Trump is All In

June 14th, 2016

all in 2

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.


June 12th, 2016

truth 2


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

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

May 22nd, 2016


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’

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

March 22nd, 2016



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.

Joe The Plumber 2016

March 17th, 2016


“You bet I liked it,” he told “Inside Edition” when asked about the rally. “Clocking the hell out of that big mouth.” Of the victim, he said: “We don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American and cussing me … and sticking his face in my head. If he wants it laid out, I laid it out.” He added: “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

That was 78 year old John McGraw justifying his assault on Rakeem Jones during a Trump rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayeville, NC on March 9.

There is so much wrong with this that it is difficult to know where to start.

But let’s start with the dangerous confluence of Authoritarianism and Populism that has become the Trump campaign.

Trump didn’t invent this particular type of appeal, nor is he even the first.  This particular philosophy has been growing over the past 25 years in western Democracies.

Le Pen in France dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail of history”.  Fortuyn was assassinated in the Netherlands in 2002, but his anti-immigrant anti-Muslim party has grown to become the second largest in the Dutch parliament.  The Swiss People’s Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Swedish Democrats, and the Danish People’s Party have all been gaining support.  Hungary is now building a wall to keep out immigrants because of the success of the Jobbik neo-fascist party in that country.

These parties are attracting radical right wingers because of their Authoritarian stands.  But they are also drawing center-left less educated men and the economically marginalized because of their populism.

What’s happening?

Long-term dramatic demographic, economic, and social change going on in western democracies.  The Great Recession is still being felt in much of the industrialized world.  Gender and sexual roles are also changing as the LGBT community gains rights and legal protection.  Globalization, immigration, and the aging baby boom left less educated elderly citizens fearful of being marginalized and left behind in countries that they felt they helped build.

In the 2011 World Values Survey, almost half of those in the US who didn’t graduate from college approved of having a strong leader unchecked by elections and Congress.  Normally we would only expect to see these sorts of results in countries like Russia who don’t have our strong democratic tradition.

The Republican Party didn’t create this gap between the emotionally disenfranchised and the “elites”, but they did give voice to those who objected to social and political change.  They become the “party of no” the day after Barack Obama was elected.  That immediately legitimized a whole set of conspiracy theorists who previously were forced to live on the looney fringe.  Fox News jumped at the opportunity to pander to this audience with a daily concoction of tabloid fiction that they claimed the liberal media refused to air.  Finally the Tea Party gave structure to what has become a political movement.  Now this same revolution has turned upon those who used anger and fear for political gain.  The new authoritarian populists are blaming their Republican Party leaders that they helped elect for the failure to stem the tide of social, demographic, and financial change.

The result is clear in the words of John McGraw.

Those who disagree deserve the beating that they receive.

Tolerance for gay marriage, sexual equality, and social diversity is condemned as “political correctness”.

Anyone of color may be a terrorist.  Those who are terrorists deserve to be killed.

Whether or not Trump is elected, he and his followers have articulated a new brutalism and intolerance, altering what’s speakable in American politics.

The chilling difference is that parliamentary democracies have many methods to limit the power of populist authoritarian parties.  In our representative two party democracy, the authoritarian populists may be able to take over the Republican Party.  Then that party will have to decide whether they are willing to trade all of their past principles for the opportunity to remain in power.  Those principles of sound government and fiscal responsibility have already been severely damaged by the actions of the last eight years.

More concerning, however, is how this angry violent bigoted xenophobic subset of the voting public is going to handle defeat.  I don’t believe that they are going to accept it graciously.

It is fascinating to consider that those who most fear the “enemy within” may in fact become the very instrument of destruction of the democracy that they claim they are protecting.

The Six Stages of Denial (Thanks to Michael Mann)

February 14th, 2016

melting ice

The purpose of this post is to provide some science to back the standard set of climate change denial arguments that have been used by those who question climate science.

1. CO2 is not actually increasing.
Humans release roughly 29B tons of CO2 in the atmosphere every year. Vegetation and oceans absorb only 57%. Current CO2 levels are the highest in 15M years.


2. Even if CO2 is increasing, the increase has no impact on the climate since there is no convincing evidence of warming.

There are ten indicators of a warming planet

  • Land surface air temperatures. This may be the least reliable data because of a number of local affects that could influence the accuracy of the instruments.

Anderson12Fig1 surface temps

  • Sea surface temperature. Lots of data going back to 1850 with the most recent decade as the warmest

ocean heat content

  • Air temperature over the oceans.


  • Lower Troposphere temperature. Measured by satellites for 50 years. Every decade since 2000 is warmer than the previous one.


  • Ocean Heat Content – 90% of the heat from climate change is being absorbed the by the ocean which is causing the sea levels to rise.

ocean_heat_content #2

  • Sea Level Rise.


  • Specific Humidity


  • Glacier retreat – now 25 consecutive years of net loss of glacier ice.


  • Northern hemisphere snow cover.


  • Arctic sea ice


3. Even if there is warming, it is due to natural causes.


This graph, though a little wonky, demonstrates that we have already exceeded the limits that could be attributed to natural variability. Basically all of the warming details listed above require some other source of warming besides natural causes.

4. Even if the warming cannot be explained by natural causes, the human impact is small, and the impact of continued greenhouse gas emissions will be minor.

Here’s another example of the human fingerprint. We are producing more CO2 than the earth can consume. The result is that the concentration of that gas in the atmosphere is going up dramatically.

5. Even if the current and future projected human effects on Earth’s climate are not negligible, the changes are generally going to be good for us.


The impacts of climate change are making things worse for biodiversity.

6. Whether or not the changes are going to be good for us, humans are very adept at adapting to changes; besides, it’s too late to do anything about it , and/or a technological fix is bound to come along when we really need it.

The most immediate and available technical solution is to stop releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and replace fossil fuels with non-polluting alternatives. If we simply stopped pumping oil today, we would have a change to avoid tumbling over into an irrecoverable greenhouse condition.  The problem with other technical solutions is that there is little that can be done to prevent widespread destruction and political instability that will result from rising sea levels. The acidification of the oceans will kill much of the current sea life. The impacts of that can only be imagined. We will eventually run out of oil. The risk is by then are that the greenhouse effect will be self-sustaining.

Conservative Myth – Climate Change Part 1

January 19th, 2016

This is an interesting one because it is so revealing about both the politics and the psychology of the conservative movement in this country. It speaks directly to the power of tribalism that Jonathan Haidt and Chris Mooney have written about.

In this first part, let’s see if we can figure out why climate change denial is a uniquely American phenomena. In fact, it isn’t just a uniquely American phenomena. It is a uniquely Conservative Republican phenomena. No other conservative party in the world denies the science. They all differ on the responses to climate change, most supporting international cooperating and binding treaties as the solution rather than unilateral actions.

This is also a recent phenomenon. Nixon created the EPA and Bush I strengthened it. Even Reagan signed an international agreement to curb the aerosol pollution that was depleting the ozone layer.

US conservatives were generally aligned with international conservatives on all of the big issues. Then something changed. That something has left US conservatives alone in the world, not only on the issue of climate change, but also on issues like supply side economics, opposition to universal health care, and a virulent anti-government ideology.

Let’s see if history can provide us a clue.


The effect of CO2 on the temperature of the earth was predicted as early as 1824. The actual effects of coal burning were measured in 1938. The US military began funding climate research in the ‘40’s. Oceanographer Roger Revelle was the first to sound an alarm in 1957 when he predicted that the oceans would not able to absorb all the additional CO2 that the world was pumping into the atmosphere. In 1979 the Charney Report was one of the first scientific assessments of climate change. The report warned of substantial warming already under way and that, “A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late”.

Ronald Reagan, as part of his anti-regulation agenda, politicized climate change. He appointed a climate change denier as Secretary of Energy and proposed deep spending cuts for environmental research including CO2 monitoring. Al Gore led the opposition which managed to save some of the funding. It also saw the emergence of the first prominent climate change denier, Sherwood B. Idso. Prof Idso is a soil scientist who claimed that increased CO2 would be a net gain because of the agricultural benefits. He complained when his theories were debunked in peer reviewed journals. He later became closely associated with the coal industry. When the EPA came out with a report in 1983 warning that climate change was a real, immediate, and catastrophic threat, Reagan responded calling the report alarmist. In 1988, climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that climate change was under way, we’d see severe effects within 50 years, and that there was broad consensus in the scientific community that human activity was the likely cause.

In 1989 the fossil fuel industry began funding a disinformation campaign. The Global Climate Coalition and the George C Marshall institute adopted the same techniques perfected by the tobacco industry. In fact they even recruited the group that invented junk science for the tobacco industry (The Advancement of Sound Science Center) to undermine climate change science. Exxon was one of their major funders. They hired a small group of scientists who disagreed with the larger scientific consensus. That group began speaking to conservative political groups. Since their theories wouldn’t pass muster in peer reviewed journals, they started publishing books to support their positions. As their arguments were refuted by the larger scientific community, the disinformation campaign switched their tactics. They began circulating the idea of a global warming conspiracy and attacking the personal reputations of the scientists supporting legitimate climate change research.

That same year (1989) conservative think tanks including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute got involved. They had originally been formed in the 70’s as an intellectual counter-movement to socialism. With the collapse of communism, they needed a new enemy in order to continue to support themselves. They positioned climate change as a threat to private property, free trade, and global capitalism.

In 1998, The American Petroleum Institute got into the act offering $5M to interested scientists who would help promote a program of “raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom’”.

This activity did not go unnoticed. Articles starting in the 2000’s documented the connections between conservative think tanks and climate change deniers. Fossil fuel industry funding of these organizations has also been well documented including a Newsweek cover article in 2007. The NYT reported in 2015 that the oil companies have known their products caused climate change since the 70’s but continued to fund deniers – much like the tobacco industry.

The dramatic rightward shift of Republican politics in general, pretty much sealed the deal. It also started with Reagan’s election, and has continued unabated since. Climate change became one of the issues of difference between the increasingly conservative Republican party and the Democrats.

From Nate Silver's blog

From Nate Silver’s blog

Here’s a good summary from an October article in the Guardian.

And it’s clear from the language the Republican Party leaders use that they view climate change not as a scientific or critical risk management issue, but rather as a Democrat issue. Thus, Republican leaders simply can’t accept the need to address climate change, because that would put the on the same side of an issue as Democrats.


An aggressive propaganda campaign waged by the fossil fuel industry and conservative think tanks has successfully positioned climate change as a political rather than a scientific topic in this country. The rightward shift in American politics provided climate change denial a constituency that it does not have anywhere else in the world. Climate change denial has become a matter of belief for many of those who make up the conservative base of the Republican Party. As a result, it is a litmus test along with supply side economics, evolution, and opposition to universal healthcare. In order to run for office in today’s Republican Party, you have to at least question, if not outright deny the science of climate change.

While it won’t change any conservative minds, in the next segment I’ll go through the six stages of denial for those who question climate change. This won’t touch on every objection that has been raised over the past 25 years of propaganda, but it does follow a fairly logical progression and will address the majority of denial views.