear Politics have discovered. If Trump is in fact the tax genius that he claims to be, he should have known about foundation tax rules too. If he did, then he knew what he was doing was illegal “self-dealing”. If he didn’t know, then perhaps he isn’t really the genius that he claims to be, and won’t be able to single-handedly rewrite the tax code.

Trump supporters don’t want to talk about the Trump foundation. They only want to talk about the Clinton foundation and how she brazenly “sold” influence during her time in the State department to big Clinton foundation donors. The problem is that they have failed to connect the dots between this supposed influence peddling and some evidence of personal enrichment. Even if she did provide special access to big donors, all that money went to charitable purposes that have all been documented and are easy to track. There is no evidence that any of the Clinton’s benefited from those donations in any personal way. Unfortunately the bias is so strong, that in the absence of evidence, suspicion is sufficient to convict Clinton in the minds of these voters.

Summary

The one thing that Trump is VERY good at is stoking the fears and supporting the biases of his voters. His success in branding his opponents from Low Energy Jeb to Crooked Hillary is at the core of his campaign’s remarkable showing.

His populist message combined with his caustic “take no prisoners admit no weaknesses” style appeals to disenfranchised and marginalized groups of voters. Ben White from Politico best summarized it.

The GOP nominee could probably set himself on fire and still count on around 40 percent of the electorate to support him.

Those 40% are content to live in the twilight zone that Trump and the right wing media have built for them. It works. They are less fearful. They are more optimistic. They feel justified that the evil doers are finally being held accountable. They feel part of a winning team.

The problem is that it is a fantasy. It is not real.

Hopefully the rest of the voting public will decline the invitation to join them.

 

You Can’t Just Wing It

Monday, August 8th, 2016

DCF 1.0

It wasn’t all that long ago that Trump was riding high.

He got the bump that he was looking for from his convention and many around the country were starting to talk about what a Trump presidency would look like.

But as quickly as he rose, he fell.

He couldn’t allow the spotlight to shine on anyone else.

Even after Clinton stumbled in an interview about her dealings with the FBI, Trump produced a virtual waterfall of “news” that turned the spotlight back on himself.  In more or less chronological order he:

  1. Attacked a Gold Star Muslim family who spoke out against his immigration policies.
  2. Said that the NFL sent him a letter complaining about the debate dates (NFL said it sent no such letter).
  3. Claimed that Russia would not invade Ukraine only to have to backtrack when informed that they already did in 2014
  4. Criticized a fire marshal in Columbus because the occupancy code was enforced.
  5. Praised Paul Ryan’s primary opponent.
  6. Told a woman with a crying baby to leave his rally.
  7. Accepted a Purple Heart from a vet with the statement, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart, this was much easier.” Less than a day earlier, the NYT published a piece on his Viet Nam draft dodging.
  8. Refused to endorse Ryan, McCain, and Ayotte (he backtracked on this too later in the week)
  9. Claimed that the November elections would be rigged against him
  10. Claimed to have seen a top secret Iranian video of money being unloaded from a plane in Iran.  What he actually saw was publicly available video shot in Switzerland that had nothing to do with delivery of money to Iran. His campaign then corrected him. Then he repeated the lie again.

He has played right into Clinton’s hands with this strategy.  Her campaign has portrayed Trump as a dangerous choice and then patiently waited for Trump to prove it.  Just one indication of how big an issue this has become is when Charles Krauthammer, that champion hater of everything liberal, feels he has to comment on Trump’s fitness for the office.

As Trump’s poll numbers dropped, a parade of Republican incumbents have abandoned him.

Now 50 leading Republican security experts have released an open letter warning that a Trump presidency would put the nation’s security at risk. 

Mr. Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

Mr. Trump, the officials warn, “would be the most reckless president in American history.”

Mr. Trump responded by laying the blame for the world “mess” at their feet.  He blamed them not only for the Iraq war, but also for the deaths in Benghazi and the rise of ISIS.  The latter two are curious since they occurred during the Obama administration when all of these officials were out of power.  But that’s about par for the course for the Trump campaign.

Here’s the basic problem.

The strategy that Trump used to monopolize the news cycle during the primaries is backfiring.  During the primaries the gaggle of other candidates were spending all of their time responding to Trump’s endless streams of insults and bravado.

In this general election cycle, the press is trying to inform the voters about who Trump is.  They hold him accountable for every gaffe.  They document the responses of experts when he says something dangerous.  But the sheer volume of this information simply reinforces Clinton’s claim that she is the more mature and experienced choice.  At this point, she doesn’t have to do a lot more other than to remind people that she isn’t Trump.

If Trump were able to stay on message for more than a day, he would have a real chance in this election because Clinton IS well known and has high negatives with many voters.

At this point, however, it may be too late.

His latest attempt to demonstrate some gravitas in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club drew mixed reviews.  His economic plan is a mishmash of old Republican ideas, old Democratic ideas, and new populist stuff.  There was a little something for everyone, which will likely confuse rather than satisfy undecided voters.  Just a couple of examples include making child care deductible.  Most working people don’t file the more complicated form required to claim this deduction.  Poor people don’t pay enough in taxes to take advantage of it.  As a result, it mostly benefits those that are well off.  That doesn’t square with his core demographic.  He also pledged to halt new regulations including those that would affect Wall Street.  This is seems to be at odds with his claim that he was going to crack down on Wall Street.

Trump is his own worst enemy because under the pressure of this campaign his true nature is on display for the whole country.  That nature is an unstable narcissist with an insatiable appetite for the spot light.  But like many who have also suffered from that obsession, the public is beginning to realize that he isn’t the winner that he claims to be.  He doesn’t really have wings, just wax and feathers.  Those are not enough to carry him to victory in the November.

 

 

 

Trump is All In

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

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Trump’s speech on June 13th destroyed any hope by Republicans that he would pivot to the center or temper his language in an attempt to appear more Presidential. That moderated Trump lasted for a minute or so into his prepared remarks.

Then the RealDonaldTrump returned to take advantage of this national tragedy. He doubled down on his agenda of bigotry and xenophobia.

In no uncertain terms, he claimed that the very existence of our country was at risk because of Muslim refugees, immigrants, and even American citizens. He not only reiterated his call for a “temporary” ban on Muslim immigrants but threatened “big consequences” for Muslims living in this country if they failed to report suspected terrorists.

In doing so, Trump aligned himself with the far right nationalist anti-immigrant European movements.

Trump promises to ban all Muslim immigrants until he is able to guarantee a “perfect screen” to eliminate all potential dangers that any particular immigrant might pose. The head of the FBI has already testified that such a screen is impossible.

The Orlando shooter was born in New York. His ex-wife felt that he was violent and bi-polar. Though she said he was religious, he did not regularly attend services. He at various times bragged that he was affiliated with al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Al Qaeda is a Sunni group. Hezbollah is a Shia group. They are mortal enemies and both oppose ISIS. What they and he do share is a violent hatred for gays. Though we may never know all of the details, a picture is emerging of a confused mentally unstable guy who had frequented gay bars and was mostly interested in killing gay people.

That didn’t stop Trump from blaming the killer’s family who emigrated from Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the late ‘70’s. Reagan was conducting a proxy war at the time by funding the mujaheddin including Bin Laden. During those same years, 40% of all Afghanis who applied were admitted to this country because they were fleeing Soviet oppression. To hear Trump tell it, this event would have been prevented if we had had the foresight to deny this particular family’s request for asylum 40 years ago.  If we had the opportunity to turn back time, we might also convince Trump’s parents that the world would be a safer place if they stopped at three kids.

To cap it off, in interviews conducted before the speech, Trump suggested that President Obama might have secret motives for what Trump described is Obama’s unwillingness to confront Islamic terrorists.  This is continuation of the conspiracy-laden warnings that Trump started in 2008 when he claimed Obama wasn’t born in this country.  It also ignores recent news on the ground that the Obama lead ISIS strategy has been working in Syria, Libya, and Iraq.  But facts have never been Trump’s strong point.

Whether the Republican Party likes it or not, Trump is determined to make this election a referendum on Trump. In no uncertain terms, he is asking voters to decide whether Latino and Muslim citizens are real Americans.

If Trump wins, he will have his answer and act accordingly.

Honesty

Sunday, June 12th, 2016


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One of the big issues in this campaign appears to be honesty.

Just looking at the facts, the answer is obvious.

As tracked by Politifact, Trump tells the complete truth only 3% of the time.  Clinton tells the complete truth 23% of the time.  It isn’t even that Trump is telling a nuanced truth.  60% of the things he says don’t have a shred of truth.  These aren’t just little lies either.  19% are pants on fire whoppers.

Here’s just a sampling.

Crime is rising.  It’s not.

“I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering” as the World Trade Center collapsed.    Trump appears to be the only person who saw this.

“Frankly, (Hillary Clinton) doesn’t do very well with women.”  She leads Trump with women by the largest margin in history.

The question has to be why some polls give Trump higher marks than Clinton on honesty when the facts simply don’t support it?

Some of it might be the fact that Clinton only recently clinched her party’s nomination.  Since that time her overall polling numbers have been going up.

But something else is going on here.

When we dig into the responses regarding Trump, what emerges is that some of those supporting Trump feel that he is more genuine that Clinton.  His willingness to speak in an unfiltered way causes them to assume that he is speaking from the heart.  Clinton on the other hand is a professional politician.  She is schooled in the sort of cautious speech that some people associate with fear of “telling it like it is”.

This is also reflected in the Trump’s assault on what he and his followers call Political Correctness.  His willingness to offend virtually every special interest group in the country for the entertainment of his white male audience wins him points for authenticity.

Perhaps this is how he actually feels.  It is also possible that he is sincerely expressing his unfiltered opinion, though that opinion appears to change based on the reaction that it generates.

IMHO nothing could be further from the truth.  His “authenticity” is an act.  It is the result of his talent as con man.  He built a following pointing out that the conservative working man has been duped by the Republican Establishment.  Trump, however, is also playing them for suckers by channeling Triumph the Insult Dog and letting them fill in the blanks based on their own fears and biases.

Those who support him, however, have such deep animus for Clinton, that they have latched onto to this difference to justify their support.  They say that he is just “Donald being Donald”.  That he doesn’t really mean all of the things that he says.  He will ultimately make “deals” that are in the best interests of the country.

Let’s look at some of those deals from the perspective of what is best for the country.

The most obvious is the Supreme Court.  Whomever is the next President will have at least two and perhaps three vacancies to fill.

Clinton will nominate liberal judges.  The result of that will likely be reversing the narrow Citizen’s United decision.  That will allow new limits to be placed on private money in elections.  Trump supposedly shares this interest.  He claims that his own personal fortune means he can’t be bought.  But the judges he has proposed nominating support the view that corporate money is free speech.

Instead Trump has promised that he will appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade.  Whether or not this is even possible, packing the court based on an abortion litmus test sets a very dangerous precedent.

Clinton has put forward solid policies to both reduce the debt and improve the job prospects for the very people who are supporting Trump.  Trump has only said that he will be the best job’s president the country has ever seen.  It also came out recently that he routinely fails to pay his own workers and contractors. 

None of this information will likely alter the minds of those who already have cast their lot with Trump.  They are so deep in their denial that there is little that Trump can do between now and the election to lose their support.  The rest of the country, however, who approach their job of picking the next President more analytically will discover that the Trump campaign is a sham.  They will reject the violence, xenophobia, and cult of personality that Trump has created and select Clinton because of her policies.

Dangerous Territory

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

trump cartoon

Let’s start by saying that there is no place in a democracy for violence.

It is the dark underbelly of our most cherished institution.  We are supposed to rely on our vote rather than the threat of violence in order to effect change.

That said, we have a history of political violence in this country.

The original Boston patriots were a violent group.  One of the reason the rest of the original colonies were reluctant to join the revolution was their fear that after defeating the British, the Boston militia would turn on the rest of the colonies.

The Jim Crow south was built on violence and intimidation.  A white minority imposed a social order on the black majority by taking away their votes and setting up a legal system that was rigged against them.  The latest version of that scheme was on display in Ferguson, MO.

The anti-war movement was galvanized by the Kent Massacre where unarmed students were gunned down by National Guard troops.  That single event did more than hours of news footage from Viet Nam to ultimately create the political will to end the draft and the war.

This time around, however, it is different.

MLK organized marches in the south for the specific purpose of raising awareness in the rest of the country to the institutional racism that governed the south.  The images of the peaceful protestors being attacked by police spoke far more eloquently than any speech about the injustice of racism.  Those protests also reflected a confidence in the how the country would respond when they realized what was going on.  Our government responded with civil rights legislation.

The anti-war movement protested the morality of sending kids to war who didn’t have an opportunity to vote on that policy.  Our government did eventually respond.  The war ended.  The draft was abolished.  The voting age reduced.

This time around, however, the presumptive Republican nominee for the office of the President says that he is going to deport 11M people who are here illegally and restrict and monitor the activities of Muslims.

We’ve always had extreme candidates run for President.  Strom Thurmond and George Wallace are just a couple of examples of candidates who supported legalized segregation.  None of these extreme candidates ever had a chance to become president.

Trump does.

When the potential President of the United States says that he plans to forcibly deport members of your family, how are you going to react?

When the potential President of the United States says that he plans to spy on your place of worship and keep track of your activities in a database just because of your religion, how are you going to react?

If you have trust in democracy and the courts, you may plan to vote for whoever runs against this guy in the fall; send them some money, or even volunteer to work on their behalf.

If you don’t trust that in the current institutions of our government, but you do trust in the decency of the majority of people in this country, you may take to the streets to peacefully express your opinion in the hopes that other voters will understand the depth of your concern.

If you don’t trust in the current institutions of our government and distrust the basic decency of the majority of the people in this country, you may get frustrated and angry.  That anger and frustration may drive you to confront those who you feel intend to harm you.  That’s when the fabric of society starts to fray.

We enter into very dangerous territory when groups feel as though the only choice they have is to physically confront those that disagree with them.  But what other way do we have to demonstrate to the larger population that Trump and his supporters are violent?

The dangerous territory is when this violence is used to justify violence.

The dangerous territory is when those who advocate violence are able to win an election because they claim that this tactic is the only effective response to violence.

The dangerous territory is when that violence is directed as a class of people whose only sin is who their parents were or how they choose to worship.

We’ve been in dangerous territory before.  Adams passed a blatantly discriminatory Alien and Sedition act in 1798.  The country tolerated slavery for 200 years and segregation for another 100 years.  The Justice Department under Wilson tried to create a list of all German aliens (sound familiar?).  4000 were imprisoned.  There was at least one documented incident of a lynching in Illinois. FDR interred the Japanese during WWII.  We had a massive clandestine domestic spying program.  We tortured suspected terrorists and are still holding some a decade later in a prison on foreign soil without any plan to try them.

We will survive this period too, but it will require work and will likely cause wounds that will take some time to heal.

 

 

Slip Sliding Away

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

facism

Many of those who are supporting Trump are doing so because they have lost all faith in the existing institutions, parties, and leaders to make a positive change in their lives.

What’s interesting is that, while they appear to have lost faith in existing leaders, they haven’t lost faith in the democratic process.  Otherwise, why attempt to use it to bring about change?  So in terms of a revolution, this one is still well within the bounds of our constitution and our tradition of democracy which in some ways makes it even more dangerous.

In that context then, what appears to be happening is that those working folks who have been supporting conservative causes over the past fifty years or so (stretching back to Goldwater) are finally waking up to the fact that much of what the Republican Party promised, was never delivered.  Economic reform based on tax reductions never generated the promised job or wage growth.  In fact just the opposite has occurred.  The wealthy have grown even more wealthy and powerful, while everyone else has seen their wages stagnate, their jobs become less secure, and their political power erode.  Social reform never generated the changes in abortion laws or prevented the expansion of rights for the LGBT community.  Government has not been able to slow the growth in minority and immigrant populations or their new found political power.  The government still spends a lot of money.  The debt has grown larger, on average, when Republicans controlled the White House than Democrats.  There are still structural problems with Social Security and Medicare.  The world remains an unstable place.  ISIS has replaced al Qaeda as the “great evil”.

What the Republican Party did accomplish is to erode trust in the institutions of both government, the free press, and academia.  That created an information bubble where many of those who support the conservative wing of the Republican Party live.  Being a conservative Republican became much more an exercise in faith rather than fact.

Their faith in Trump is that he is strong enough to make the changes that they so desperately want to see happen.  They are so deep in their delusion that any individual can in fact affect this sort of change, they ignore what the man is saying.   Instead they project their own individual agenda on their candidate.  This is the best example of motivated reasoning that I have ever seen, but it is also the most dangerous.  That’s because Trump only obligation is to his own agenda.

Here’s just one example of that sort of motivated reasoning.  It is an attempt to logically support an emotional decision which is at the core of motivated reasoning.  These lists generally begin – I’m voting for Trump because …..  I’ve added my comments after each assertion.

Isn’t a career politician
This is the first office he has even run for.  Minnesota voters elected Jesse Ventura as governor for many of the same reasons.  There are very few examples of successful Presidents who had no previous political experience.

Isn’t funded by Goldman (besides Bernie)
Big assumption here.  Trump has already said that he wants to raise $1B to run in the fall.  More specifically, Trump owns stock in Goldman.  Goldman has issued Trump a line of credit.  So technically Trump IS funded by Goldman.

Will take a stand against China before it’s too late
Obviously this begs the question of “too late for what”? But Trump’s promise to start a trade war with China and renegotiate our existing trade agreements has been rejected by most experts as naive and dangerous.

Is running on his own dime, not Super-PAC
See above.  Trump is not going to be running on his own dime.  He was able to run a low budget primary campaign because of all the free media coverage he received.  He perfected the art of dominating the media with outrageous statements.  It is unclear whether he will be able to get away with that in a two person race.  That’s because every time he says something outrageous, the press will also print a response from the campaign of the Democratic nominee.  As a result, he hired a former hedge fund manager to help him raise $1B for the fall campaign.

Has grown a business ten-fold into a third generation which is very hard
Business success does not necessarily translate in political success.  Until Trump releases more tax returns, the scale of his business success will be hard to measure.  The last successful business man to occupy the White House without previously holding an elected office was Herbert Hoover.  That didn’t turn out very well.

Admits we are in a bubble in this country that isn’t far from popping
If that were true, you would expect Trump would be shorting a bunch of stocks and investing in gold.  Trump’s investments don’t reflect that strategy.  But even if they did, the real question is what he would do to either prevent the bubble from popping or mitigate the damage from that pop.  He has demonstrated a reasonable understanding of monetary policy but clearly doesn’t understand how national debt works in a global economy.

Doesn’t drink, do drugs or smoke
He doesn’t appear to have any problems selling alcohol.  As far as drugs, he and his brother were patients of Dr. Greenberg in the 80’s who prescribed amphetamines for weight loss.  This was also documented in a controversial Trump biography by Harry Hunt.

Has a history of promoting women to high positions in his businesses
That’s true.  He also has had a reputation as a playboy.  He has been married three times.  He has admitted having extramarital affairs, and has a long history of describing women in objectified ways.

Is friendly to the LGBT community
Not sure what “friendly” means.  Confused might be a better term.  On the campaign trail, he has said he opposes marriage equality.  He did also say that he was opposed to the NC law prohibiting transgender bathroom accommodations.

Has great support from Orthodox Jewish community
This is true because the Orthodox Jewish community does not want to see the sort of two state settlement between Isreal and the Palestinians that the Democrats and most of the rest of the world support.  Sheldon Adelson has also promised Trump $100M if Trump supports Adelson’s call for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, which would clearly put the two state solution in jeopardy.

It isn’t clear what Trump’s agenda is, other than to bolster his own over-inflated ego.

He divides the world between winners and losers.  He is the classic school yard bully who will seek to ingratiate himself to those he views as more powerful and denigrate those that he feels are weak.

The problem is that everyone eventually proves themselves to be weak.  Everyone will eventually be a loser.  What will happen to those losers if this deeply unstable man suddenly becomes the most powerful man in the world?

And what happens to his followers if he doesn’t win?  They have already demonstrated their willingness to respond violently to those who disagree with them.  We are also witness to increased unprovoked attacks against immigrants who are the scapegoats in the Trump narrative.

This is how the United States slipped into facism.  Not with a shout, but with a whimper.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Come gather ’round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters round you have grown and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.  If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen and keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again and don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’.  For the loser now will be later to win.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call.  Don’t stand in the doorway.  Don’t block up the hall.  For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled.  There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’.  It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand.  Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.  Your old road is rapidly agin’.  Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.  For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn. The curse it is cast.  The slow one now will later be fast.  As the present now will later be past.  The order is rapidly fadin’ and the first one now will later be last.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan 1964

We baby-boomers LOVED this song.  It was our declaration of independence.  We are the children of the greatest generation.  But in our youth, all we could see was the hypocrisy of discrimination and the stifling effects of social conformity.  We celebrated individuality, freedom, and creativity.

Now we are the ones who are, at least in part, the rapidly fading order.  Millennials finally outnumber us.  We are also rapidly becoming a diverse racial country where whites are no longer the dominant race.  For some, that is welcome.  For others it is terrifying.

These tectonic demographic shifts drive our politics in ways that aren’t always obvious to those who feel the ground shifting underneath their feet.  These shifts are, none the less, a reliable prediction of where politics are moving in the future.

In order to provide a sense of context, here is an historical example.

Republicans under Abraham Lincoln forced the south to bend to the will of the federal government and free the slaves.  Whites in the south joined the Democratic Party and newly enfranchised blacks voted Republican.  The resurgent Democratic Party forced the government to remove federal troops who had been enforcing southern reconstruction. This allowed the rise of Jim Crow laws and the end of black political power.  Those white politics continued pretty much unchanged until the 60’s,  Democrats supported civil rights legislation and again imposed a new order on the south.  Blacks had been moving away from the Republican Party for decades because that party failed to support black interests (e.g. Teddy Roosevelt’s disbanding of a black army unit).  Democrats earned black votes in response to Democratic support of civil rights legislation.  Nixon’s southern strategy completed the transition of Dixiecrats to the Republican Party.

Let’s look at some of the other important growing demographic segments to see which parties they are aligned with and why.

Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans
All of these demographics are SIGNIFICANTLY younger than the white population.  The implications are obvious.  As the white population ages, the these groups will gain more political power.

It should also be obvious to even the casual observer that all of these groups have good reasons to affiliate with the Democratic Party.  Republicans have chosen to be the party of white people.  That choice was not lost on these groups.  Both Trump and Cruz promise to deport 12M undocumented workers.  Those opposed to that are going to vote Democratic.  The Republican Party largely blames the poor in this country for their condition.  Those who oppose that view are also going to vote for Democrats.

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman accurately described the Republican problem.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of all white voters and won election in a 44-state landslide. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of all white voters yet lost decisively. What happened? African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other non-whites — all overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning groups — rose from 12 percent of voters in 1980 to 28 percent in 2012.

Women
Regardless of how you feel about abortion, from a political perspective 54% of women are pro-choice.  Republicans are aggressively pro-life.  According to Gallup, 70% of women have an unfavorable view of Trump.  Even with Clinton’s negatives among women at 50%, she has a 20 point advantage.  If Trump continues to attack her in the run up to the presidency in the same ways that he attacked women during the primaries, it is likely that his negatives will go up and hers down.

Highly Educated Professionals
These people are naturally liberal because they value science.  Republican positions on climate change only exacerbate this Democratic advantage.

Young People
Young people are very supportive of LGBT rights and many carry massive college debt.  Republicans oppose LGBT rights and oppose any efforts to reform higher education financing.

Evangelicals
Carter woke up evangelicals.  Reagan and Schafly converted them to Republicanism.  Lately, however, evangelical leaders have moved away from the narrow social issues and embraced a larger set of concerns about helping the poor.  They remain an area of support for Republicans, but the religious zealotry of right wing conservatism has taken over from the pulpit-lead politics of previous decades.

Working Class Whites
Republicans have an advantage with low information white voters.  Trump has mobilized them because they have felt that their previous Republican votes did not deliver the change that was promised.  They are looking for someone to materially change their current tenuous condition.  Their wages have stagnated.  Their job prospects are grim.  What investments they had have not recovered from the 2008 financial collapse.  They have determined that the game is rigged against them and they want someone to blame.  This all fits well with the Republican emotional approach to politics.  The problem is that this group, while passionate, is a declining demographic and in 2016 may represent 10% of the voting population.

Conclusion
The next election will be a contentious one.  Assuming that there are no bombshells between now and November, Clinton should win with relative ease regardless of who Republicans run.  That is going to be incomprehensible for Republicans because Clinton IS in many ways the devil of their religion.  It was just as incomprehensible for them that a white country elected a black man twice, but they blamed that on Romney and McCain not being conservative enough and the government bribing 47% of the population.

The facts tell a different story.  Too many of the growing demographic groups currently have natural affiliations with Democratic policy positions for any Republican to win.  The real question is what choice the Republican faithful, in the face of yet another national failure, will make – start swimmin’ or sink like a stone.

Belgian Dip

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

 

belgian dip 2 big

 

Donald Trump showed remarkable, if momentary, insight regarding the root causes of the recent terrorist attack in Belgium.

This all happened because frankly there is no assimilation

While this isn’t the only reason that ISIS targeted Belgium.  It is the primary reason why Belgian residents have been involved in the last two major ISIS attacks in Europe.

The unemployment rate for Belgians of North and sub-Saharan African descent is between 40 and 50 percent. Last year, the BBC reported that of Antwerp’s 2,600 police officers, only 22 are non-white. In 2011, Belgium became the first country in Europe to ban the veil nationwide.

Like most of Europe, Belgium does not provide a path to citizenship for their immigrant population.  Instead many Belgian born Muslim languish in a guest worker status with few jobs and few alternatives.  It should not be surprising that Belgium has supplied between 400-500 fighters in the Syrian war.

Belgium is also a mess politically.  They don’t have the public safety infrastructure to track the activities of these fighters when they come back home.  By comparison, the US has maybe a dozen residents who have left the US to fight in the Middle East and have returned.  The FBI has all of them under close surveillance.

In this country, however, assimilation does not face the same barriers, even for those who are here illegally.  The result is a US Muslim population that is generally well integrated into their communities and happy with their circumstances.

According to a 2011 Pew Research poll, only 20 percent of American Muslims surveyed would prefer to “be distinct” than to “adopt American customs.” Half say that many of their friends are non-Muslim. Almost 80 percent rate their community an “excellent” or “good” place to live.  Crime rates in Muslim communities are generally low and the children of Muslims, like most US immigrants, marry outside their community and are indistinguishable from any other US citizen.

Yet politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump call for bans on all Muslim immigration and increased internal surveillance of all Muslims already here include those that are US citizens.

A 2014 study found that Muslim immigrants in states that experienced more anti-Muslim hate crimes were less likely to intermarry with non-Muslims and learn English.

Our ability to peacefully assimilate Muslims along with every other immigrant demographic IS one of the major factors in insulating America from the domestic terrorism we see in Europe.

The net result of raising the level of Islamaphobia in this country is that our country becomes less safe.

Ted Cruz’s proposed response to Brussels would have a similar effect. The day of the attacks, he called for police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” Asked what that meant, Cruz cited a program in New York that, according to The New York Times, allowed to the NYPD to designate “entire mosques as suspected ‘terrorism enterprises,’” and thus “collect the license plate numbers of every car in mosque parking lots, videotape worshipers coming and going, and record sermons using informants wearing hidden microphones.” What Cruz didn’t mention is that an NYPD official himself admitted the program didn’t yield a single terrorism investigation. What it did was alienate law-abiding Muslims. As a Newark-based FBI special agent noted, the program led “people [to] pull back cooperation” and thus impaired “our ability to have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on around the state.”

The New York police chief said that he had hundreds of Muslim officers on the staff and if Ted Cruz has a campaign stop in New York, part of the squad assigned to protect him will likely be Muslim.

Embracing peaceful Muslims in the same way we embrace any other peaceful immigrant population, is our strongest weapon against ISIS ideology.

Persecuting Muslims, treating every Muslim as if they were a terrorist and subjecting individuals to a higher level of scrutiny and regulation just because of their religion will re-enforce the ISIS message that the West really does want to destroy Islam.

 

 

 

 

Who is John Galt?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

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The Republican Party is struggling to come to grips with the fact that their “base” is no longer loyal to their “principles”. Even worse, the one leading these people astray is a businessman who should be poster boy of what the party principles say all should aspire to.

The party clearly has two choices. They can either reflect more deeply on how their “principles” apply to those they seek to lead, or they can blame this wayward band and their leader as apostates.

It probably doesn’t surprise you that the conservative Republican establishment response is that the working class who are the core of Trump’s support can only blame themselves for their situation and their leader is not a true conservative.

At the core of this dilemma is the Randian Objectivism that has become the bedrock philosophy of mainstream conservatism. It was reflected in Romney’s claim that 47% of 2012 voters would never support him because they were dependent on the government. Paul Ryan famously described the social safety net as “a hammock the lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency”.

Rand’s prototypical hero is the businessman, John Galt. He criticized any state intervention in society because it allowed poor people to leech the hard-earned wealth of the rich (sound familiar?). Conservative Establishment Republicans use this philosophy to absolve themselves from any responsibility for their own actions by claiming a sort of social Darwinism. They claim that the outcome of any individual’s life is purely a function of their willingness to overcome any adverse circumstance they encounter with ability and intelligence. Helping those that are in need only prolongs their struggle. They point to their own success as evidence of their piety to this principle without acknowledging that in most cases it was the result of an advantageous birth.

Paul Krugman does a wonderful job of summarizing this attitude.

Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values. That is, for some mysterious reason why many of our citizens have, as Mr. Ryan puts it, lost “their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers.

What science tells us, however, is markedly different. The basic cause for the social dysfunction in the black community in this country is not some genetic inability to form strong family bonds. It is the result of systematic elimination of economic opportunity. To paraphrase a Baltimore resident, it is unreasonable to expect people to demonstrate middle class values in the absence of middle class jobs.

What we are now seeing are the same social ills that have been associated with the black community, showing up in the white working class community — addiction, violence, crime, single parent families, chronic disease, increased suicide, and shorter life expectancy.

That in and of itself should not be surprising.

It also should not be surprising that those who are suffering from decreasing economic opportunity and collapsing social stability are both angry and afraid.

What is surprising, however, is that though this phenomena is present throughout the industrialized west, only the US is suffering a rise in mortality among middle-aged whites. Everywhere else mortality continues to trend downward.

Why are things different here?

Paul Ryan and the self-serving conservative Republican elites have successfully used Randian Objectivism to dismantle much of our social safety net. Every other western industrialized country has robust systems to help workers manage the transitions during these sorts of economic disruptions. The result of our purposefully frayed social safety net is not a robust new generation of John Galt’s freed from the shackles of dependency, but a surly terrified generation of workers who have finally realized that they are being exploited and are no longer willing to take the blame.

The delicious irony is that the man leading this populist revolution bent on overthrowing the Republican Objectivists is the epitome of Randian self-responsibility. He is supposed to suggest that those who are struggling just need to be more responsible and work a little harder. Instead his whole career has been built on a false promise that Trump’s success was contagious. It would rub off on you if you just purchased one of his products, visited one of his properties, or watched one of his reality shows. Rather than lecture the disgruntled white working class, he agrees that they have received a raw deal. Rather than suggest that they are responsible for their own success, he blames the current political establishment (Republican and Democratic) for making bad deals that have disadvantaged workers. He promises his followers that he will be able to relieve their pain by replacing those bad deals with good ones that he will negotiate on their behalf.

FDR recognized the same thing. The Great Depression decimated the economy because unregulated capitalism ran amok. FDR made a new deal with workers. Rather than replace capitalism, he proposed a new mixed economy — strong business constrained by a strong government. Government will also construct a social safety net. That safety net would allow workers to retire with some dignity when they grew too old for physical labor. It would also mitigate the pain of individual job loss when economies contract or individual companies fail.

After the biggest economic constriction since the Great Depression, workers are again stressed and angry about the abuses of big business and the failure of the government to live up to its promises.

Donald Trump claims he can deliver a better deal. His ability to convince workers that this is possible is testimony to the level of their desperation as well as his talent as a con man.

But it is also fascinating that when faced with the choice between channeling John Galt or FDR, he chose FDR.