Mitch McConnell Likes Falling Bridges!

Throughout President Obama’s eight year tenure, one man stood out as the biggest hurdle to anything and everything Obama and his team proposed.  That man, of course, is the ignoble Mitch McConnell … the poster boy for why we need term limits.  McConnell’s power is far greater than it should be and when he pledges obstruction, you can count on him destroying everything in his path … even our lives.

Most recently, McConnell has pledged to do everything in his power to keep the infrastructure bill from seeing the light of day in the Senate.  Frank Bruni, writing for the New York Times, addresses the infrastructure bill and McConnell’s self-serving intended obstruction in his latest newsletter …


Mitch McConnell, Fickle Fiscal Prude

By Frank Bruni

Opinion Columnist

The numbers stagger me too.

President Biden is promoting more than $2 trillion for infrastructure (loosely defined). He signed legislation for $1.9 trillion for pandemic relief, economic stimulus and anti-poverty initiatives.

All of this comes after the Trump administration’s mammoth relief-and-stimulus spending in 2020, and all of this precedes what will almost certainly be yet more requests for additional trillions from the Biden administration.

We’re in uncharted waters. Experts offering assurances that all will be well — or even better than well — are giving us their best educated guesses. No one — not the cheerleaders, not the naysayers — truly knows how this will all turn out.

But here’s the thing: At some point you have to pick a path, choose a side, place your bet. In many instances the potential price of a flawed wager is almost certainly less steep than the cost of inaction. This instance, I think, is one of those. Maybe America will go too big in the end. But too small hasn’t worked for us.

Too small led to the economic dispossession and pessimism exploited by a junior-league demagogue and would-be despot who hurt this country gravely. Too small factored into our shameful and unsustainable degree of income inequality.

Too small was a culprit in America’s world-leading number of coronavirus infections and Covid-related deaths last year. By contrast, too big — or rather, big — was a partner in the speedy development and distribution of vaccines.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, has pledged to fight Biden’s infrastructure package “every step of the way,” as a sudden defender of fiscal discipline. I say “sudden” because his attachment to it over the past few years, before Biden took office, was as steady as a Slinky.

He was perfectly happy to run up the federal debt to stay in good with President Donald Trump, who wanted tax cuts and more gleaming military hardware. Now? We mustn’t leave crippling bills to our children and grandchildren! How horridly gluttonous! How downright immoral!

How utterly laughable. The truth about most politicians and spending is that they’re for it if the outlays bolster their electoral fortunes and against it if the other side may have more to gain. They’re not in thrall to some fixed economic ideology. They’re bound to partisan rivalries and enamored of ideological fashions of the moment.

Remember all of those fiscally principled Tea Party candidates who rocked the Republican Party and swarmed to Washington in 2010? That didn’t turn out to be any kind of revolution. Many of those candidates, along with most other Republicans, exiled their thriftiness when President Barack Obama exited the White House, then embraced Trump in all of his profligacy.

But back to infrastructure and Biden’s big-ticket legislation. Over recent decades of congressional sclerosis, America has fallen behind and imperiled its future prosperity. We’ve no choice but to catch up, and catching up, I believe, will cost more than McConnell is willing to agree to. It may cost even more than Biden is pitching.

Or not. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the choice is between overdoing and underdoing. That it’s that clear, that stark. I’d vote for overdoing. We haven’t tried that in a while.

And my read of the American mood right now is that people are frustrated with the status quo and the timidity of politicians too focused on one another to focus on everyone else. There’s a hankering for movement of some kind — of any kind. There’s an appetite for boldness. Let’s feed it.

We The People Lose Again! Thanks, Senators!

There was, for a time, a brief glimmer of hope that the federal minimum wage rate would be raised to a living wage of $15 per hour.  That hope has now had a stake driven through its heart and is DOA – Dead On Arrival.  Why?  I could offer up a lot of reasons, such as the Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has deemed it isn’t appropriate to tie the minimum wage to the coronavirus relief bill, but the bottom line is that it won’t fly because … the Republicans in Congress don’t want it to.

Note that some 75% of the people in this nation do want the minimum wage rate increased, and that includes 62% of Republican voters.  Also note that it has remained stagnant since 2009, twelve long years, while inflation has not.  But, of late, the Republicans in Congress do not choose to represent their constituents, the people of this country, but rather their wealthy donors, most of whom are corporate bigwigs who, quite simply, don’t want to be forced to pay their employees more than the $7.25 some of them now pay.  Here’s another way of looking at it:  If the minimum wage rate had been increased by only 65 cents each year since 2009, it would now be over $15 per hour.  Just 65 cents per year!

Still, with a tied Senate, and the tiebreaker being Vice President Kamala Harris, one might foolishly think that any piece of legislation raising the minimum wage, could be passed.  And it could, but for one little word:  filibuster.

A brief explanation of what the filibuster is:

Senators have two options when they seek to vote on a measure or motion. Most often, the majority leader (or another senator) seeks “unanimous consent,” asking if any of the 100 senators objects to ending debate and moving to a vote. If no objection is heard, the Senate proceeds to a vote. If the majority leader can’t secure the consent of all 100 senators, the leader (or another senator) typically files a cloture motion, which then requires 60 votes to adopt. If fewer than 60 senators—a supermajority of the chamber—support cloture, that’s when we often say that a measure has been filibustered. 

Senators who are against the bill being considered, but know their views are not shared by a simple majority, will refuse to end debate simply to force a filibuster, or a supermajority requirement for passage of the motion.  Rarely will you see a situation in an equally divided Senate where 60 of the 100 will agree on any damn thing!  But there are options, as New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie explains in his recent newsletter …


jamelle-bouie

The Senate has bound itself with fake restraints

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

I know I am more than a little obsessed with the Senate filibuster. But my preoccupation is not without reason. I think the filibuster — or to be precise, the de facto supermajority requirement for legislation in the Senate — is both bad on the merits and a symbol of the sclerotic dysfunction of our Congress.

In the face of multiple, overlapping crises — and at least one long-term existential crisis — our elected officials refuse to act, much less take steps that would give them freedom of movement in the legislature. Instead, they hide behind rules and procedure, as if they are powerless to change both.

All of this is apropos of the news that the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has ruled a proposed federal minimum wage hike as non-germane to the Covid relief reconciliation bill. Her ruling is not binding, but Vice President Kamala Harris, who also serves as president of the Senate, will abide by it. This means that if the Senate wants to increase the minimum wage, it will have to do so through ordinary legislation, making it subject to the supermajority requirement.

That means it isn’t going to happen, at least not anytime soon, but the point I want to make is that these are fake constraints. The Senate determines whether it will abide by the parliamentarian, and the Senate decides whether it wants to operate by supermajority. The Senate, and its Democratic members in particular, are handcuffing themselves and reneging on their promise to millions of American workers.

That Democrats are doing it to maintain their fragile coalition — to keep Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from sinking the entire package — is only a testament to how these fake constraints render the entire process of lawmaking a farce. I would rather the Senate take a simple up or down vote, and for individual lawmakers to show where they stand, than listen to some of the most powerful people in the country explain why they are bound by rules they could change at any time, for any reason at all.

Related to this, I want to share this 2010 Connecticut Law Review article titled “The Unconstitutionality of the Filibuster,” by the congressional scholar Josh Chafetz. The key point is this: A Constitution written in the name of “We the people” is necessarily one that cannot abide a supermajority requirement for the ordinary business of lawmaking. Here’s Chafetz:

The mere fact that our Constitution has some anti-majoritarian elements should not serve as a bootstrap by which any anti-majoritarian device is made constitutionally legitimate. … Rather than use some deviations from majoritarianism to justify still others, we should take note of the essential popular sovereignty foundations of our Constitution and insist that, in such a polity, minority veto cannot be piled atop minority veto indefinitely. The Constitution — our higher law — specifies certain deviations from majoritarianism. But the exceptions should not be allowed to swallow the rule, nor should antimajoritarian devices in higher law be used to justify antimajoritarian devices in ordinary law.

We can have a supermajority requirement for legislation or we can have meaningful self-government. We can’t have both.

Speaking Of The Minimum Wage …

I have a laundry list of things I hope to see happen under the Biden administration, and one of those at the top of the list is a significant increase in the federal minimum wage rate.  It has been stagnant for 12 years now, despite the fact that the cost of living has increased consistently, year after year.  The article I’m about to share was written a week ago, two days before President Biden’s inauguration, but the premise still stands, and I completely agree with its author, Paul Krugman writing for the New York Times.


Who’s Radical Now? The Case of Minimum Wages

Evidence has a well-known liberal bias.

paul-krugman-thumbLargeBy Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

  • Jan. 18, 2021

Most Americans, myself included, will be deeply relieved when Joe Biden is finally sworn in as president. But almost everyone has a sense of foreboding, not just because of the specific threat of right-wing terrorism, but also because Biden will take office in a political environment polluted by lies.

Most important, of course, is the Big Lie: the claim, based on nothing whatsoever, that the election was stolen. Has there been anything in U.S. history like the demand from leading Republicans that Biden pursue “unity” when they won’t even say publicly that he won fairly? And polls showing that a large majority of rank-and-file Republicans believe that there was major election fraud are deeply scary.

But not far behind in importance is what I think of as the Slightly Smaller Lie — the almost universal insistence on the right that the mildly center-left leaders of the incoming administration and Congress are, or at least are controlled by, radical socialists. This allegation was almost the entire substance of Republican campaigning during the Georgia Senate runoffs.

One response to this bizarre claim — and it’s not a bad response — would be a Bidenesque “C’mon, man. Get real!” But I’d like to do a somewhat deeper dive by focusing on one particular issue: Biden’s call, as part of his economic recovery plan, for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Republicans raising objections to Biden’s plan have singled out the minimum wage hike as a prime reason for their opposition, although we all know that they would have found some excuse for objecting no matter what he proposed. What’s striking about this fight — let’s not dignify it by calling it a debate, as if both sides were making real arguments — is that it shows us who the real radicals are.

For what counts as a radical economic proposal? One possible answer would be a proposal that flies in the face of public opinion.

By that criterion, however, Republican politicians are definitely the radicals here. Raising the minimum wage is immensely popular; it’s supported by around 70 percent of voters, including a substantial majority of self-identified Republicans. Or if you don’t believe polls, look at what happened in Florida back in November: even as Trump carried the state, a referendum on raising the minimum wage to $15 won in a landslide.

So the G.O.P. is very much out of step with the public on this issue — it’s espousing what is almost a fringe position. Oh, and it’s a position that is completely at odds with the claim by many Republicans that they’re the true party of the working class.

What if we define radicalism not by opposition to public opinion but by a refusal to accept the conclusions of mainstream economics? Here, too, Democrats are the moderates and Republicans the radicals.

It’s true that once upon a time there was a near-consensus among economists that minimum wages substantially reduced employment. But that was long ago. These days only a minority of economists think raising the minimum to $15 would have large employment costs, and a strong plurality believe that a significant rise — although maybe not all the way to $15 — would be a good idea.

Why did economists change their minds? No, the profession wasn’t infiltrated by antifa; it was moved by evidence, specifically the results of “natural experiments” that take place when an individual state raises its minimum wage while neighboring states don’t. The lesson from this evidence is that unless minimum wages are raised to levels higher than anything currently being proposed, hiking the minimum won’t have major negative effects on employment — but it will have significant benefits in terms of higher earnings and a reduction in poverty.

But evidence has a well-known liberal bias. Did I mention that on Friday, just days before their eviction, Trump officials released a report claiming that the 2017 tax cut paid for itself?

Voodoo economics may be the most thoroughly debunked doctrine in the history of economic thought, refuted by decades of experience — and voters consistently say that corporations and the wealthy pay too little, not too much, in taxes. Yet tax cuts for the already privileged are central to the Republican agenda, even under a supposedly populist president.

On economic policy, then, Democrats — even though they have moved somewhat to the left in recent years — are moderates by any standard, while Republicans are wild-eyed radicals. So why does the G.O.P. think that it can get away with claiming the opposite?

Part of the answer is the power of the right-wing disinformation machine, which relentlessly portrays anyone left of center as the second coming of Pol Pot. Another part of the answer is that Republicans clearly hope that voters will judge some Democrats by the color of their skin, not the content of their policy proposals.

In any case, let’s be clear: There is indeed a radical party in America, one that, aside from hating democracy, has crazy ideas about how the world works and is at odds with the views of most voters. And it’s not the Democrats.

min-wage

And In Other News — There’s A Pandemic!

In light of the storming of the Capitol by white supremacist terrorists one week ago today, much of the rest of the news has fallen by the wayside, not even seen by many.  For instance, on Saturday an Indonesian jetliner, a Boeing 737, crashed into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff on Saturday with 62 people aboard, all presumed dead.  Typically, this would have been headline news for several days, but in the U.S., it was barely a blip. 

One of the things that has dominated the news for nearly a year now is the coronavirus pandemic, yet for the past week it has received far less attention than the Capitol attack and Donald Trump’s role in it. Yesterday the U.S. recorded 4,281 deaths for the 24-hour period, yet we barely batted an eye.  This morning’s email contained my usual daily briefing by David Leonhardt of the New York Times with an update on the pandemic that I thought well worth sharing.


‘A game changer’

david-leonhardtLast week’s attack on the Capitol has understandably dominated the news. But I want to take a few minutes this morning to focus on the other vital story right now — the pandemic.

Below is a three-point summary of where we are now, with help from my colleagues covering the story and from a couple of charts. I’ll warn you up front: The situation is not good.

  1. The new variants are scary. Scientists are still learning about new versions of the coronavirus, including variants that emerged in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. The evidence so far indicates that they “are much more infectious than the Italian strain, which has been circulating here since February,” my colleague Donald G. McNeil Jr. told me. “That’s a game changer.”

Behavior that may once have been only moderately risky — say, airplane travel — may now be more so. The variants seem to be one reason cases worldwide are spiking:

pandemic-chart-1

  1. The mass vaccination campaign in the U.S. is off to a terrible start. The Trump administration promised that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by Jan. 1. Instead, fewer than three million were — and only about nine million have now had their shots.

The Deep South has the country’s lowest vaccination rates. But this isn’t just a Republican failure: California, Virginia and some other Democratic-run states have also been slow. (Here’s data for every state.)

Vaccinations will probably accelerate in coming weeks, especially because President-elect Joe Biden and his team seem much more focused on the problem than President Trump. Goldman Sachs forecasts that about one quarter of Americans will have received their first shot by April 1, half by June 1 and three quarters by mid-autumn. The coming vaccination speedup is the one good piece of good news right now.

  1. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. The virus is spreading so rapidly that hospitals are struggling to keep up. About 130,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid symptoms, more than double the number two months ago. The strain on hospitals raises the possibility that many patients will not receive the best available treatments.

Los Angeles has recently had to ration oxygen. And Esteban Trejo, an executive at a company in El Paso, Texas, that provides oxygen to temporary hospitals, told Kaiser Health News, “It’s been nuts, absolutely nuts.”

The recent data on cases and deaths is noisy, because diagnoses artificially slowed during the holidays, says Mitch Smith, a Times reporter who follows the numbers. Still, deaths have already hit a record this week — more than 3,000 a day, on average — and the recent explosion of cases suggests they may be heading to above 3,500 and perhaps to 4,000.

pandemic-chart-2

The bottom line: Biden will be taking office next week during the nadir of the coronavirus crisis. His administration will need to both accelerate vaccine distribution and persuade more people to change their behavior — and the second goal is even more urgent than the first.

Unless Americans start wearing masks more often and spending less time together in cramped spaces, many more people are going to die.

Telling It Like It Is — Reality

I remember 2015-2016 when I would ask friends and acquaintances what, exactly, they saw in this clown named Trump who was running for president.  Their answer was often an enigma: “he tells it like it is.”  Now, I was never able to pin them down on just what “it” was, but in their minds, they were convinced that whatever ‘it’ was, Trump told ‘it’ like ‘it’ was.  Well, we now know that he fed these people a bucket of bullshit, that honesty is not in his vocabulary, and that there is no ‘it’ that he understands well enough to talk about, but rather talks at the issues.  However, journalist Charles Blow is one who actually does ‘tell it like it is’, especially in his latest column in the New York Times


America Shocked Itself and the World

Charles BlowCharles M. Blow

29 October 2020

How could we have been so blind? How could we have been so naïve? How did we not believe that the worst was possible until we plummeted into it?

We didn’t believe that a demagogic tyrant-worshiper could rise to the presidency.

The founders of this country worried obsessively about the rise of a demagogue, and the power of foreign influence on our democracy. And yet somehow, over the years, after centuries of American presidents behaving in ways that at least demonstrated a fealty to the country and its institutions and the power of precedent and legacy, those fears waned to a whisper.

Having a demagogue, partially installed by a Russian disinformation campaign no less, who exalted our enemies in the world and hammered our friends, was somewhat unthinkable. This was America. We would only go so far. We might race up to the precipice, but we would never hurl ourselves into the abyss. Wrong.

With the election of Donald Trump, America did the unthinkable, shocking itself and the world: It put the most powerful country in the world under the control of a lying, grifting, shady carnival ­­­­­conductor. He had no experience in governance and no expertise. His entire life was a game of smoke and mirrors, double talk and double-dealing.

Even Trump, not a student of history or much else, didn’t seem to grasp the awesome power he possessed until he systematically started to test all the fences supposedly restraining him, only to realize that the only thing holding many of them up was customs and conventions. Most could be run through or pushed down.

It was like a scene in the film “Jurassic World” where the scientist created a hybrid, Frankenstein dinosaur because people got bored of the conventional ones. Well, the dinosaur was clever enough to break out of its cage and run through the park, killing everything in sight. As one of the scientists said: “You made a genetic hybrid. Raised it in captivity. She is seeing all of this for the first time. She does not even know what she is. She will kill everything that moves.” He continued, “She is learning where she fits on the food chain and I’m not sure you want her to figure that out.”

Trump realized the power of the presidency, that it was uniquely at the top of the food chain, and so began his rampage.

We didn’t believe that in this era we could have a president who could be so regressive on issues of white supremacy, white nationalism and xenophobia.

To be sure, there have been other presidents more racist than their predecessors.

Andrew Johnson assuming the presidency after Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. Although Lincoln had professed his white supremacy during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, he led the nation to emancipation and into Civil War in part over the issue of slavery. Johnson’s racist reconstruction plan after the war excluded Black electoral and governing participation, led to the rise of the Black Codes and led to his impeachment.

Lyndon B. Johnson being followed by Richard Nixon comes to mind. As a senator, Johnson had shepherded the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and as president he pushed through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. In addition, he nominated the first Black justice to the Supreme Court: Thurgood Marshall. Nixon on the other hand, was different. As Tim Naftali, an associate professor of history at N.Y.U., wrote last year in The Atlantic: “Nixon believed in a hierarchy of races, with whites and Asians much higher up than people of African descent and Latinos. And he had convinced himself that it wasn’t racist to think Black people, as a group, were inferior to whites, so long as he held them in paternalistic regard.”

But, in some ways, Americans came to see these occasional regressions as more minor — a hiccup, a stutter step in which the country took a small step back among much greater strides forward. We were not prepared for what Trump delivered: a generational retreat into darkness.

We had not seen a modern president so openly and blatantly court and even defend racists and xenophobes. We had not seen one refuse to clearly condemn white supremacist hate groups, instead retreating to a position of false obliviousness when condemnation was demanded. We have not seen a recent president who would stoop so low as to separate immigrant children from their parents, apparently with no plan to reunite them, as a matter of unwavering policy.

These are but two examples. But the list is legion. I could enumerate them until my fingers blistered. But they would all illustrate the same point: We, America, let our guard down for a campaign cycle, believing, surely, that the most qualified woman to ever run would defeat the least qualified man to do so. We didn’t vote with the intensity the emergency required. And in doing so, we allowed the country to be dragged to the brink of ruin.

We are now living the reality that the founders feared and that women, minorities and immigrants hoped was an artifact of former times.

Words Of Wisdom …

This morning, I came across an OpEd by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat that I found to be both extremely sensible and also encouraging.  In essence, he urges us to calm down, stop imagining the worst, that Trump will refuse to play by the rules and attempt to remain in office despite his election defeat, and focus instead on what needs to be done to help the Biden presidency succeed.  Easier said than done, but I think he’s right … see what you think.


There Will Be No Trump Coup

A final pre-election case for understanding the president as a noisy weakling, not a budding autocrat.

ross-douthat-thumbLargeBy Ross Douthat

Opinion Columnist

Oct. 10, 2020

Three weeks from now, we will reach an end to speculation about what Donald Trump will do if he faces political defeat, whether he will leave power like a normal president or attempt some wild resistance. Reality will intrude, substantially if not definitively, into the argument over whether the president is a corrupt incompetent who postures as a strongman on Twitter or a threat to the Republic to whom words like “authoritarian” and even “autocrat” can be reasonably applied.

I’ve been on the first side of that argument since early in his presidency, and since we’re nearing either an ending or some poll-defying reset, let me make the case just one more time.

Across the last four years, the Trump administration has indeed displayed hallmarks of authoritarianism. It features egregious internal sycophancy and hacks in high positions, abusive presidential rhetoric and mendacity on an unusual scale. The president’s attempts to delegitimize the 2020 vote aren’t novel; they’re an extension of the way he’s talked since his birther days, paranoid and demagogic.

These are all very bad things, and good reasons to favor his defeat. But it’s also important to recognize all the elements of authoritarianism he lacks. He lacks popularity and political skill, unlike most of the global strongmen who are supposed to be his peers. He lacks power over the media: Outside of Fox’s prime time, he faces an unremittingly hostile press whose major outlets have thrived throughout his presidency. He is plainly despised by his own military leadership, and notwithstanding his courtship of Mark Zuckerberg, Silicon Valley is more likely to censor him than to support him in a constitutional crisis.

His own Supreme Court appointees have already ruled against him; his attempts to turn his voter-fraud hype into litigation have been repeatedly defeated in the courts; he has been constantly at war with his own C.I.A. and F.B.I. And there is no mass movement behind him: The threat of far-right violence is certainly real, but America’s streets belong to the anti-Trump left.

So if you judge an authoritarian by institutional influence, Trump falls absurdly short. And the same goes for judging his power grabs. Yes, he has successfully violated post-Watergate norms in the service of self-protection and his pocketbook. But pre-Watergate presidents were not autocrats, and in terms of seizing power over policy he has been less imperial than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

There is still no Trumpian equivalent of Bush’s antiterror and enhanced-interrogation innovations or Obama’s immigration gambit and unconstitutional Libyan war. Trump’s worst human-rights violation, the separation of migrants from their children, was withdrawn under public outcry. His biggest defiance of Congress involved some money for a still-unfinished border wall. And when the coronavirus handed him a once-in-a-century excuse to seize new powers, he retreated to a cranky libertarianism instead.

All this context means that one can oppose Trump, even hate him, and still feel very confident that he will leave office if he is defeated, and that any attempt to cling to power illegitimately will be a theater of the absurd.

Yes, Trump could theoretically retain power if the final outcome is genuinely too close to call.

But the same would be true of any president if their re-election came down to a few hundred votes, and Trump is less equipped than a normal Republican to steer through a Florida-in-2000 controversy — and less likely, given his excesses, to have jurists like John Roberts on his side at the end.

Meanwhile, the scenarios that have been spun out in reputable publications — where Trump induces Republican state legislatures to overrule the clear outcome in their states or militia violence intimidates the Supreme Court into vacating a Biden victory — bear no relationship to the Trump presidency we’ve actually experienced. Our weak, ranting, infected-by-Covid chief executive is not plotting a coup, because a term like “plotting” implies capabilities that he conspicuously lacks.

OK, the reader might say, but since you concede that the Orange Man is, in fact, bad, what’s the harm of a little paranoia, a little extra vigilance?

There are many answers, but I’ll just offer one: With American liberalism poised to retake presidential power, it needs clarity about its own position. Liberalism lost in 2016 out of a mix of accident and hubris, and many liberals have spent the last four years persuading themselves that their position might soon be as beleaguered as the opposition under Putin, or German liberals late in Weimar.

But in reality liberalism under Trump has become a more dominant force in our society, with a zealous progressive vanguard and a monopoly in the commanding heights of culture. Its return to power in Washington won’t be the salvation of American pluralism; it will be the unification of cultural and political power under a single banner.

Wielding that power in a way that doesn’t just seed another backlash requires both vision and restraint. And seeing its current enemy clearly, as a feckless tribune for the discontented rather than an autocratic menace, is essential to the wisdom that a Biden presidency needs.

September Surprise?

No, my friends, it is NOT fake news.  Yesterday afternoon, the New York Times published a report about Trump’s taxes for the past decade or so.  Not surprisingly, we have learned from this report that Trump is a lousy business manager, that he has lied and cheated to keep from paying taxes, and that his businesses are profiting from his position as president, among other things.

Trump immediately held a press conference to deny deny deny, but his denials fell flat.

According to the report:

  • In both 2016 and 2017, Trump paid exactly $750 in federal income taxes. Look back at your own taxes for those two years … I bet you paid a significantly higher amount in taxes, though you aren’t a billionaire or even a millionaire.  In 2016, my daughter, a nurse earning under $50,000 per year, paid $3,431 in federal income taxes, and in 2017 she paid $3,969.  She paid more than 5 times what Donald Trump, a billionaire, paid.
  • Trump had paid no taxes at all in 10 of the 15 years prior to his election. Think about that one for a minute, folks … he paid no taxes … not a single dime … 2 out of every 3 years.  If you’re not angry yet, then please go get a cup of coffee to wake yourself up!
  • In 2010, Trump claimed and received a tax refund of $72.9 million. The IRS has reportedly been auditing him over this and he stands to owe more than $100 million to We the People if when they find his refund requests were fraudulent.  $72.9 million of our money went to this jackass!
  • He has claimed as business expenses … his personal/family residences, the cost of the aircraft he uses to shuttle him between residences, and even $70,000 to style his “hair” … what hair??? He wears a critter atop his bald pate!
  • And speaking of ‘hair’, his ‘daughter’ Ivanka has been paid over $100,000 to be his hair and makeup ‘artist’. So, she gets paid to make his skin turn orange and place the critter on his head???  And he uses his payment to her to reduce his tax burden?
  • Trump is often hailed by his followers as a “successful businessman”, yet his golf courses alone have lost more than $315 million, and his Washington hotel, which opened in 2016, has already lost more than $55 million.
  • Within the next four years, Trump has $421 million in loans coming due, much of which he is personally responsible for.

A good businessman?  Hardly.  It should come as no surprise, for we already knew that Trump has declared bankruptcy six times due to his inability to pay his massive debts.  A good conman is more like it, for he conned some 40% of this nation into believing his outsized lies.  The Times promises there will be more to come about Trump’s taxes and financial records, and even that will be only the tip of the iceberg.  This conman has been living a life of luxury … paid for by other people’s money.  We always suspected it, I always said that if he had nothing to hide, he would have put the issue of his finances to bed by releasing his tax returns as every other president has done for decades, but now we have proof.  Stay tuned for more …

Claytoonz


In other news, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, a lifetime Republican, penned an OpEd in The Philadelphia Inquirer stating that …

“I will cast my vote for Joe Biden on Nov. 3. It will be my first vote for a Democratic candidate for president of the United States. But it is not the first time I have said ‘no’ to Donald Trump. I urge my fellow Pennsylvanians to join me.

Donald Trump has proven over these last four years he is incapable of such leadership. It is not within him. He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead. 

He sows division along political, racial and religious lines. And he routinely dismisses the opinions of experts who know far more about the subject at hand than he does — intelligence, military, and public health. Our country has paid dearly in lives lost, social unrest, economic hardship and our standing in the world.

Vice President Biden and I both know that supporting his candidacy now certainly won’t dissuade me from speaking out later when I disagree with him. But we surely will do so with civility and respect, not with childish name-calling and Twitter tirades.

I believe the responsible vote is for Joe Biden. It’s a vote for decency. A vote for the rule of law. And a vote for honest and earnest leadership. It’s time to put country over party. It’s time to dismiss Donald Trump.”

It’s time to put country over party … that says it all, my friends.  Maybe it’s also time for the Republican Party to reassess its values, or lack thereof, to put the people of not only this country, but the world, ahead of corporate greed and profit.  Think about it.

Humour: A New Weapon In The Arsenal

I came across this piece by Nicholas Kristof yesterday and thought it quite fitting!  Rather like a spoiled toddler, Trump thrives on attention, even negative attention, but the one thing he cannot stand is to be made fun of, to be mocked.  And let’s face it … there is much to mock from his inability to string together a coherent sentence to that creature residing atop his head!


To Beat Trump, Mock Him

The lesson from pro-democracy fighters abroad: Humor deflates authoritarian rulers.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeBy Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

Can critics of President Trump learn something from pro-democracy movements in other countries?

Most Americans don’t have much experience confronting authoritarian rulers, but people around the globe are veterans of such struggles. And the most important lesson arguably is “laughtivism”: the power of mockery.

Denouncing dictators has its place, but sly wit sometimes deflates them more effectively. Shaking one’s fist at a leader doesn’t win people over as much as making that leader a laughingstock.

“Every joke is a tiny revolution,” George Orwell wrote in 1945.

American progressives have learned by now that frontal attacks aren’t always effective against Trump. Impeaching Trump seemed to elevate him in the polls. A majority of Americans agree in a Quinnipiac poll that Trump is a racist, yet he still may win re-election. Journalists count Trump’s deceptions (more than 20,000 since he assumed the presidency) and chronicle accusations of sexual misconduct against him (26 so far), yet he seems coated with Teflon: Nothing sticks.

America has had “Baby Trump” balloons, “Saturday Night Live” skits and streams of Trump memes and jokes. But all in all, Trump opponents tend to score higher on volume than on wit. So, having covered pro-democracy campaigns in many other countries, I suggest that Americans aghast at Trump absorb a lesson from abroad: Authoritarians are pompous creatures with monstrous egos and so tend to be particularly vulnerable to humor. They look mighty but are often balloons in need of a sharp pin.

Even before it collapsed, the moral authority of the Soviet Union had been hollowed out by endless jokes. In one, a secret policeman asks another, “What do you think of the regime?” Nervously, the second policeman replies, “The same as you, comrade.” At that point the first one pulls out handcuffs and says, “In that case, it is my duty to arrest you.”

Are the stakes too serious to laugh? Does cracking jokes devalue a democracy struggle? I don’t think so. One of the most successful examples of laughtivism came two decades ago when university students took on the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Milosevic committed genocide and isn’t an obvious target of humor — but the students’ wit helped topple him.

A typical stunt: They taped a picture of Milosevic on the side of a barrel and invited passers-by to take a swing at it with a baseball bat. The resulting photos of the police “arresting” the barrel and hauling it away were widely publicized and made Milosevic seem less mighty and more ridiculous. In 2000, Milosevic was ousted and handed over to an international tribunal to be tried for war crimes.

Here in the United States, we’ve also seen the power of wit. One of the most effective critics of “Boss Tweed” and Tammany Hall in the 19th century was Thomas Nast, the cartoonist. And Senator Joseph McCarthy’s nemesis, and the man who coined the term “McCarthyism,” was the cartoonist Herblock.

(Don’t tell my editors, but cartoonists, now an endangered species, are often more incisive social and political critics than columnists.)

In South Africa, the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro skewered President Jacob Zuma so deftly and often that he was arguably one reason Zuma was forced to resign in 2018. Zuma sued Shapiro, whose response was a cartoon in which Zuma rages that he will sue for “damage to my reputation.” Shapiro coolly responds, “Would that be your reputation as a disgraced chauvinist demagogue who can’t control his sexual urges and who thinks a shower prevents AIDS?”

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak was toppled the same year in part because of the work of another cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, who persevered despite prosecutions and physical attacks.

That’s one gauge of the power of humor: Dictators fear mockery. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has intervened this year alone to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution or threatened with death.

In Russia, the dissident Aleksei Navalny uses withering sarcasm in his efforts to bring democracy to Russia. Navalny, now recovering in Germany from what apparently was an attempt by Russian officials to murder him with Novichok nerve gas, responded to Russian suggestions that he had poisoned himself:

“I boiled Novichok in the kitchen, quietly took a sip of it in the plane and fell into a coma,” he wrote on Instagram. “Ending up in an Omsk morgue where the cause of death would be listed as ‘lived long enough’ was the ultimate goal of my cunning plan. But Putin outplayed me.”

Leaders like Trump who pose as religious are particularly easy to skewer, as Iranians have shown in their use of humor to highlight the hypocrisy of their own mullahs. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is still nicknamed “Crocodile” because of a cartoon many years ago by Nik Kowsar, who now lives in exile in America because hard-liners arrested him and threatened to murder him.

No, I won’t be drawing cartoons or trying stand-up. I know my limitations. But I’m frustrated by the lack of traction that earnest critiques of Trump get, and I think it’s useful to learn lessons about how people abroad challenged authoritarians and pointed out their hypocrisy with the simple precision of mockery.

I’m also frustrated that some forceful criticisms of Trump sometimes come across to undecided voters as strident or over the top. People like me are accused of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, and our arguments are dismissed precisely because they are so fervent.

Something similar happens in many countries. Citizens who aren’t political are often wary of pro-democracy leaders who are perceived as radical, as irreligious or as overeducated elitists. But those ordinary citizens appreciate a joke, so humor becomes a way to win them over.

“The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators,” wrote Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while in prison. He is best-known for his eloquent essays calling for democracy, but he argued that humor is also essential in undermining authoritarian rulers.

Liu generously added — and this may be relevant to a polarized country like the United States — that satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

“A clown needs less revenge than a monster does,” he observed.

Your Money Or Your Life???

Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman’s OpEd in yesterday’s New York Times needs no introduction, for it speaks for itself.  We would all do well to listen to what he says.


Trump’s Motto: Your Money or Your Life

The president claims you have to make a choice, but you don’t.

thomas-l-friedman-thumbLargeBy Thomas L. Friedman

Opinion Columnist

Whenever I talk about Covid-19 or climate change with skeptics, I use a simple analogy: Imagine that your child is sick with a disease and you decide to take her to 100 different doctors to get multiple opinions — and 99 doctors give you the same diagnosis and prescribed treatment and one tells you that there’s nothing to worry about, that your child’s disease will “disappear … like a miracle, it will disappear.”

What parents in their right minds would follow the advice of the doctor with the one-out-of-100 diagnosis?

This, alas, is no hypothetical. This, alas, is actually the most important question facing voters in choosing our next president. Are you ready to trust your own child’s and the country’s health to the guy who holds the one-out-of-100 view on both climate change and Covid-19? He being Dr. Donald Trump, founder of Trump University, where he apparently earned a B.S. in B.S.

It is stunning to me how many conservatives want to go with the doctor with the one-out-of-100 diagnosis, since doing so is anything but conservative. It’s Trotskyite radical.

And to riff off Trotsky for another moment, Republicans may not be interested in Mother Nature, but Mother Nature is interested in them. Both climate change and Covid-19 have brutally elbowed their way into our lives in the past year, and for the same reason: We have been stressing our ecosystems to their limits and beyond.

We’ve done this by invading wilderness areas and extracting wildlife carrying viruses never borne before by human beings and by emitting CO₂ that is heating the planet, amplifying storms that brought four months of rain in four hours in Florida and wildfires of epic proportions to the West Coast.

Joe Biden wants to proceed with more caution, and Trump wants to throw caution to the wind. That’s why the widely respected science journal Scientific American did something last week for the first time, declaring: “Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in our 175-year history — until now. The 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death. We urge you to vote for health, science and Joe Biden for President.”

The choice could not be more stark or important. Trump’s implicit motto when it comes to Covid-19 and environmental protection is always the same: Your money OR your life?

Which do you value more? Biden’s motto has been your money AND your life — you should not, and do not, have to choose between them, if we are wise and follow science.

How so? On Covid-19, for Trump, it’s jobs or masks, opening school or masks, social distancing or Big Ten football, science or church. Everything is black or white. And so is the result: So many Americans are jobless today and watching their kids learning remotely from home because Trump pitted masks against in-classroom schooling, masks against jobs, masks against indoor restaurant dining and masks against gathering for church services.

And too many Americans chose jobs and school and church out of desperation, and they’ve already paid the price or will pay it.

Biden, by contrast, is a unifier. He’s argued that if everyone wears a mask, practices social distancing and gets tested, we can BOTH protect many more jobs AND protect many more lives. Masks are not at war with jobs; they are the driver and protector of job growth in a pandemic. Masks are the vehicle to opening schools and other indoor activities — not their enemy. Just ask the Germans, Singaporeans or South Koreans.

Ditto when it comes to the environment and climate change. Trump wants everyone to believe that protecting nature means unemploying people. It’s clean air OR economic growth. It’s gas guzzlers OR unemployment. He’s forever pitting jobs against nature.

Biden stands for the unity of jobs AND the environment, the unity of jobs AND mitigating climate change. A clean, green economy equals better health AND more and better jobs. And the beauty is this: All that Biden has to do to prove his point is read aloud from the business and science pages:

Oct. 15, New Scientist: “The green economy has grown so much in the U.S. that it employs around 10 times as many people as the fossil fuel industry — despite the past decade’s oil and gas boom.”

June 30, Bloomberg.com: “Tesla Inc.’s market value has surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp.’s in a sign that investors are increasingly betting on a global energy transition away from fossil fuels.” Tesla makes electric cars, batteries and solar products.

Aug. 25, CBS News: “Exxon Mobil, which joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1928, is being removed from the blue-chip stock market index. Its replacement: enterprise software company Salesforce.com.”

April 6, Recharge: “Renewables accounted for nearly three-quarters of global power capacity additions last year — half of which was switched on in Asia, according to latest figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency.”

Sept. 17, Fortune editor Alan Murray: “Lululemon C.E.O. Calvin McDonald told me yesterday his company now has more U.S. stores closed due to environmental risk — fires in the West, hurricane in the Gulf, etc. — than due to Covid-19.”

If climate change turns out to be a less serious problem than predicted, and we pursue all of the above anyway, we will be like an athlete who trains for the Olympics, but the Olympics are postponed. No problem. We’ll just be that much healthier. Our air will be cleaner, our industries and vehicles and homes and industries will be so much more efficient and our economy will be the world leader in the clean power technologies that every country will want to import from us — climate change or not — as we add nearly a billion people to the planet by 2030. Yes, there will be nearly one billion more people on the planet in 10 years.

On the other hand, if we treat climate change like a daydream and it proves to be a nightmare, we will be in real trouble as a species.

So, I hope Biden goes into next week’s debate and just says: “My fellow Americans, you don’t hire an arsonist to put out forest fires. You don’t hire a divider to heal racial wounds. You don’t hire a poisoner to clean up your water supply. And most of all — most of all — you don’t hire someone who pits nature against jobs and jobs against health at a time when we so clearly need them all and we so clearly can have them all.”

When Good People Don’t Act …

Over the last couple of years, I have wondered how so many of my friends could seemingly ignore what was happening in this nation.  It is as if they are oblivious to anything that is outside their own little world, as if they were wearing blinders and could not see the atrocities happening in our nation, but instead focus exclusively on what’s for supper, what concert they will go to next weekend, the cute little things their kids or grandkids said yesterday.  As if … nothing has changed, life goes on, it isn’t their problem that kids are kept in cages, that more than a thousand people die every day from the coronavirus, fires are raging on the West Coast, climate change is taking a steep toll and we are doing less than nothing to stop it, and there is a madman at the helm who will soon drive this ship into an iceberg.  None of that seems to bother far too many of the people I know.  Where is the outrage?  Do they simply not care?

The following by Charles Blow in yesterday’s New York Times mirrors my own thoughts, only much more eloquently than I can state them.


When Good People Don’t Act, Evil Reigns

Stop thinking that the horrors of the world will simply work themselves out.

Charles BlowCharles M. Blow

By Charles M. Blow

Opinion Columnist

I have often wondered how major world tragedies and horrors were allowed to unfold. Where were all the good people, those who objected or should have? How did life simply go on with a horror in their midst?

How did the trans-Atlantic slave trade play out over hundreds of years? How did slavery thrive in this country? How was the Holocaust allowed to happen? How did the genocides in Rwanda or Darfur come to be?

There is, of course, nearly always an explanation. Often it is official policy; often it is driven by propaganda. But I’m more concerned with how people in the society considered these events at the time, and how any semblance of normalcy could be maintained while events unfolded.

It turns out that our current era is providing the unsettling answer: It was easy.

As I write this, nearly two hundred thousand Americans have died — many of them needlessly — from Covid-19, in large part because the Trump administration has refused to sufficiently address the crisis, be honest with the American people and urge caution. Instead, Trump has lied about the virus, downplayed it, resisted scientists’ warnings and continues to hold rallies with no social distancing and no mask requirements.

Things are poised to get worse: Models now predict that the number of Americans killed by the virus could double between now and Jan. 1. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington:

“We expect the daily death rate in the U.S., because of seasonality and declining public vigilance, to reach nearly 3,000 a day in December. Cumulative deaths expected by Jan. 1 are 415,090; this is 222,522 deaths from now until the end of the year.”

And yet, Americans still flock to Trump rallies, Republicans continue to defend his pandemic response and it is not clear that he will be defeated in November. We are, in many states, back to restaurants and bars, schools and churches, gyms and spas. It’s not as if we don’t know that there is a deadly virus being transmitted through the air, but it seems as though many Americans, weary of restrictions, have simply made their peace with it.

We have a climate crisis that continues to worsen. Storms are getting stronger. Droughts are severe. Rivers are flooding. The sea level is rising. And yet, we don’t do nearly enough to stop it and may not do enough before it’s too late to do anything.

Right now much of the West Coast is ablaze with hellish scenes of orange skies, and yet too many of us entertain climate change deniers, or, perhaps worse, know well the gravity and precariousness of the situation and still haven’t changed our habits or voted for the candidates with the boldest visions to save the planet.

Right now, China has detained as many as one million mostly Muslim citizens, in indoctrination camps, hoping to remold many into what The New York Times called “loyal blue-collar workers to supply Chinese factories with cheap labor.”

And yet, the world does little. Many look away. Life goes on.

This is how these catastrophes happen — in full sight — and people with full knowledge don’t revolt. People sometimes think that the issue is far away, or if it’s not, that it’s too big and they are too powerless.

They think provincially, or even parochially, concerned with their own house, their own street, their own community.

“It’s too bad that those children are in cages, but I can’t worry about that now, the clothes in the dryer need folding.”

“It’s too bad that an unarmed Black man just got shot by the police, but I can’t worry about that now, the yard needs mowing.”

I guess in some ways this impulse is self-protecting, preventing the mind and spirit from becoming overwhelmed with angst and rage. But, the result is that evil — as a person or system — rampages, unchecked, taking your personal laissez-faire as public license.

If you don’t complain, you condone.

But this mustn’t be. Stop thinking of yourself as weak or helpless. Stop thinking that things will simply work themselves out. Stop thinking that evil will stop at the gate and not trample your own garden.

Gather the energy. Gather your neighbor. Fight, vote, email, post. Do all you can to stand up for the vulnerable, for the oppressed, for the planet itself. Don’t let history record this moment as it has recorded too many others: a time when good people did too little to confront wickedness and disaster.

As Edmund Burke wrote in his 1770 “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

But you may be more familiar with another quote often attributed to Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”