Are Republicans Stupid? Immoral? Or Both?

The poll of roughly 1,000 adults aged 18 and over was conducted June 14-15, shortly after President Trump’s historic summit with the North Korea dictator. According to the results, 19 percent of Republicans indicated they had a favorable view of Kim . . . . That compared slightly better than the perception of Pelosi, who had a 17 percent favorable, 72 percent unfavorable rating among self-identified Republicans. – The Daily Beast

That’s right: Republicans have a more favorable opinion of the dictator who’s tortured and executed his own people for political reasons, and who has held innocent Americans and others against their will (in one case, resulting in the death of an American man), than they do of one of the leaders of the opposition party, Ms. Pelosi. That’s how far it has gone. That’s how stupid or immoral some of these people are. Continue reading

When the Goal Is to Win, We All Lose

Congressman Trey Gowdy has conducted himself in a highly partisan manner (although I assume some rabid Republicans might have approved of his unnecessarily divisive and highly offensive conduct). Indeed, based on the standards of conduct any parent would try to instill in their children, it’s fair to say Mr. Gowdy’s conduct has been cringeworthy. Shameful. Despicable.

But no matter what you might think of him and the damage he’s done to America, it’s worth your time watching this interview of Congressman Gowdy. It’s a reminder of what our political parties are all about and the kind of government the good people of the Unites States are willing to accept.

In Gowdy’s own words, “the goal is to win.” The best interests of the country be damned.

This is where we are today. It does not bode well for the future of our country.

Will the Day Come When the Second Amendment Is Repealed?

John Paul Stevens, a retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, argued, in a New York Times op-ed today, that Saturday’s demonstrators should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment. Whether he’s right from a strategic political perspective, I’m not so sure (actually, I suspect he’s not). But I am confident he’s right from a legal and constitutional perspective.

For reasons outlined in the former justice’s op-ed, the Second Amendment was never intended to afford the rights ascribed to it by the modern conservative court in the Heller case. It was a political not a constitutional decision — albeit hardly the first or the last. So if the framers’ intent was the issue, then a repeal of the amendment would bring us closer to the 1791 adoption of the Bill of Rights than the Heller decision. But, of course, it’s well established by now that conservatives care about original intent only when it serves their cause; they are quick to discard it at all other times.

I suspect the day will come when the Second Amendment is repealed. But it might be a long time in coming. I’m not sure I’ll see it happen.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Supreme Court permit greater regulation of weapons, for even rabid conservative jurists are uncomfortable with blood on their hands.

The Absurdity of American Democracy In the Era of Big Money

I’ve just about had it with all the whining and complaining (which, I admit, is ironic considering the complaining I’m doing here). Events in Washington and in many of our state capitals prove, over and over again, just how corrupt and ineffectual the system is. And the degree to which money has coopted the system. And just how far we are from a functioning democracy.

And so we complain. And whine. And bitch. And point the finger at everyone. Except ourselves that is.

We seem oblivious to the connection between money and the output we receive. We tolerate a system of campaign finance that is certain to be a corrupting influence. And we keep electing people to offices despite their proven track record of ineptitude. And despite their venile behavior. And cruel words.

To make matters worse, many of us have allowed ourselves to be corrupted by a naive, self-destructive ideology. We willingly accept as true absurd claims made by people who are interested in nothing other than their own self-interest. We seem to have lost the traits of skepticism and discernment. We seem to have lost any sense of how a democracy is supposed to work.

And so we are where we are.

But this too shall pass, I believe. Eventually, we shall come to a more enlightened era, when people realize the inherent dangers of unconstrained greed and power. When people understand the work that’s necessary to build and sustain a society that yields the best quality of life for everyone. When people recognize the absurdity in calling people winners or losers. When people no longer react favorably to acts of cruelty.

I don’t know when that day will come. I may be gone from this earth by the time it comes. But it will come.

In the meantime, we should accept responsibility for that which we have created. And stop pointing the finger. The system we have is the system that is the predictable, inevitable product of that which we value. And are willing to tolerate.

Today, money rules. So stop feigning surprise.

You Get To Keep Your Stupid Red Hat Though

Josh Brown recently tweeted:

If they get this through, in its current form, will mark the complete and final takeover of America by corporations. You get to keep your stupid red hat though.

They’re getting it through. Not in its original form, but pretty close. Close enough to represent “the complete and final takeover by America by corporations.” But at least everyone gets to keep their stupid red hats.

The new tax law will result in a massive transfer of wealth to corporations and their shareholders from ordinary citizens and their progeny. If you’re fortunate enough to own financial assets, you may be one of the winners (provided you don’t live in a Blue State and you’re wealthy enough not to have earned income). If you don’t own a substantial amount of financial assets, then you and your kids are screwed. Especially your kids. And their kids. Any temporary benefits working and middle class people will realize from these cuts are likely to be offset by higher interest rates, a weaker dollar, future cuts to the Social Security and Medicare programs, and escalating health care and education expenses.

The national deficit will balloon as the result of this new law, which means your descendants will be inheriting an even larger debt burden, further eroding their standard of living. I guess people think we can simply add this to our tab and never have to pay it off. Or perhaps they’re just not thinking.

America’s tab of public and consumer debt already tops $40 trillion, including:

  • $20.5 trillion of federal government debt;
  • $14.6 trillion of residential mortgage debt;
  • $1.5 trillion of student debt;
  • $1.2 trillion of state government debt;
  • $1.1 trillion of auto loan debt;
  • $1.0 trillion of credit card debt; and
  • a staggering amount of unquantified debt represented by unfunded public pensions and entitlement programs (the present value of unfunded entitlements has been estimated to be $49 trillion).

The outgoing Fed chair, Janet Yellen recently said, “I would simply say that I am very worried about the sustainability of the U.S. debt trajectory. It’s the type of thing that should keep people awake at night.”

Up at night?! No one in this White House and none of the Republicans in Congress seems to be losing any sleep. To the contrary, they’re not troubled in the least; in fact, they’re content to make the situation worse, just so they can give more money to their wealthy donors (and themselves and their own families).

This decision to give huge tax cuts to corporations that are already highly profitable, awash in cash and valued at high multiples by the market, and to massively cut wealthy people’s taxes, convinces me more than ever that few people care about the future. Apparently, today is all that matters. Our children and grandchildren are the forgotten ones in all of this. Such parental narcissism is, quite frankly, disgusting. So much for being concerned about the seventh generation.

Former Reagan budget director David Stockman hit the nail on the head:

At the end of the day, the GOP tax bill boils down to borrowing more than $1 trillion from the American public in order to pay higher dividends to wealthy private stockholders.

Another stalwart Republican, Steve Schmidt, who managed the 2008 presidential campaign for his party, wrote:

This tax bill demonstrates, once again, the total collapse of all and any rigor around the policy making process in the GOP congress. It is built on a foundation of lies. It adds more than a trillion to the debt. No real conservative should vote for this.

A foundation of lies indeed. Pennsylvania Avenue and the streets around the Republican controlled Congress are rivers of lies these days. So much for draining the swamp. It’s worse than ever. The only thing that still surprises me is the number of people who are willing to believe the lies, including those who will be most hurt by the lies. Gullibility seem to know no bounds.

Back to Josh Brown, a Wall Street type (financial adviser and CNBC regular) whom I quoted at the outset. Brown wrote the following the morning after the Senate passed the tax cut bill. As usual, Josh gets it right.

There’s a possibility that last night’s preliminary step toward final legislation will take the number one issue facing America and balloon it into Rubenesque proportions. Economic inequality, which largely drove voters to lose their minds and cotton to candidates like Bernie Sanders and Trump, could explode over the next few years as a result of fiscal stimulus targeted almost precisely at the part of the economy that doesn’t need it. The fact that the people who do need the most help could end up paying for that is perhaps the sickest, most cruelly ironic joke that’s ever been told.

Unless you believe in magic, which I don’t. And remember, I’m speaking here against my own immediate self-interest. I’m not stupid and this isn’t virtue signaling – I genuinely believe the economy is better when participation is broader and not as concentrated as it’s been. Obama attempted to solve this but he failed. Trump is not even trying. He’d sign anything brought to his desk at this point, just to say he did it.

Indeed, this bill will exacerbate wealth inequity, further hurting the very people who have placed their hopes in Mr. Trump. It is, as Josh writes, “perhaps the sickest, most cruelly ironic joke that’s ever been told.”

And now watch: I guarantee you the Republicans will be coming for your Social Security and Medicare.

The events surrounding this new bill further convince me of the power of propaganda (as if I didn’t know). And of the dangers of slick charlatans and demagogues and people’s willingness to embrace them if conditions are right. And of the dangers of willful ignorance.

But it is what it is. At least I get to keep my Pittsburgh Pirates cap. And I don’t have to wear one of those stupid red hats.

Liberalism At Its Worst

Some time ago I wrote about Conservatism At Its Worst. It’s now time for me to share my brief critique of liberalism. To be more precise, I’m talking about liberalism in the present era, in America.

My mind immediately returns to 2009-10 when I was serving as Pennsylvania’s Secretary for Community and Economic Development. The worst of the financial crash and what is commonly referred to as the Great Recession was upon us. Unemployment was high, asset values had plunged and economic activity was anemic at best.

To my mind, the first priority for government was obvious: jobs. People need work, for both financial and psychological reasons. Yet it didn’t seem to me like the Obama Administration and Democratic-controlled Congress shared this view.

Rather, they pushed their policy agenda as though unemployment wasn’t sky high. Their stimulus bill was woefully inadequate and misdirected. They used the opportunity to advance the causes of special interests that had co-opted the party, and seemed oblivious to fostering conditions for job-creating economic activity. They pushed through a deeply flawed health care bill designed more to placate drug companies, insurance companies and shareholders than to address the basic problem. And the Administration did nothing to hold accountable the white-collar elites (criminals who long ago learned the benefits of campaign contributions) who had brought the financial system to its knees through their fraudulent and deceitful practices. In short, the party that is supposed to be the party of the working class proved it had become captive to Wall Street and progressive special interest groups — i.e., to money.

The Republicans were even worse, favoring, as they always seem to, fat cats and the top 1 percent. But I don’t expect party leaders on the Right to care about the working class. I do expect progressives or liberals to care. Suffice it to say they came up short.

I wasn’t totally surprised by any of this. For quite some time, I realized national politics had become a money game, and that those without the money to play didn’t have much of a say in the matter. And that Congress was filled with many very small people — people devoid of vision and ideas but skilled at getting elected and reelected by artful manipulation of the electorate and rampant gerrymandering.

My other grips about liberalism concern its simplistic solutions. Too often, they think the solution to every problem is to increase taxes and redistribute money (not that there isn’t a role for redistribution mechanisms). Too often liberals seem blind to the insidious effects of handouts and oblivious to the role of incentives. And seem delusional about the basic character of humans. In that vein, they seem to think (or pretend, I’m not sure) that people are better than we are. Liberals’ solutions often seem premised on the integrity and good character of all (sans fat-cats, of course). It’s fantasy. At its worst, it’s simply vote buying. And paternalistic and condescending.

The Left also went all in with coastal urbanites and largely abandoned rural, Southern and Rust Belt voters, as well as those who didn’t embrace the party’s social agenda. Again, liberalism lost sight of the centrality of meaningful work and respect for all people, even the ones who might hold views the elite (rich, highly educated people) or social liberals deem deplorable.

Finally, liberalism embraced globalism and militarism as if it were puppets of multinational corporations and the defense establishment. Again, no one seemed to care about the workers. Or the growing inequities of proportions unseen for 100 years.

None of this is to suggest a progressive’s task is an easy one. The world is a harsh and unjust place. Unfairness and injustice permeate our systems, structures, institutions and laws. Protectionism and redistribution mechanism reward the privileged.

I share the progressive’s desire to foster a more just world and not to allow people’s lust for more wealth and power to dominate the public square unopposed. And I share liberals’ realization that unconstrained capitalism yields much injustice and sows the seeds for civil strife. But I don’t share the view that the solution is simplistic redistribution, or solved by identity politics.

Justice work is a complicated task, one fraught with unintended consequences for well-intended solutions. Which is fine, for the degree of difficulty is but a challenge not an impenetrable barrier. Yet too often the progressive’s solution is geared not to the best outcome; rather, too often it is geared to the “solution” that will ensure the uninterrupted flow of financial support to the party or reelection of the incumbent, or to solutions that merely supplant one problem for another. In short, today progressives suffer from that which also afflicts the Right: lack of character, vision and compassion.

At its core, the election of the mean-spirited megalomaniac who presently occupies the White House was, in part, the consequence of liberalism’s abandonment of the working class and their inability to advance solutions that appealed to the working class as opposed to only the special interest groups that lined the party’s coffers. People could sense the political leaders cared more about raising money to ensure their own reelection than the people. Reacting by electing a charlatan was foolish, yet it was predictable.

In the world of capitalism, there is capital (ownership) and labor. The Right, despite its artful and successful strategy to convince workers that its policies are pro-labor, are all about capital. If liberalism is to reclaim the mantel of labor, it must stop demonizing capital and recognize the crucial and important role it plays in advancing the general welfare. And it must advance solutions that don’t do more harm than good and that aren’t designed simply to move money from one hand to another.

In short, liberalism must represent a path forward grounded in a bold, practical vision grounded in respect and dignity for all, including those born without privilege and who simply want to be treated fairly and not be forgotten or constantly beaten down by the hammer of wealth and privilege.

I’m not holding my breath.

Calling Out The Charlatan (Installment 1 in the Saga of the Trump Administration)

img_3210I took this photo recently when visiting family in Las Vegas. The building carries the name of the man some (albeit a minority) of my fellow citizens chose to be our new president.

Saturday, in a style reminiscent of communist regimes and the propaganda tactics they so effectively employed, he and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, blatantly lied to America.

Misinformation is a game they play well. Continue reading

What I Hate About Politics

I hate politics. Mainly, I hate it because it has failed us miserably and now it seems to be bringing out the worst in us. It’s even brought us to a place where we’re willing to install a crude, narcissistic megalomaniac in the White House. That’s how bad it’s gotten.

But even without our new president-elect, it was bad. Very bad. In fact, that’s how he got elected. It was like a hail-mary pass. Even people who don’t like or respect him voted for him because it was “worth the shot.” There wasn’t anything to lose in their minds, for there was no good alternative. And they were right: there wasn’t a good option. Indeed, the same old, same old neoliberal policies and militarism of the Clintons weren’t the answer (although it was a far less reckless gamble than electing Mr. Trump).

But why? How did we get into this mess? How could politics fail us so? Why do I hate it so? Continue reading