Tax Plan Belongs In The Trash Can

It would appear that Trump’s “top economic advisors” are not too smart.  Either that, or they think we are not too smart.  Either way, his “tax plan” is a piece of garbage that should not stand a chance of passing in Congress.

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When President Reagan did it in 1981, it was called “trickle-down” economics. It looked great on paper … only problem was, it did not, in fact, ‘trickle down’.  It did not work then, and it is just as unlikely to work now.  Economists outside the White House agree that this tax plan would almost certainly raise the federal deficit by as much as $7 trillion over the next ten years. Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, two of Trump’s top financial advisors (both former Goldman Sachs bankers, as it were) claim that the deficit will be offset by economic growth, but that is a fantasy of their own imaginations. The entire plan is designed to benefit large corporations, such as the ones owned by Trump, himself, and the wealthy, such as Trump, himself, as well as Cohn and Mnuchin.

According to a New York Times article, here are the winners & losers under the plan:

Winners:

  • Businesses with high tax rates.
  • High-income earners.
  • People with creative accountants.
  • Multimillionaires who want to pass money to their heirs tax-free.
  • People who still fill out their tax returns by hand.
  • Retailers and other companies that feared a “border adjustment tax.”
  • Donald J. Trump.

Losers:

  • Upper-middle-income people in blue states.
  • Deficit hawks.
  • People who want Congress to pass something.

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One of the most ironic things to note is that under this plan, corporations would not have to pay taxes on their foreign profits, an unusual proposal for a president who has championed an “America first” approach and railed against companies that move jobs and resources overseas. But then, Trump himself has significant overseas interests, so I leave the rest to your imagination.

Nicholas Kristof’s column today said it best:

What do you do if you’re a historically unpopular new president, with a record low approval rating by 14 points, facing investigations into the way Russia helped you get elected, with the media judging your first 100 days in office as the weakest of any modern president?

Why, you announce a tax cut!

And in your self-absorbed way, you announce a tax cut that will hugely benefit yourself. Imagine those millions saved! You feel better already!

This isn’t about “jobs,” as the White House claims. If it were, it might cut employment taxes, which genuinely do discourage hiring. Rather, it’s about huge payouts to the wealthiest Americans — and deficits be damned! If Republicans embrace this “plan” after all their hand-wringing about deficits and debt, we should build a Grand Monument to Hypocrisy in their honor.

This isn’t tax policy; it’s a heist.”

Throughout his campaign, Trump swore to bring down the national debt, ranting that President Obama had ‘doubled the debt’, and that he, Trump, would reduce the deficit.  Trump’s tax plan comes with very few details, so it is difficult to assess, however a number of leading economists have reviewed the framework and here is what they have said:

“We’ve only done the rough numbers, but this looks like a tax cut of a magnitude of about $5 trillion. That is simply unimaginable given our fiscal situation and the size of the deficit, which is already the worst since World War II.Who doesn’t love a tax cut, especially if no one has to pay for it? This is a free-lunch mentality. ” – Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

“Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady must be beside themselves in private. They put in years of work on a tax reform plan that at least tried to be revenue-neutral, and wouldn’t explode the deficit.” – Leonard E. Burman, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

“Mr. Trump’s plan basically is tax cuts for everyone. Real reform, with revenue neutrality, is difficult. There are winners and losers, but Trump apparently just wants winners.” – Steven M. Rosenthal, a business tax expert and senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

“I want a plan that’s focused on growth as much as anyone. But these tax cuts are not going to pay for themselves. If you believe that, you’re kidding yourself.” – Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office and is now president of the American Action Forum

The bottom line is that the tax plan as it was presented to Congress, with unrealistic goals and almost no detail, is not going to be passed in either branch of Congress.  If Trump was hoping for another “achievement” to add to his “first 100 days list”, he is likely to be sorely disappointed.  Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, and Gary Cohn, Trump’s senior economic advisor, are going to have to do a much better job than this.

I suspect that this ‘plan’, if one can call it that, was a rush job, as Trump has actually spent his ‘first 100 days’ more concerned about getting his travel ban executed, deporting immigrants, destroying environmental protection controls, insulting our allies, threatening our enemies, and erasing all legislation passed under President Obama.  This tax plan has no earmarks of a thought process, but merely a fantasy devised in a very short period of time with no link to reality.  Back to the drawing board, Donnie … this one stinks!

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Health Care, Anyone???

med-6They’re at it again. The members of Congress who we elected to represent our best interests have forgotten us.  Remember the health care bill that had so little support in Congress that last month House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill without a vote?  Well, it’s baaaaccckk.  Congress may vote on the revised bill as early as Friday.  Guess what?  As I am given to understand, the revisions do nothing to help you … or me … or anybody who is older, has health issues, or cannot afford insurance.  It will still enable the insurance companies to deny us maternity care, mental health care, and other basic medical services. It will also make insurance cost-prohibitive for those of us with pre-existing conditions. And it will still deny affordable health care to some 24 million people. The only thing that has changed from last month’s bill is that it is even more restrictive to the average citizen. The changes were made, not with We The People in mind, but rather with the far-right “Freedom Caucus” who objected to the original bill, saying it did not go far enough in taking affordable healthcare from the average person.

Fellow-blogger Tea Pain said it best in a recent tweet:  “All it took was proof that more poor people would suffer and the Freedom Caucus was all in.”

On Friday, March 24th, realizing that there were not enough supporters to reach the magic 216 votes required for the bill to pass, Paul Ryan informed Trump that he was pulling the bill from the floor … no vote would be taken.  At the time, Trump said he would ‘walk away from health care reform’ if he did not get a vote.  The morning after, he tweeted: “Obamacare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great health care plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!”  But by the next day he had apparently gotten over his bruised ego and tweeted: “I’m going back to it. I’m not going to give it up,”

Paul Ryan, also seeming to concede defeat, said, “I don’t know what else to say other than Obamacare is the law of the land. It’ll remain law of the land until it’s replaced,” he said. “We’re going to be living with Obamacre for the foreseeable future.”

med-3And most of us breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that now there was an opportunity to make some changes to ACA, to fix what was broken without having to worry that a new health care law would rob many of us.  But alas, it did not take long for Trump to change his mind about that, as he has done so many things. Just last Friday, 21 April, he said, “This is a great bill. This is a great plan. And this will be great health care. It’s evolving, you know, there was never a give-up. The press sort of reported there was, like, a give-up. There’s no give-up, we started. Remember, it took Obamacare 17 months.”

The bill reportedly does not appear to vary significantly from the one proposed in March, but it seems that some re-working was done in order to satisfy the ‘Freedom Caucus’.  It appears to have worked, as Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows is said to be in support of the latest bill.

Now, I have a few observations on this (surprised, aren’t you?).

  • repair-houseIf you own a home, it’s an older home and in need of some repairs, but the foundation is sturdy and the repairs are minor … a bit of plumbing upgrades, some paint here and there, some new weatherstripping, and perhaps a new furnace. Do you repair the home, or raze it and build a new one?  Me?  I repair the old one.  It’s why I was still driving a 1988 Olds until a year ago … I can make a heck of a lot of repairs for the price of a new car.  Or house.  The same can be said of ACA (Obamacare) … it has a strong foundation and has served millions of people well in being able to obtain medical care they would not otherwise have been able to do.  But Trump is absolutely hell-bent and determined to raze ACA and build a health care plan of his making.  The primary reason, I believe, is that he is aware that even with modifications, ACA will always be considered Obamacare, and it is his goal to erase the name of Obama from anything and everything.  We all know that he likes seeing his name on things. This, friends, is NOT a good justification for robbing some 24 million people of their health insurance.  It is pandering to the ego of a 70-year-old child who should have our best interests at heart, but does not.

  • Each member of Congress was given that job because We The People voted them into office. And yet, it is not We The People to whom they are listening.  According to the New York Times, “Senior White House officials, led by Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, have relentlessly pressed Republicans to revive the health care push before Mr. Trump’s hundred-day mark.” According to one White House official, “The President was saying, ‘We have to get a win,’ and that was his pitch. He said ‘No one is getting what they want here, but we have to get a deal, we have to get a win.’” Does this sound like a president whose greatest concern is the people of his country? No, for Trump it is about HIM winning, not the country or its people … only Trump.

  • med-4Doubts remain whether the House can muster the necessary 216 votes to pass the bill, since the amendments that satisfied the far right do nothing to ease the concerns of the more moderate Republicans or the Democrats. But even if it does pass the House, it stands a snowball’s chance in hell of passing in the Senate, and Trump is well aware of this.  The margin between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate is much narrower than in the House, and this bill will not pass the Senate.    But that is not the point, for Trump.  Although he claims that the 100-day mark has no meaning, he is, once again, lying.  He cares only that this bill pass the House so that he can add it to what he calls his ‘list of accomplishments’ in the first 100 days.  It will be an empty win, if it passes, but Trump does not care about that at this point.

med-7You will be happy to know that there is a bright spot in the revised bill. One part of the new proposal would protect health insurance for members of Congress. This provision guarantees that lawmakers would not lose “essential health benefits” and could not be charged higher premiums because of their health status.  Meanwhile, back here in the rest of the nation, those of us with pre-existing conditions can be charged up to five times the normal rate for health care premiums.

I plan to make some phone calls and write some letters to my elected representatives today … just to touch base and let them know my feelings on this.

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Breaking News: WH Is Not Cooperating With U.S. Oversight Committee (Mike Flynn)

Never before, even during Watergate, even during Iran-contra, has there been as much blatant disregard for the law, as much blatant conflict-of-interest, as in the current administration. Blogger-friend Gronda has done an excellent job in recapping the latest in a long series of conflicts and ethics violations in the Trump administration. Please take a few minutes to read this synopsis, as I believe this has the potential to turn into a scandal of epic proportions in the coming days. Thank you, Gronda, for your excellent work and for permission to share!

Gronda Morin

Image result for images of elijah cummings Cummings/ Chaffetz

On 4/25/17, both the republican chair Jason Chafftez from Utah and the democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings from Georgia held a press conference to announce that the White House is refusing to cooperate with their investigation into the president’s former National Security Adviser ret. Lt. General Mike Flynn. The U.S, House Intelligence Committee members were requesting documents regarding what information the general disclosed as he was being vetted for this top post but the White House has refused to comply.

As per the 4/25/17 NCRM report by David Badash, “You Simply Cannot Take Money From Russia, Turkey, or Anybody Else’ Chaffetz Says

“House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings say it appears former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn took payments from Russia and Turkey and did not follow the law by asking for and receiving permission to do so. Chairman Chaffetz says if Flynn…

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Will SCOTUS Undermine Separation of Church & State?

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1802

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The case seems fairly simple, fairly straightforward, on the surface.

separation-3In the interest of child safety, Missouri provides a limited number of state grants to playground operators to replace hard surfaces with rubber. All was going well, until 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church, in the town of Columbia, applied for one of those grants and was turned down on the basis of Missouri’s Constitution, which bars spending any money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church.” The church sued, arguing that the prohibition violated both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Now, I could actually argue this one either way … there is no clear-cut right or wrong here … it is truly a matter of conflicting Constitutional clauses.  The church’s argument that to deny them funds for their playground is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, has merit. The Equal Protection Clause states:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

On the other hand, I could just as easily side with the argument of the State of Missouri, whose constitution bars spending public money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,” and the state Supreme Court has called for “a very high wall between church and state.” 

It might seem to the casual observer that, for the small amount of money we are discussing, and the fact that the safety of children is involved, it would be a simple enough solution for the State of Missouri to give the church the grant, rather than use precious resources (time & money) to hear the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.  But beneath the surface, this case could open doors that could lead to the erosion of one of the basic principles in the First Amendment, Separation of Church and State.

While it is true that the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, said government should not “force a citizen to contribute three pence only” in support of a religion. If it does, both sides are harmed — religions and sects battle each other for government cash, while the state finds itself forced to meddle in religious affairs, where it has no business. And of course, you can see Thomas Jefferson’s quote at the start of this post.

separation-2What are those doors this case could open?  There are so many.  Let us start with the simplest, the core of this case, grants to upgrade playgrounds.  So, if Trinity Lutheran Church prevails, then others will also seek grants from the state.  Okay, fine, you say … but what happens when a Jewish Synagogue requests a grant?  Missouri is 85% white, 77% Christian, with less than 1% of its population Jewish.  How do you think those white Christians will feel about their tax dollars going to upgrade playgrounds at Synagogues in this day of increased anti-Semitism?  Now let us go a step further … what happens when a Mosque requests a grant in this predominantly white, Christian state, at taxpayer’s expense?

Under newly appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, school vouchers are likely to become an issue along these same lines. The decision in Trinity Lutheran could influence the debate over school vouchers. “For a long time, it was thought that the federal Establishment Clause stood in the way of school-voucher programs that allowed religious institutions to participate,” said Rick Garnett, a professor of law and political science at Notre Dame University. “Over time, in the late ’80s and through the ’90s, the court’s doctrine evolved.” In the early 2000s, he said, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause doesn’t allow the government to directly fund religious activities, but it’s not a problem if people use state-funded vouchers to attend private religious schools. That could all change, depending on the ruling of the Supreme Court in this case.

And then there is another angle. Lambda Legal, the LGBT-rights advocacy firm, argued in a brief that a decision in favor of Trinity Lutheran could lead to discrimination against the LGBT community. Some churches “don’t wish to serve everybody,” said Camilla Taylor, a senior counselor at the firm. If the states provide grants to churches like Trinity Lutheran, “government funds will then be used to provide social services on a discriminatory basis.” 

It is, in essence, a highly-charged slippery-slope argument.  Where do you draw the line?  If government funds are provided to one church … any one single church or religious establishment … then they must equally be provided to all.  Do we really want to start down this slippery slope?  And do we want to tie up state and federal legislators, not to mention the entire court system, debating where to draw the line, or how to deal with these issues?  I think not.

In 2014, the Supreme Court heard the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., in which Hobby Lobby objected to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraceptive coverage to female employees. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby, allowing closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a regulation its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. It was the first time that the court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief, but it is limited to closely held corporations.

There are three central concepts derived from the 1st Amendment which became America’s doctrine for church-state separation: no coercion in religious matters, no expectation to support a religion against one’s will, and religious liberty encompasses all religions. There is also a three-pronged test to determine whether government action comports with the Establishment Clause, known as the “Lemon Test”. First, the law or policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose. Second, the principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.  It is my belief that the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer meets the first two criteria, but not the third.  I foresee future struggles, if this case is decided in favour of Trinity Lutheran, that would lead to far more ‘entanglement’ than would be economical or feasible for this nation, and would only add to the divisiveness that is so prevalent today.  Of course, I am not a Supreme Court Justice, so my opinion does not count, but this will be the first case that newly-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch will hear as a Supreme Court Justice.  There is little doubt how he will vote. The appeals court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case was joined by none other than Neil Gorsuch, who also wrote a separate concurrence. From what I have read, it appears that the outcome is likely to be in favour of the church, as only two of the Justices seemed strongly inclined to rule against.

My hope, if the court rules in favour of the church, is that the decision is written in such a way as to narrowly limit future cases of this nature.  It is one to watch.

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American Civil War Redux

The new American Civil War is not about slavery, but it contains undertones of racism.  It is not neatly divided along an imaginary line such as the Mason-Dixon line, but the divide is a much finer line, splitting homes, schools, families, and workplaces.  As was the case in the 1860s, there is no middle ground.  There are no soldiers in uniforms carrying guns, yet, but there are the media, both mainstream and social.  I have dubbed this war ‘The Great Divide’, and not since the civil rights era has this nation been so ideologically divided.

Trump’s dilemma, of which he is seemingly unaware, is how to unite the people of this nation.  Trump claims that he did not create the divide, and in that he is right.  America has always had a political divide; one that was probably at its smallest in the years immediately following World War II, when the nation came together in relief and the beginnings of a new prosperity.  But since the origination of the so-called Tea Party movement in 2009, the divide has been growing exponentially.  Ostensibly, the movement is in opposition to excessive taxation and government intervention in the private sector while supporting stronger immigration controls.  But beneath the surface, there are undertones of bigotry.  The beginning of the movement can be traced back to 19 February 2009, less than a month after the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president.

With the divisiveness generated by the dissatisfaction of those associated with the Tea Party movement, the gap between right and left, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, began to widen.  The right swung farther to the right and the left pushed back by going farther to the left.  By the end of President Obama’s first term in 2013, there was no longer any noticeable middle ground, no moderates who might have been able to help bridge the gap.

During President Obama’s second term, the gap continued to widen, with Republicans in Congress determined to throw up barricades to any and all of the President’s policies, even those they agreed with in theory.  The term, A House Divided, came to be the reality of the U.S. government, with Congress accomplishing less and less each year, and the President barely able to direct any meaningful domestic policy.

Enter the 2016 election and one narcissistic, demagogue candidate whose only hope to win the election was to “divide and conquer”.  So no, Donald Trump did not cause the divide, however he widened the gap by a very large margin.  He ranted, lied, cheated and stole, figuring either that he would clean up the mess later, or that it would eventually take care of itself.  But guess what?  Since taking office, he has only added to the gap, without the slightest attempt to bring the two sides together.  Now, nearly one-third of the way through 2017, there is more hatred, more disruptiveness, more bigotry, and more divisiveness than at any time in the last 50 years.

Which brings me back to my original point:  Donald Trump has many problems facing him, however perhaps the biggest one is the society that he helped split into two radically differing sectors.  Yet, instead of attempting to be more moderate, to take into consideration the needs and ideologies of both sides, he is as a bulldozer, plowing his way through any who do not agree with him.  Those in his camp applaud, while those outside the camp only get angrier and feel more and more marginalized.

A president needs to be much more than a politician.  He must also be a statesman and a diplomat, for he answers to ALL the people, not just those of his party, not just those who voted for him, and not just those who nod their heads in agreement every time he opens his mouth.  He represents We The People, every single man, woman and child living in this nation, and if he forgets that, he is doomed to failure.  Donald Trump has not forgotten that … he just never understood it to begin with.

We have seen much destruction and devastation within our country in the past three months, and if Trump persists in his goals to build a wall, to deport refugees, to ban immigrants, to defund environmental protections, to defund public schools, to destroy the ACA, and to strip civil rights from minorities, there will indeed be a civil war in this nation.  Where President Obama worked toward creating transparency in government, Trump has pulled the curtains shut tightly.  Where President Obama sought inclusiveness for all, Trump’s policies are clearly exclusionary.

Thus far, the only thing that has halted major outbreaks of violence throughout the nation is the expectation by those of us on the left that the investigations into the Russian connections of Trump and his gang will ultimately result in charges of treason, and Trump will be impeached.  In the event that those investigations are somehow stifled, or go by the wayside without satisfactory results, there will be an internal war in the United States.  There will be riots such as have not been seen in 50 years, families will be split asunder, and people will die.

I gave this much thought before writing this post, and searched my own soul, asking myself if I was being an alarmist.  The end result, after weeks of thought, is that no, I am not an alarmist.  I am, just as I have always been, a realist.  I talk to people on both sides of the invisible fence, and I know that both are spoiling for a fight. And the Great Divide goes well beyond politics, beyond even ideology … it goes to the core of who we are.

At this point, there are no simple solutions, no panaceas, and it will require more than our elected representatives can do to fix the problem. It will require that each of us, no matter which side of the partisan aisle we support, find it in our hearts to remember our humanitarianism, to be flexible, to be willing to meet the other halfway.  However, Trump and Congress must be the drivers of any possible solution. If they fail to understand the magnitude of the problem, if they ignore the problem and further divide the nation, if they discount We The People, they have only themselves to blame for being short-sighted.  They will pay the price at the polls next year, but we will pay in the streets this year.  Think about it.

A Toxin Is In The Air!

I am fairly reclusive, but I do venture out now and then.  I like to walk 3-4 miles in the mornings, weather permitting, and on Saturdays, the family and I usually go out for an early dinner, then run errands, and once a week I do go grocery shopping.  Otherwise, I am generally happy to stay at home.  I have concluded, as of this morning, it is no longer safe for me to venture outside the walls of my home, as there is something in the air … something that is apparently highly toxic and quite contagious!  I don’t have a scientific term for it, but I have heard some refer to it as ‘Kool-Aid’, while still others have called it “Ostrich-Syndrome.

I have been reading some of the results of this toxic, presumably air-borne disease, and it is even more frightening than a plague!  The effects of this disease appear to be blindness, deafness, inability to comprehend even the simplest statements, and intellectual regression.  The evidence is in the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll taken this past week.  Let me share a few of the results so you can see what I mean.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?

42% approve, 53% disapprove, and the other 5% were apparently sleeping.  But what is interesting about this is that 48% of males approve, while only 35% of females do.  And men think they are the smarter sex?  HAH!  The other thing that caught my eye was 45% of college grads approve of the job he is doing, and 37% of post-graduate students.  This seriously messes with my previous assumptions that only the un-and-under-educated could possibly support him.

Q: Would you say Trump is doing a better job as president than you expected, a worse job, or what? Is that much better/worse or somewhat better/worse?

35% say he is doing better than expected (What? How?), 35% say he is doing worse than expected, and 26% say his is doing just about as expected, and 4% were still asleep..  Now take a closer look at that 26%. It turns out, about half of those are people who voted for Trump!  Think about that one … they certainly had low expectations, yet they voted for him anyway?  Again, among college grads, 32% think he is doing better than expected, and of those with post-graduate degrees, 27% think so.

Q: Is Trump keeping most of his major campaign promises, or not?

44% said ‘no’, 41% said ‘yes’, 8% said ‘some, but not all’, and 7% had now fallen asleep.  (Would somebody please tell me which ones he has kept?  Not, mind you, that I wanted him to keep them, because they were all bad ideas, but still … ) Of those who voted for Trump, 84% say he is keeping his campaign promises.

Q: Do you think Trump has the kind of judgment it takes to serve effectively as president, or not?

41% answered ‘yes’, 56% answered ‘no’, and 3% remain sleeping.

Q: Do you think Trump has the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president, or not?

38% answered ‘yes’, 59% answered ‘no’, the rest snoozed on.  Now, I am struggling to understand the 3% who think he has ‘the kind of judgment it takes to serve effectively as president’, yet they do not think he has the ‘kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president’??? Does not one rather hinge on the other, or am I missing something here?

Q: Do you think Trump is honest and trustworthy, or not?

38% replied ‘yes’, 58% replied ‘no’, and 4% are now snoring.  How the heck can you reply ‘yes’ to this question and still sleep with a clear conscience?  And how can you be ‘undecided’?  The ‘man’ has told more lies than Pinocchio, yet 38% find him to be ‘honest and trustworthy’!  Perhaps they are using an ‘alternative vocabulary’?

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There are a total of 21 questions, and I strongly recommend you view the entire survey.  It is among the best interactive surveys I have seen, as you can click ‘detailed view’ on any question and then sort the results by a variety of criteria, such as education level, gender, party affiliation, race, age, religion, region, etc.  Take a few minutes to look closer at the results.

In every case, ‘white evangelical Protestants’ answered the questions in Trump’s favour by a significantly higher than average ratio.  My best guess on this is they are pleased with such things as his rollback of some LGBT rights, with Betsy DeVos’ intention to use federal monies to fund private (read ‘religious’) schools, and with the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.  I still find it disturbing … it is almost as though they are not even living in the same country as the rest of us.

Though his overall approval rating remains at a record low and he is the least popular president in modern times, I am nonetheless astounded at those who continue to support him, even though they say he is not ‘in touch with the concerns of most people in the U.S.’  There has to be something in the air, as I know people cannot truly have become this blind to reality in just the past year.

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Visit to a dying and ignorant planet

A fellow-blogger I recently discovered, GC, writing as Your Nibbled News, frequently makes some very astute observations. His post today is about our Earth vs Trump, and is well worth the read. The post needs no further introduction, as it speaks for itself. Thank you, GC, for this post and for permission to re-blog!

Your Nibbled News - 2017 YNN

Save the earth

“Facts which at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which has hidden them and stand forth in naked and simple beauty.”   —   Galileo Galilei

T H E   D I S H A R M O N Y  O F   I G N O R A N C E 

Galileo Galilei was an Italian polymath: astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician. He played a major role in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.

Donald J. Trump is the 45th  president of the United States: a billionaire, bully , egotist, tycoon who with a simple signature on a piece of White House foolscap has disavowed scientific evidence and caused the world to slip back into the dark ages where the world is once again flat and a  company’s profit sheet healthy and viable.

Of course his own planetary provincial…

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And Now It Is France’s Turn …

This Sunday, the people of France will head to the polls to elect a new president.  I have been following the election, though not as closely as I might have liked, given all the other issues that occupy my mind and time these days.  Though there are eleven candidates in the running, it seems clear that the results of the first round will come down to four: Marine LePen, François Fillon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Emmanuel Macron.

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Now, caught up as we are in our own Trumpian-drama here in the U.S., some might ask why the French election matters to us.  The simple answer is that this election may be the deciding factor in whether the EU survives the remainder of this decade. Whether you like the concept of globalization or not, it is a fact of life, it is here to stay, and the peoples of this earth are connected … what happens in France affects the U.S., and vice versa. So let us take just a few minutes to examine the election and the candidates, and what the results might mean, not only for France, but for the world. France is the world’s sixth-largest economy, is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and is a nuclear-armed power. It is also one of the U.S.’ oldest and most reliable allies. So yes, what happens in Sunday’s election matters to the U.S.

With eleven candidates in the running, it is highly unlikely that any will earn a majority of more than 50%, which means the top two candidates will be in a runoff election on 07 May.  Let us take a quick look at the two who are expected to score the highest:

LePen

  • Marine LePen – is rather a female version of Donald Trump, anti-immigration and promising to ‘make the country safer’ and also ‘more French’. She is a far-right conservative who inherited the leadership of the National Front Party from its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is known for his anti-Semitic views. For many, she is the candidate of pessimism, the choice of “unhappy France”, focusing on long-term high unemployment rates and the problems associated with immigration and the refugee crisis. A terrorist attack in Paris that killed one police officer on Thursday may also bolster Le Pen on Sunday, and one has to wonder if … well, I leave it at that.

Le Pen’s platform includes promises of radical, jarring change that starts with   rewriting the constitution; enforcing the principle of ‘national preference’ for French citizens in hiring as well as the dispensing of housing and benefits; reinstating the franc as the national currency rather than the euro, pulling out of NATO’s integrated command structure; and slashing immigration to one-tenth of its current annual level. In addition, she proposes to hold a ‘Brexit-like’ vote to remove France from the European Union (EU).

Yet while Le Pen has many ideas for the future of France, she has few plans for how to implement them.  If she does win the final vote, some say France should prepare for an administration defined by “constant crisis,” paralysis, and brutal economic blowback. Sound familiar?

Macron

  • Emmanuel Macron – is an independent centrist and the founder of the progressive En Marche! (On the Move!) party. He has been dubbed by some the “French Obama”, due to his charismatic style. Although Macron appears to be slightly leading the pack, his roles as an official in the Hollande government and as an investment banker have led to attacks that he is an elite globalist, deeply entrenched within the status quo. He is viewed as a centrist who wouldn’t radically alter the status quo.

Macron’s platform includes exiting the coal industry and focusing on renewable energy sources, job training, a reduction in the unemployment rate, reductions in corporate income tax rates, flexibility of labour laws, education reform and federal spending cuts.

Though Sunday’s results are largely anticipated to end in a runoff between LePen and Macron, it is worth a brief glance at the other two leading contenders who are not far behind in the polls:

Fillon

  • François Fillon – represents the  center-right Republican Party. Although Fillon led early polls, his popularity sunk amid corruption allegations. He refused to withdraw his candidacy despite calls from figures in his own party demanding he move aside. Fillon, seeing the potency of LePen’s platform among frustrated French voters, has taken an increasingly firm stance on the threat of importing terrorism — a move that could steal votes from Le Pen.

Melenchon

  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon – is the radical far-left creator of the France Unbowed movement. Often compared to former progressive presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Mélenchon fights for economic socialism, higher taxes on rich French, and an increased scope for government programs.

Around the globe, the ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ movement is gaining momentum.  Its two wins thus far have been Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  Both Austria and the Netherlands have rejected populist candidates Norbert Hofer and Geert Wilders.  How France will vote remains to be seen, but the main fear is that if LePen wins the election, the changes will lead to chaos, not only for France, but for the European continent and the U.S. as well.  We have seen the chaos created by both Brexit and Trump, and my hope is that the French will look at the UK and US and decide to reject the far-right, sticking with a more moderate candidate.

On Thursday, France suffered a terrorist attack whereby one police officer was killed and two others wounded.  Daesh quickly claimed responsibility.  It is interesting timing, coming just three days before the election, and leads to a few questions, since LePen is, similar to Trump last year and Wilders earlier this year, advocating a ban of Muslims and strong anti-terrorist measures, and an attack so close to election day may enable fear to influence the votes of some.  I will leave the questions to your imaginations.  The Guardian published an editorial titled The Guardian view on the French presidency: hope not hate, calling for voters to keep a cool head, not letting Thursday’s attack influence their vote.

The issues facing the candidates in France’s election are far more complex than I can cover here, and the candidates far more in depth, but I have tried to summarize briefly.  The election will certainly be worth watching, even for those who have no vested interest, but rather an indirect one.

The Games Little Boys In Men’s Bodies Play …

fishIt was just another week in the White House and beyond.  I almost feel guilty about writing some of the juvenile posturing going on with Trump & Friends … it’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel … I don’t even have to work at it.

First there was Trump’s poke at North Korea, when he said an “armada” was on the way to the Korean Peninsula, eliciting threats from the North Korean government.  Only trouble … the “armada” wasn’t actually heading to North Korea, but rather to the coast of Australia to play … war games!

Now the latest in the little boys’ games:

Russian Planes Buzz Alaska Four Nights in a Row  

My first thought, on reading the above headline was that perhaps they had seen Sarah Palin on her front porch watching them and had come buzzing by for a closer look at America’s #1 Bimbo!  But no, that cannot be right, for she is in Washington with former Idiot of the Week, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock.

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Nugent, Rock, Trump, Palin

So what was Russia so interested in at our back door?  Nothing.  Just like Trump’s blustery implied threat to North Korea, it is nothing more or less than a game of cat and mouse. It is a game that has been played for decades: I still think the pilots were hoping to get a closer look at Sarah sunbathing on her porch.

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“Over the Baltic, just off the coastlines of NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Russian military aircraft were intercepted 110 times by allied planes in 2016. That was a decrease from the 160 recorded intercepts in 2015, but it has been enough to keep both sides well-versed in the protocols of flying in close proximity.” Paul McCleary, Foreign Policy, 21 April 2017

But then there was Jeff Sessions who, for some reason unknown to mankind, at least the portion of mankind with a cerebrum, said this:

“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”  Okay, so Jeffrey does not have his hands on the playthings that Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-un have, but he is still one of their gang and has his own toys.  Unfortunately, he spent so much time playing with his toys that he failed History 101 and did not realize that Hawaii is not just some little ‘island in the Pacific’, but in fact is actually the 50th state in the nation and has been since 21 August 1959. The other thing he may have forgotten is that Judge Derrick Watson came up for confirmation in 2013, Sessions himself voted to confirm the judge to the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii.  Well, what the heck … Sessions is 70 years of age … the guy really cannot be expected to remember everything, now can he?

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An island in the Pacific:  Kaneohe, Oahu – 2010

A number of fun & funny comments stemmed from Sessions’ ignorance, but these were my favourites:

  • “Please don’t dis[respect] Hawaii as it gives us papaya, coffee, helicopter parts and the last competent president.”  
  • “We should let @jeffsessions know that New Mexico is a state too. Otherwise the wall might get built in the wrong place.”  laughing

And then on to Trumpie himself who is getting bored since the generals took his toys away … so he decided to play ‘bully’ over … cows!

cows “In Canada, some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others, and we’re going to strategy working on that. Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farm workers, it’s a disgrace.”  What, you may ask, did Canada do to draw the wrath of the playground bully?  Canadian dairy producers recently decided to collectively lower their prices in order to compete with cheaper, American imports. About 70 dairy producers in both Wisconsin and New York are reportedly affected by the new policy. Best I recall from my college economics courses, this is competitive business practice and does not signify “a disgrace”.

Donnie T., for his part, is threatening to “tear up” the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but he was threatening that even before the election, so … ho-hum.  What else is new? One comment I found humorous in the UK’s Independent was: “Don the Con is a great example as to why boys and girls should learn history and to read, write, and speak clearly. He lacks these basic building blocks and has unenviable analytical skills. The word “moron” comes close to capturing the extent of his abilities, although lumping him in with morons might be disrespectful to morons.”

As you can see, it has been a week of business at the playground, complete with toys and playground bullies.  Stay tuned next week for more fun and games …

The Case For Compulsory Voting …

There are a number of reasons that we in the U.S. find ourselves with a madman at the helm.  Certainly, the Russian connection played a role, though it remains to be seen just how much of a role.  James Comey, perhaps pressured by another, played a role.  Voter laws that disenfranchised members of certain groups had a role.  But perhaps the largest reason was voter apathy … many were simply too lazy or too disgusted with both candidates to take an hour out of their year to go vote.

Only about 25% of eligible voters voted for Donald Trump.  Let that one sink in for a moment.  About ¼ of citizens over the age of 18 voted for Trump, yet he now sits in the Oval Office.  Voter turnout in the 2016 election was only around 55%.* Barely half of all those who had the opportunity to make their voices heard chose to do so.  That, my friends, is pathetic. It should be criminal … and in some places it is.

In Australia, voting is compulsory for federal and state elections for citizens aged 18 and above. A postal vote is available for those for whom it is difficult to attend a polling station. Early, or pre-poll, voting at an early voting centre is also available for those who might find it difficult to get to a polling station on election day. Eligible citizens who fail to vote at a State election and do not provide a valid and sufficient reason for such failure, will be fined. The penalty for first time offenders is $20, and this increases to $50 if you have previously paid a penalty or been convicted of this offense.

While compulsory voting is not widespread around the globe, there are 22 countries with mandatory voting laws on the books, of which 11 actually enforce said laws.  In most cases, penalties for failure to vote are minimal, a slap on the wrist, but the law does compel most to vote.  Higher voter turnout leads to governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern. Let us look at some of the pros and cons of compulsory voting.

Pros

  • A higher degree of political legitimacy: the victorious candidate therefore represents a majority of the population.
  • High levels of participation decreases the risk of political instability created by crises or charismatic demagogues.
  • Removes obstacles for minorities and other marginalized groups who are typically disenfranchised by voter laws.
  • Makes it more difficult for extremist or special interest groups to get themselves into power or to influence mainstream candidates. If fewer people vote, then it is easier for lobby groups to motivate a small section of the people to the polls and influence the outcome of the political process.
  • Since campaign funds are not needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics decreases.

Cons

  • It is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • People do not wish to be compelled to vote for a candidate they have no interest in or knowledge of.
  • Certain religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, may be against political participation.

I believe the ‘pros’ far outweigh the ‘cons’, and the arguments against compulsory voting are easy enough to overcome.  A system for compulsory voting may include an exclusion based on religious beliefs.  I have no sympathy with the argument that people may not have knowledge of a candidate.  Perhaps 50, or even 20 years ago I might have, but today, with the touch of a button people can educate themselves about the candidates and their platforms.  To fail to do so is simply a matter of laziness.  When it comes to not liking either candidate, there may be an option on the ballot to select ‘none of the above’.  At least in this case, it is understood that the voter is making a statement, stating a preference.

As for the argument that it may infringe on a person’s right to free speech, I would claim that along with rights come responsibilities.  The right to vote is equally a responsibility to participate in the election of the people whose decisions will affect every person within the country.  Voter apathy is either not caring or being too lazy to spend one hour a year going to the polls to make your voice heard.  Voter fatigue, however, is something entirely different, and I believe that it was this, more than anything, that led to the low turnout in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The campaign began in earnest in July 2015, and from that time forward we were subjected to almost non-stop debates, media coverage, rallies, political advertisements, and divisive vitriol.  Campaigns and election seasons have become almost non-stop, as we have seen by the fact that Trump is already campaigning for re-election in 2020.  I would very much like to see a moratorium on all campaign advertisements and events until three months prior to the actual election.

One final argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it is likely to lead to more moderate, less extremist candidates winning office.  According to political scientist, Waleed Aly:

“In a compulsory election, it does not pay to energize your base to the exclusion of all other voters. Since elections cannot be determined by turnout, they are decided by swing voters and won in the center… That is one reason Australia’s version of the far right lacks anything like the power of its European or American counterparts. Australia has had some bad governments, but it hasn’t had any truly extreme ones and it isn’t nearly as vulnerable to demagogues.”

While I understand that, especially in today’s political climate, it is highly unlikely we will adopt a system of mandatory voting, I would be in full support of such a measure.  The current system under which only 25% of the population selected the leader whose chaotic leadership is wreaking havoc in our nation makes our system far less of a democracy than we believe. (I found an interesting breakdown by state of voter turnout in the 2016 election.)

Compulsory voting would solve only a part of the problem with U.S. elections.  The other two remaining issues that render our current system less than fully representative of the population are gerrymandering and the electoral college.  An overhaul of both these would certainly lead to more representative outcomes, but until every person who is eligible to vote chooses to do so, We The People will continue to be led by leaders who were not elected by the majority of the citizenry, but rather the most outspoken.

* Interestingly, the highest voter turnout in the past two decades was in 2008, when 62.2% of voters participated in the election of Barack Obama.