All posts by Sheila

Denial Sends A Different Message Than Trump Thinks It Does

In yesterday’s post, I described Donald Trump’s obsession with Barack Obama, and the way his resentment over Obama’s clear superiority drives so much of Trump’s embarrassing behavior. I attributed that obsession to Trump’s racism–a racism displayed once again in his appalling tweets telling four Congressional women of color (three of whom were born in the U.S.) to go “back” to “their” countries .

His racism explains a lot, but Trump’s personal deficits and appalling immaturity also contribute to his disastrous Presidency.

Charles Blow recently focused on that immaturity in a column titled “Trump Detests Apologetic Men.” He began by describing Alexander Acosta’s public “explanation” of his recently revealed sweetheart deal with pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

It remains to be seen whether Acosta’s news conference performance will save his job. As The New York Times reported, “Mr. Acosta’s appearance before cameras was seen as a crucial test of whether he will keep his job, with an audience of one as President Trump watched and weighed a decision.”

But that’s the thing that stops you: For Trump, this isn’t about the charges or the children. For him, this is about how men perform denial. In the mind of the misogynist, a man’s word is the weightiest thing in society, even when he’s lying. One’s test of survival and prosperity isn’t what you say, but how you say it. It isn’t what you do, but how you defend or deny it.

As Blow notes, it isn’t the facts of this or any other case, that matter to Trump.

It doesn’t matter if you attack the country Trump is sworn to defend, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin did, if you are “extremely strong and powerful” in your denial.

It doesn’t matter if you are accused of giving the order to hack up a Washington Post columnist’s body with a bone saw, as the Saudi Crown Prince is.

It doesn’t matter if you are accused of sexual impropriety, assault or rape — Brett Kavanaugh, Rob Porter, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes. Just deny, deny, deny. Admit nothing.

If a man strongly, passionately denies something, then he has performed his function, he has risen to — or descended to — the moment.

The column included a quotation from Trump that reveals his utter inability to understand the way in which his behaviors are seen by normal, adult persons:

According to Bob Woodward last year, Trump talked about a “friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women.” When counseling that friend on how to respond, Trump said, “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women.” Trump continued: “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead. That was a big mistake you made.”

In Trump’s world, apologies and punishments are for the weak. They are for losers.

Of course, that’s the exact opposite of reality in grown-up land. People who refuse to admit their mistakes, who refuse to own their own errors–who refuse to apologize when they’ve misbehaved or even inadvertently offended someone–are actually seen (accurately, I would argue) as immature and insecure.

That’s because defensiveness is childish. It is children who react to accusations by denying they did whatever it was, or by insisting that whatever was said or done was right and the accuser is wrong, no matter the evidence to the contrary. Children must be taught to recognize that everyone makes mistakes, and that people will think better of them, not worse, if they own their behaviors.

People who’ve actually grown up know that it is evidence of maturity to say “I was wrong. I’m sorry” when an apology is indicated.

Of course, some people never do grow up. There’s a reason people so often compare Donald Trump to a third-grader, and it isn’t just his vocabulary.

 

 

It’s Never His Fault

If there is one area of consistency in the chaos of Trump World, it’s this: no matter what the problem is, it isn’t his fault.

The black guy did it.

Juanita Jean has one of the latest manifestations: As she writes, “I knew Fox News would find a way to blame Barack Obama for Epstein’s plea deal with Acosta.”

Apparently, a Fox commentator insisted that “Bob Mueller knew about this.” (The relevance of that assertion escapes me, but whatever…) He then went on to say that Acosta’s plea deal was “from 2008, under a Democratic administration.”

As Juanita Jean points out (and a television pundit–even one on Fox– should know) Obama wasn’t elected until six months AFTER the plea deal. “But, as we know, Obama has magical powers to make things happen even before he was born in Kenya.”

This is part of a pattern among Trump supporters–a pattern set by Trump himself. It isn’t enough to reverse every policy Obama’s administration put in place, irrespective of its merits. It’s necessary to respond to any problem, any challenge, by blaming Obama for it and insisting that he, faultless Trump, has improved the situation.

For example, Trump continues to insist that the horrific family separation policies put in place by his administration were really attributable to Obama, multiple fact checkers to the contrary:

According to FactCheck.org, “previous administrations did not have a blanket policy to prosecute parents and separate them from their children.” It was after the Trump administration announced its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy in April 2018, in which everyone who illegally entered the U.S. was referred for criminal prosecution, that thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents.

After he ordered and then aborted an air strike on Iran, Trump went on a Twitter rant blaming Obama for the tensions with Iran–tensions that escalated following Trump’s abrogation of the pact Obama had negotiated, a pact that had cooled those tensions.

He has behaved this way from the beginning: When millions of women took to the streets to protest him, shortly after he took office, Trump blamed Obama:

President Trump said Tuesday morning he believes former President Obama “is behind” nationwide protests against the new administration’s policies, taking an unusual swipe at his predecessor.

More recently, despite the fact that he has been President (okay, he’s occupied the Oval Office) for two and a half years, he blamed Obama for Turkey’s recent purchase of Russian weapons.

My favorite example of “the black guy did it” was an interview I saw (if someone has a link to the original, please post it) in which a relatively young MAGA hat wearer was talking about 9/11, and demanding to know where Obama was. “I’d really like to know why we didn’t see him responding when the planes hit.” Of course, few people had even heard of Barack Obama in 2001, when George W. Bush was in his first full year as President.

The only thing Trump and his base don’t blame on Obama is the one thing for which Obama is undeniably responsible: the economy Trump inherited.

These examples–and plenty of others (just google Trump blames Obama)–vividly demonstrate two things: Trump’s childish inability to take responsibility for his own actions and mistakes; and his racist obsession with his predecessor.

You can almost hear him brooding: How dare that black man be so much smarter, classier and (most egregious of all) more admired than I am?

Sane Americans are also brooding–about the incalculable damage this sorry excuse for a human is doing to our country and our planet, and especially about the racist reactions to the election of his predecessor that motivated his base and propelled him to the Oval Office.

Follow The Money

Want to know what America’s real priorities are? Easy; just follow the money.

Some of what we find when we examine federal spending isn’t a surprise. We’ve all watched as the Trump Administration has eviscerated the EPA, for example, so cuts and rollbacks there may infuriate but not surprise us. After all, Trump has dismissed climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” eliminated subsidies for clean energy, and slapped tariffs on solar panels.

Given this administration’s well-known bias against science, evidence and clean energy–not to mention Trump’s fondness for the dying coal industry–I shouldn’t have been surprised by the general thrust of a recent study of America’s federal subsidies for fossil fuels  by the International Monetary Fund.

But I was.

Because the amount of the subsidy was staggering.

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuelsin recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

The study defines “subsidy” very broadly, as many economists do. It accounts for the “differences between actual consumer fuel prices and how much consumers would pay if prices fully reflected supply costs plus the taxes needed to reflect environmental costs” and other damage, including premature deaths from air pollution.

Since most observers consider the U.S. defense budget to be hopelessly bloated, the fact that fossil fuel subsidies exceed that budget is absolutely mind-blowing.

The study concluded that if fossil fuels had been fairly priced in 2015–i.e., priced without those direct and indirect subsidies by the federal government– global carbon emissions would have been reduced by 28 percent, and deaths from fossil fuel-linked air pollution would have been cut in half.

People (like me) concerned about the environment may not have recognized the enormity of the fossil fuel subsidies, but most of us were pretty sure that a lot more federal dollars go to support fossil fuels than are directed to programs incentivizing the development of clean, alternative energy. The IMF study confirmed that suspicion.

And then there’s the extent to which our financial support of fossil fuels exceeds our investment in education. Seeing those numbers was another gut punch. After all, Americans give lots of lip service to education; we’ve had “education Presidents,” and it is the rare politician who doesn’t make education a prominent part of his or her platform.

Nevertheless, according to Forbes Magazine, that same IMF study determined that the U.S. spends ten times more money propping up the fossil fuels that drive climate change than we spend on education.

Globally, fossil fuels receive 85% of all government subsidies. What if we diverted just a portion of the U.S. subsidies and used that money to improve public education?

Virtually every candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination has expressed concern about climate change, and an intention to combat it. Voters can determine just how committed they are to the environment by asking whether the candidate plans to continue the obscene subsidies that waste our tax dollars, pad the bottom lines of immensely profitable oil and gas interests, and prevent us from effectively addressing an existential threat to the planet.

Just think what we could do if we redirected a substantial portion of the defense budget (as, interestingly, the Department of Defense itself has advocated) and entirely terminated the unnecessary, wasteful and arguably immoral subsidies for fossil fuels.

 

 

Adventures In Privatization

For a considerable period of time in the late 1900s, privatization of government functions was all the rage. (Not that it was true privatization; as I’ve noted before, actual privatization  requires that government completely withdraw from whatever activity was involved, leaving its provision entirely to the private sector.)

What public entities call privatization is almost always contracting-out or outsourcing–providing a service through a third-party surrogate rather than through government employees.

Enthusiasm for the practice has abated considerably, as research has steadily deflated the claims made by proponents. Contracting out doesn’t usually save money, for one thing, and the ability of government to monitor those with whom it contracts has proved to be less than ideal, to put it mildly.

Also, in far too many situations, contracting has become the new patronage.

There are certainly public functions that lend themselves to outsourcing, but thanks to the American penchant to go “all in” on the latest management fad, contracting has often proved disastrous. From poor outcomes, to cost overruns, to outright corruption, analyses have been increasingly negative.  A recent research project adds one: government outsourcing decreases employee diversity.

A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia revealed that when governments contract work out to private companies, fewer  African-American, Hispanic, and female employees are hired.

Over the past twenty years, private contracting has become a popular way to improve efficiency in the public sector.

“Increasingly, services that were once performed by public employees, are provided under contract by private firms,” explained study author J. Edward Kellough, a UGA professor of public administration and policy in the School of International and Public Affairs. “The question,” he added, “is whether this growth in contracting has been detrimental to minority and female employment.”

That’s not nearly the worst of it.

The Trump Administration has been contracting with private prison companies to house refugees at our southern border. Private prisons are arguably the most striking misuse of government outsourcing, and their operation of border facilities has raised understandable outrage.

I’ll let Paul Krugman take it from here.

Is it cruelty, or is it corruption? That’s a question that comes up whenever we learn about some new, extraordinary abuse by the Trump administration — something that seems to happen just about every week. And the answer, usually, is “both.”

What about the detention centers at the border?

And the same goes for the atrocities the U.S. is committing against migrants from Central America. Oh, and save the fake outrage. Yes, they are atrocities, and yes, the detention centers meet the historical definition of concentration camps.

One reason for these atrocities is that the Trump administration sees cruelty both as a policy tool and as a political strategy: Vicious treatment of refugees might deter future asylum-seekers, and in any case it helps rev up the racist base. But there’s also money to be made, because a majority of detained migrants are being held in camps run by corporations with close ties to the Republican Party.

Krugman then sums up the whole sorry experiment with “privatization.”

Privatization of public services — having them delivered by contractors rather than government employees — took off during the 1980s. It has often been justified using the rhetoric of free markets, the supposed superiority of private enterprise to government bureaucracy.

This was always, however, a case of bait-and-switch. Free markets, in which private businesses compete for customers, can accomplish great things, and are indeed the best way to organize most of the economy. But the case for free markets isn’t a case for private business where there is no market: There’s no reason to presume that private firms will do a better job when there isn’t any competition, because the government itself is the sole customer. In fact, studies of privatization often find that it ends up costing more than having government employees do the work.

Nor is that an accident. Between campaign contributions and the revolving door, plus more outright bribery than we’d like to think, private contractors can engineer overpayment on a scale beyond the wildest dreams of public-sector unions.

Krugman makes an even more important point about accountability.

As he says, if you outsource garbage collection, it’s pretty easy to determine whether the garbage has been collected (although I’d note it’s not so easy to tell where it’s been dumped…). But if you hire a private company to do something the public can’t see–like prisons or migrant camps– it’s easy to hide poor performance and generous overpayments to political cronies.

And running a prison, which is literally walled off from public view, is almost a perfect example of the kind of government function that should not be privatized. After all, if a private prison operator bulks up its bottom line by underpaying personnel and failing to train them adequately, if it stints on food and medical care, who in the outside world will notice?

And of course, the administration and its cronies profit from these facilities. It’s hard to disagree with Krugman’s final observation:

Every betrayal of American principles also seems, somehow, to produce financial benefits for Trump and his friends.

 

Shortsighted Self Interest

I’ve been struck by three observations I’ve come across in as many days.

The first was a comment by someone I don’t know, made in response to a post by a Facebook friend. The friend had (surprise!) criticized Trump; the comment challenged him to identify any way in which he, personally, had been harmed by Trump’s policies. The thrust of the comment was “you haven’t personally experienced a problem, so your criticism is unjustified.”

The very next day, I was watching “Morning Joe” while I was on the treadmill. The panel members were analyzing (okay, pontificating over) the Democratic Presidential field. During the discussion, Scarborough asserted that voters are ultimately motivated by their own interests, by what they believe the candidate will do for them, personally, not by “big ideas” or “abstract” policies or principles.

I wasn’t sure why, but both of these opinions nagged at me. Then my older granddaughter posted a meme that clarified the reason for my discomfort: it said I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.

That post crystalized what bothered me.

There clearly are people–probably more than most of us want to admit–who base their actions and their votes solely on their perceived personal self-interest.  That self-interest may be financial, but in the age of Trump, as I’ve repeatedly noted, it is more often cultural.

Such people cast their ballots for candidates they believe will favor their tribe, however they define that tribe. It might be bankers or fossil-fuel investors–but it is more often white Evangelical Christians or white people generally.

Other people, not so much.

Are children being caged at America’s southern border? Well–as a Fox “personality” put it–they aren’t our children. Is the minimum wage far below the level of a living wage, with the result that working Americans need to hold down two or more jobs just to pay the rent? Well, I’m doing okay, so why should I care? Are millions of people unable to access even minimal healthcare? I have health insurance; if others don’t, it’s probably their own fault.

It isn’t just that these people are a lot like “it’s all about me” Donald Trump–less obvious or crude about it, perhaps, but similarly self-engrossed. It’s that there is a great irony in their perception of where genuine self-interest lies.

As Alexander Pope wrote, “no man is an island.” He was so right.

If my neighbors have the plague, and it goes untreated, I’m likely to catch it too. If they’re too impoverished to maintain their properties, the value of my property will suffer a decline. If those who live in my city are unable (or unwilling) to pay reasonable taxes, my car will be damaged by driving on streets filled with potholes, there won’t be enough police to keep my family safe, and numerous public amenities that I use and enjoy will be shuttered or limited. If significant numbers of children in my city are consigned to substandard schools, live in homes with un-remediated lead paint and/or contaminated water, my business will have problems finding both workers and customers.

The (very obvious) point is that my well-being depends upon an extensive physical and social infrastructure. Humans are inextricably interdependent– which is why enlightened self-interest requires attending to those “abstract policies” that affect the wellbeing of others.

Enlightened self-interest requires us to care for others.

The fatal flaw of plutocracy is not that some people have more than others. It is that some people, when they have a great deal, no longer see themselves as part of an interdependent social fabric, no longer realize that the problems of their fellow-citizens inevitably and adversely affect them.

They’re wrong–and their wake-up call is coming.