Saturday, December 3, 2016

On January 20th, Trump's oath will be to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America

Headlines for two related articles on Huffington Post that arose after Trump's remark that people who burn the American flag should be jailed and maybe lose their citizenship.

"Ryan Says He's Tutoring Trump On the Constitution"

"It Doesn't Seem To Be Going Very Well."

Note:   The Supreme Court has previously declared burning of the American flag to be free speech protected by the Constitution.


A PR win for Trump; not such a good deal overall.

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect/Indiana Governor Mike Pence went to Indianapolis to announce their first successful job-saving deal.   It was at the Carrier Corporation's furnace manufacturing plant, which had planned to send 800 jobs to its new plant in Mexico.   Good for Trump/Pence that, even before taking office, they are saving jobs.

But it was puzzling that they refused to announce the details of the deal they had worked out, and now we know why:  the deal sounds a lot better than it is -- and, according to USA Today's Tony Cook, it's "the kind of agreement Trump slammed on the campaign trail."

In exchange for keeping 800 jobs in Indiana, Carrier will receive $5 million in tax credits over 10 years, plus $1 million in training grants, and up to another $1 million in additional tax credits based on already-planned plant investments.

That's good news for workers who will keep their jobs, although about 400 other Carrier workers weren't so fortunate.  Those jobs, as well as 700 others at a related company nearby are gone, meaning 800 jobs saved but 1,100 going to Mexico.

In addition, Cook says, the aim of economic development incentives is usually to bring in new jobs, not retain existing ones -- and some experts fear this will set a troubling precedent.   Steve Weitzner of a consulting firm told Cook:  "It’s a potentially dangerous policy where you reward a company that threatens to leave. . . .  Why wouldn’t every other company make the exact same pitch?"  Others say it has to be an individual assessment of the particular circumstances;  you can't legislate all the details.

On the campaign trail, however, Trump was highly critical of using such incentives, saying of such tax abatement:  "It doesn’t work, folks. That’s not what they need."   Instead, Trump said he would impose tariffs as high as 35% on products made by companies that move their factories outside the U.S.   He even threatened that against Carrier.   

Other experts say the incentives played only a minor role, that maintaining a good relationship with the future Trump administration was a more important factor, given that Carrier's parent company, United Technologies, gets federal contracts for billions of dollars a year.

Nevertheless, Trump campaigned on punishing companies that outsource;   now he's rewarding one and pretending to be the hero who saves jobs.  So in the end it's Trump being the bullshit artist again, the con man.    Selling something as one thing, then switching and delivering something else;  and then bragging that he really delivered.

Or, as Steven Rattner, Wall Street executive and contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, put it:  "That highlights the conundrum of Trumponomics:  He is offering an economic plan devoid of policies that would help the voters who elected him."

Have you noticed how this applies in his cabinet appointments?    "Drain the Washington swamp" was the battle cry.   Bring back the jobs.   Get rid of the lobbyists, the Wall Street financiers, the old government hands.   So far, I don't see anyone who is going to stand up for "the forgotten workers," the struggling middle class.

It's a cabinet made up of extremely wealthy, Wall Street friendly plutocrats;  aggressive, hawkish ex-generals instead of civilian control of the military;  an avid advocate of privatizing schools, who has never been involved as an educator, to head Education;  a climate change skeptic for the EPA;   a racist to administer Justice;   a doctor who wants to cut and privatize health care, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security to head up Health and Human Services.

But people haven't caught on yet that we're being conned.   "Saving jobs" sounds good.    But it's really a small time bribe for a small number of jobs.   There's no policy here that's going to save large numbers of jobs.  As Paul Krugman pointed out in yesterday's New York Times, "at the rate of one Carrier-size deal a week, it would take Mr. Trump 30 years  to save as many jobs as President Obama did with the auto bailout."


Friday, December 2, 2016

Trump surrogate: Facts no longer exist

One of President-elect Donald Trump's most loyal surrogate-explainers, Scottie Nell Hughes, spouted a similar line about facts that Newt Gingrich did a few days ago (ShrinkRap, Nov. 30).   She was arguing that Trump's lies aren't really lies, because facts themselves no longer exist.  At least Newt was a little more nuanced and knew he was engaging in academic bullshit.   Here's what Hughes actually said on NPR's Diane Rehm Show:

“One thing that’s been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is . . . people that say facts are facts. They’re not really facts. . . .  It’s kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass half-full of water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not . . .  There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”

And Trump went to Indiana to claim his victory for saving 1,000 jobs at Carrier from moving to Mexico.   He still hasn't said what he and Gov. Pence promised the company to keep them there -- but Trump was back into campaign mode at a rally-style even in Ohio, telling lies and stoking the crowd's anger.  (sigh).


The GOP dog has finally caught the Obamacare car. And now, what's it going to do with it?

Republicans have spent six years telling us how terrible Obamacare is and how fast they would repeal it, given the chance.

Well, Republicans, you are the dog that has finally caught up with the car you've been chasing and barking at.   It's in your hands.   So . . . what  a-r-e  you going to do?    What does the dog do with the car when he catches it?

It's easy to boast that you would scrap the whole thing -- except that only 26% of the American people want you to do that;   and almost everyone, including the president-elect, thinks it's a good idea to keep the rule about pre-existing conditions.

Yes, but Obamacare is a lot of moving parts that all depend on being balanced by other moving parts.    No insurance company can survive by opening its doors to everyone, no matter how sick, unless something gives them a big enough revenue stream to offset it.    And that's where the mandatory requirement comes in.    That gets healthy young people to sign on to help spread the costs for the sicker patients.    And that's just one small detail in how insurance works.

But seriously, what is their plan?   Politically, they want to "repeal and replace."   But they don't have a plan to replace it with.  What they're floating today is called the "repeal-and-delay" plan.   Meaning that the next congress will vote to repeal -- but not to take effect until three years later, at which time they will have come up with a plan.   Oh, that's cute.

Six years wasn't enough, so now they'll give themselves three more years.   And what in the meantime?    This involves 22 million people and an entire health care industry just hanging and waiting.   The Huffington Post's senior national correspondent, Jonathan Cohn, calls it a "slow motion disaster."

Cohn says the Republicans have never agreed among themselves, let alone working out any compromises with Democrats, on what they want a health care plan to look like.   Yet they've done such a good job of demonizing "Obamacare," that there is an urgency to do something, even if it is a bad idea.

It will be relatively easy to pass the repeal part, because they can do that through a budgetary reconciliation bill, requiring only 51 votes.    But a new plan would likely require an ordinary bill-passing process and would be subject to filibuster, making it a 60 vote requirement -- meaning they need some Democratic allies.

Cohn explains the GOP strategy in repealing first and replacing later:  It will force Democrats into a no-win situation.   "If Democrats end up blocking all GOP efforts at crafting a replacement, they will risk taking the blame for whatever chaos ensues. If some Democrats break ranks and agree to support GOP reforms, then they will give those changes bipartisan cover ―and share responsibility for whatever transformation ensues."

House Speaker Paul Ryan has an idea but no legislation framed of any workable cost and payment options.   Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) -- incidentally my own representative and himself a physician -- came up with a plan that depended way too much on privatization and tax credits.   It never even got a committee hearing from his own caucus.   And now he's been chosen to be Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services, which (terrible news) puts him over Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as well.    Needless to say, he has similar ideas about block grants to states and shifting more to the private sector.    A disaster.

[A personal note:    I used to feel proud that I resided in the Congressional district represented by civil rights icon John Lewis.    I didn't move;  but a few years ago, the Republican-controlled Georgia Legislature moved the boundary lines for District 6.   So now my representative in D.C. is this Dr. Price -- or whoever replaces him if he is confirmed as head of HHS.   At least he's not one of the crazy ones -- just a very conservative Republican.)

Current Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell warns about uncertainty in these programs leading insurance companies to pull out of Obamacare.   Larry Levitt, of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation told Huffington Post:   “Any significant delay between repeal of the ACA and clarity over what will replace it would likely lead insurers to exit the marketplaces in droves. . . . Insurers have been sticking it out for the promise of future profits, but if the future becomes uncertain, they’ll have little reason to stay in the market.”   Others in the industry have agreed, saying that the timing is crucial.    Those companies who stick around will likely push their premiums higher and higher, knowing that only the sickest will buy any plan at all.

Levitt summed it up:  “It would be like a game of musical chairs.  When the music stops, no insurer wants to be the only one left in the market with all of the sick people.”

I think the Republicans are about to get a crash course in Governance 101.   The first lesson:    it's a lot easier to obstruct than it is to construct.

What a mess.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Newt Gingrich says your feelings and my facts are equally valid

We all know that the sentences that come out of Donald Trump's mouth bear no relation to facts and, almost never, to truth -- excepting only those times that he told us that he says whatever is to his advantage at the moment, and only for the moment.

A good example hit the news this week, when Trump said he had won the popular vote, except for the millions who voted illegally.  He offered no evidence -- just quoted some tweet that had been circulated by a very dubious source.   The fact and truth is that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote with well over 2 million more votes than Trump, and there is no credible evidence of significant voter fraud.

It's not just Trump.   Today's political climate, including big name conservative TV hosts and radio talk show hosts are known for speaking falsehoods.   And then the internet and Twitter amplify the falsehoods -- and vice versa.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Bill Torpy decided to take on this question:   "Do facts matter anymore?"   Torpy has three sons who are award-winning, high school debaters.   So he called up a couple of debate coaches in local colleges to get some tips about facts and the current state of the acceptance of facts among today's young people.

He got answers like:    Technology filled them with knowledge, but they're not well-read.   They know how to study but not how to think.   Torpy asked one whether truth still matters in public discussion and politics, and he got a quick 'no way.'   People make up their minds without looking at facts.   Everyone has his own version of truth.

Emory Professor Deborah Lipstadt, whose story of having to prove she did not libel a Holocaust denier in her book -- and did prove it in a British court, as portrayed in the recent film "Denial" -- was a little more definite about facts.   She told Torpy:  “There are some facts that are simply true,” Libstadt said.  “The world is not flat. Slavery happened. World War II happened." . . . [But today] "We are seeing lies masked as opinion.  Stephen Colbert called it truthiness — if I believe it, it must be true.”

As an example, Lipstadt cited an interview with Newt Gingrich on CNN, shortly after Trump's election.   Wouldn't you think a former history professor like Newt would care about facts, even if he was shilling for Trump?  Well, here's a partial transcript:

*     *     *
"The CNN reporter suggested Trump was over-selling fear.  'Violent crime across the country is down.  We’re not under siege.'

"Gingrich waved that off: 'The average American . . . does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer.'

"Reporter: 'But we are safer and it is down.'

"Gingrich: 'No, that’s your view.'

"Reporter: 'It’s a fact.'

"Gingrich: 'The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are. People are frightened.'

"The reporter noted figures from the FBI . . . [that] say crime is down.

"Gingrich: 'No, but what I said is equally true. People feel it.'

"Reporter: 'They feel it, yes, but the facts don’t support it.'

"Gingrich: 'As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians.'”
*     *     *

That is a depressing state of contemporary discourse, political or otherwise.   Of course, Newt Gingrich -- history professor and all -- is the one that political pundit Charles Pierce described as having " long ago departed this earthly realm on golden clouds of his own intellectual flatulence . . . . Despite being A Historian and a Leading Intellect, he also is a crazy person who hears Alex Jones through his fillings."

That's just the point.   Newt Gingrich actually knows better, but he's supporting an argument for what I call "academic bullshit."   In fact, since this interview and since Trump's latest lie -- about millions of people voting illegally -- Gingrich has acknowledged that Trump's "lie" about illegal voters is "probably the biggest mistake he has made yet."   But I suspect that the "mistake" is not the factual error, but that Newt thinks it was a tactical error to say it, because now he's courting the finance and establishment people who would be put off by such irrationality.   Trump slipped back into talking to his (abandoned) base.

Newt is confusing two things that can both be true.   It's true that people feel unsafe.  It is also true that statistics show that violent crime has actually decreased rather remarkably.  Both are true -- and neither negates the other.   They simply are both true in different realms.   One is subjective feelings;   the other is science and mathematics.    Newt's mistake is thinking feelings can negate facts.   Liberals' mistake is thinking facts can neutralize feelings.

What feelings can do is win elections despite the facts, which is what I think Newt was trying to say.   And that is where we are -- and it's pretty awful.   Because now it means we're going to have a president who does not respect science and logic -- and apparently does not really understand the difference between truth and truthiness.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

At Scotland golf course, Trump built a wall to block neighbors' sea view -- then sent them the bill.

You think Donald Trump is bluffing about building a wall on the Mexican border?    He has already built a wall . . . in Scotland.

Katrin Bennhold reported on the story in the New York Times on Nov. 26th.   It seems that, when Trump was building his exclusive golf course in northeast Scotland, he needed to buy up the land for the course.   Many were happy to sell to him, but some were not.   There were a few adamant hold-outs, so the fairways had to be adjusted a bit here and there.   And The Donald Did Not Like Being Thwarted.

People who loved their homes -- and especially their views of the sea -- found machinery constructing earthen berms, some as high as 15 feet, to block their seaside views.   On other properties, two rows of tall trees were planted to block views.   That's not all.

Mr. Trump sent them the bill.   In other cases, he threatened legal action.  But two can play the game.  One couple who felt Trump's wrath, now fly a Mexican flag from their hilltop house overlooking the golf course when Trump visits.

But petty retaliation was only part of the anti-Trump feeling left among many Scots.   There are also the unkept promises.   The $1.25 billion investment has shrunk, by some estimates, to $50 million.  The luxury hotel never got built, nor did the 950 time-share apartments.

Martin Ford, a local government representative, told the New York Times:  If America wants to know what is coming, it should study what happened here. . . . I have just seen him do in America, on a grander scale, precisely what he did here. He suckered the people and he suckered the politicians until he got what he wanted, and then he went back on pretty much everything he promised.”

A former first minister (Scotland's head of government), Alex Salmond, even suggested that Trump's business impact on Scotland might actually be negative.   His xenophobic comments have so appalled the country that it is unlikely any presitigious golf tournaments will be held at Trump courses anytime soon.  Mr. Salmond concluded:  "The problem, and it’s a big problem, is that Donald Trump didn’t do what he promised.”

Feelings toward Trump are not likely to soften.   The new First Minister, succeeding Mr. Salmond, is a woman, Nicola Sturgeon, who bitterly opposed Brexit and has been scathing in her comments about Donald Trump.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

White privilege in the "not guilty" verdict of the Oregon vigilantes?

This news story about the armed militias that took over some federal land in Oregon got swamped by the presidential election.   While all that was happening, they had a trial and an acquittal on all charges.    This is a remarkable example of people clearly breaking the law, even filming themselves doing it -- and yet a sympathetic jury found them not guilty.

Writer German Lopez of Vox News thinks the verdict "is completely absurd.   His essay is worth considering, especially the question he raises about "white privilege."   Here in his own words:

*     *     *
"Eight months after the nation watched an armed militia take over a wildlife refuge in Oregon to protest federal land ownership, a jury has come back and said that the militia members are “not guilty.” This includes not guilty of a charge that describes what everyone knows these militants did, considering that they live-streamed themselves doing it: conspiracy to prevent Bureau of Land Management and US Fish and Wildlife employees from doing their jobs at the wildlife refuge.

"Again, this is literally what they did. They armed themselves and took over a wildlife refuge, preventing federal workers from going into the facility and doing their jobs. Ammon Bundy, the militants’ leader, even participated in interviews in which he called for more people to join him in his cause.

"In fact, the militants staged their protest because they want to get federal employees out of these lands. The Bundys and other militants would like to see the federal government give up federal lands to locals. This, they argue, would free the territory of environmental regulations that they see as burdensome — but are meant to preserve endangered animals and nature — and enable more exploitation of the lands’ resources by allowing, for example, more unfettered farming, mining, and hunting.

"The defense argued there was no intent to keep federal employees off the refuge. But come on. An armed group occupied a federal building. Your imagination doesn’t have to stretch very far to realize what was happening.

"Yet a jury found them not guilty.

"It is impossible to ignore race here. This was a group of armed white people, mostly men, taking over a facility. Just imagine: What would happen if a group of armed black men, protesting police brutality, tried to take over a police facility and hold it hostage for more than a month? Would they even come out alive and get to trial? Would a jury find them and their cause relatable, making it easier to send them back home with no prison time?

"One doesn’t have to do much imagining here, either. The social science is pretty clear: People are much more likely to look at black people and see criminals and wrongdoers. They don’t get the privilege of innocence in the same way that white people — including these militants in Oregon — do."
*     *     *     *     *

I certainly agree that white privilege is a real thing and that it often tilts justice in favor of white people and against people of color.    But I'm not sure this was such an open and shut, simplistic case of racism operating in that courtroom.

It's possible that there was another issue:   that some people in the community and on the jury agreed with the Bundys about federal land use, rather than putting it on the market for private ownership and development.   I would argue that it is first a dispute about public vs private ownership and, second, an issue of white privilege/black prejudice.

Still, the point is about a not-guilty verdict for a clear breaking of the law.   And that does raise the valid point that -- regardless of the crime -- white people do have a privilege that makes them far less likely to be convicted than would a black person for the same charges.  So I guess I agree about the differential racial treatment;   but I don't think the original case had anything to do with racism.   That was about land ownership, deregulation, etc.

Sometimes liberals, too, can get stuck on one issue and be a bit blind to the big picture.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Should we scrap Electoral College for popular vote?

TV host Billy Bush was the passive partner in that bus-ride conversation where Donald Trump bragged about being able to grab women by their p---y.   Bush just played the sidekick enabler, snickering and egging Trump on to greater bragging.

For that, Billy Bush lost his job.   And Donald Trump got the most powerful job in the world.

Life ain't fair.

Hillary Clinton appears to have gotten nearly 2.5 million more votes than Donald Trump;  yet he is going to be president.  That certainly doesn't sound fair, on the face of it.  So should we change the electoral college system?

Some would argue that it was designed to keep just such an unqualified person like Donald Trump from being elected by an uninformed, zealous crowd of populist voters.   In the late 18th century, there was virtually no mass communication.   It was assumed that the average voter was not an informed voter.   So they gave party elders (all men, of course) the last word.

But times have changed.   Today there is no lack of information and no excuse for being uninformed.   And yet the majority of today's voters may be less correctly informed than every before.  The problem we have is way too much misinformation, lies, and false news about trivia and not enough factual news about real issues and policies.

Depending on what TV and radio stations a person listens to, they may never hear anything opposing the lies and distortions that they regularly consume.  What's lacking is sober analysis and judgment.   I don't mean an artificially "balanced and neutral" news, where both sides have to be presented without informed challenges.   We need what journalists and pundits used to do;   but now they either just read the news someone else wrote, or they slug it out in a talk-all-over-each-other panel without any clarity or resolution.

Clarity, deeper analysis of the issues and policies, and knowledge of the larger picture:  isn't that what the electoral college is supposed to provide, if the people are not informed?

Another consideration is that, if we had only the popular vote, we would have a different kind of election campaign.    Instead of ignoring the "safe" red and "safe" blue states and concentrating on the "battleground" states, candidates would campaign in the most populous areas, i.e., urban centers -- with an even greater emphasis on reaching the most people possible, meaning even more TV ads and less real time, personal contact with voters.  Is that a good thing?   The small towns and rural states would then be ignored.  Trump himself pointed this out when he said that, if the contest had been for the popular vote, he would have campaigned very differently, spending time in different places.

So it's not quite so simple, after all.    But, IMO, the system didn't work the way it's supposed to this time.   But is it the system?   Or is it a byproduct of the wide chasm between the two major political parties that overshadows policies and proposed solutions in favor of power politics and blind party loyalty?

It's a myth that electors are informed people of principle voting their best judgment;  rather, it's a cauldron of sharply divided, deeply partisan politicians voting along strict party lines trying to keep their party in power.  So it's not doing what it was meant to do;   but a simple popular vote might not either, if we continue such campaigns of disinformation and emphasis on trivia, rather than true policy debates.

So should we keep it and try to fix it?   Or scrap it for a simple popular vote?    I'm not ready to decide;   we need more sober analysis of data from past elections.   And we need to get rid of the gerrymandering of the states and congressional districts.   And we need to get rid of voter suppression;  make it easier to vote, not more difficult.   And we need to make sure Russia -- or some other country -- doesn't interfere with our next election.    Then let's also look at the structure of our system and see if it needs to be changed.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trump will be the most expensive president ever.

Already, managing both vehicular and foot traffic in and around Trump Tower on 5th Avenue is said to be costing New York City about $1 million a day.   That's in addition to the Secret Service costs to US taxpayers, and all the Air Force One trips between Washington and NY for Trump to visit his family.   The Secret Service is considering renting a floor in the Tower to use as a command center, since Melania and Barron will not be moving to Washington at least until after this school year is over.

Of course, any president and his family have to be guarded wherever they go.   Often it involves building guard houses, blocking off streets, and renting space for agents to stay near the homes the president maintains.

It's just that they usually are not so numerous and in such high rent/high traffic areas as this posh shopping section of New York's 5th Avenue.   Think the Bush remote ranch out from Crawford, TX or the Carter home in small town Plains, GA.   Instead of live stock and peanuts, this involves the same block of Manhattan real estate as the Gucci and Tiffany stores, which are being affected as their customers have to go through and around barricades to get into their upscale shopping meccas.     And it's not just on the street.   Trump Tower is a 58 story, mixed use skyscraper with thousands of tenants who work or live in the building.    All their ins and outs must be security screened -- rather than just setting up a roadblock at the end of a rural road or a quiet residential street in Chicago.

But here's the thing.   Donald Trump may be the first president to make money on all these perks.   If Secret Service rents a whole floor of Trump Tower, that will bring in about $1.5 million a year to the Trump coffers.    Ditto all the fund raising events that have been catered at Mar-a-Lago and the Trump golf courses, plus the cost of campaign use of the Trump plane flying all over the country every day and back to New York each night.    And now all the diplomats and lobbyists that are lining up for reservations at the newly renovated Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, hoping thereby to current favor with the president-elect.

That's what he's good at -- making money off other people, in this case, much of it from the taxpayers