If Jobs Were Really What Mattered….

I’m one of the people who watched with disbelief as the GOP tax “reform” bill was loaded up with provisions that any sentient human would know to be counterproductive. There are two possible explanations why lawmakers might support this disastrous legislation, and they are not necessarily incompatible: the sponsors of this piece of excrement really believe–in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary–that it will spur economic growth, or they are obeying the demands of their donors/masters.

I say the two explanations aren’t necessarily incompatible because humans have an infinite capacity for self-delusion. It is entirely plausible that our elected Representatives and Senators prefer not to acknowledge, even to themselves, that they have been bought and paid for, and instead have convinced themselves of the merits of policies that have ushered in disaster every time they’ve  been tried.

In fact, as I have watched members of a once-responsible political party disintegrate into delusion and corruption, I’ve noticed their growing preference for make-believe rhetoric over reality. Ryan and McConnell, especially, have been displaying a decidedly Trump-like belief that assertions can shape reality–that saying it will make it so.

Increasingly, Republicans in both the legislature and Administration live in La La Land.

Case in point: the repeated Republican refrain about job creation. Listening to the rhetoric, you’d think that the retention and creation of jobs was really an important focus of GOP policy. (Of course, if you’d been listening to Republican rhetoric since well before Reagan, you’d have thought deficits were a concern– in the wake of the tax bill, we can see how bogus that was.)

So–how’s that “jobs focus” thing working out?

Well, here in Indiana, Carrier Corporation is continuing its move to Mexico, despite Trump’s boasts about preventing the move, and despite the company’s extraction of some seven million dollars in “economic development” money from the state.

And from The Hill, we learn

An analysis of Labor Department data by the labor coalition Good Jobs Nation found that more than 93,000 U.S. jobs have been eliminated since Trump’s election due to foreign trade.

That’s roughly on par with the previous five years, which saw an average of 87,500 jobs per year eliminated.

The coalition’s analysis also found that the number of jobs outsourced by federal contractors has actually risen since Trump was elected. Since November 2016, some of the biggest federal contractors have offshored some 10,269 jobs, making up 11 percent of trade-related layoffs, compared to 4 percent in the previous five years.

It is becoming more apparent by the day that Trump’s loyal core–around 30% of the electorate–desperately wants to believe even his most obvious and embarrassing lies. They’re like the boyfriend who really does realize that his lover is cheating, but who nevertheless talks himself into believing her increasingly unlikely alibis. Trump loyalists desperately want to believe that this pathetic buffoon can reverse global realities, make “great deals” in which business enterprises and other countries will miraculously ignore their own interests, and–most important of all– take the country back to a coal-fired past in which white Christian males were dominant (and could grab p**sy with impunity).
Just like that boyfriend, they want him to keep lying to them.

Jerusalem

From climate deniers who base their rejection of science on biblical passages, to the “pastors” who excuse Roy Moore by pointing out that Joseph was older than Mary (I am not making that up), to bakery owners who defend bigotry as “sincere religious belief,” America is awash with zealots who debase both authentic religion and core American values.

Which brings me to the Evangelical Christian Zionists who represent a disproportionate percentage of Trump supporters.

It is tempting to see Trump’s decision to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem, a break with decades of American Middle-East policy, as a gift to the Evangelicals who believe that, in order to bring on the Rapture, Jews must be gathered in a secure Holy Land. (Lest anyone mistake this belief for pro-Jewish sentiment, they also believe that Jews who do not accept Jesus will burn in hell for eternity.)

However, The Brookings Institution has a different explanation.

A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll (among a national sample of 2,000 American adults, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough November 1-6 and released at the Brookings Institution last Friday) found that 59 percent of Americans said they preferred that Trump lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, said he is in fact leaning toward Israel. Our poll also shows that 63 percent of all Americans oppose moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 percent of Republicans.

Furthermore, Evangelicals aren’t all of the “Christian Zionist” variety.

Two-thirds of Evangelicals say Trump’s policy is already leaning toward Israel—a proportion that’s even higher than that of the rest of the population. Even on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the support is hardly overwhelming: While 53 percent of Evangelicals support the move, 40 percent oppose it.

So why is he taking a step that knowledgable advisors like Mattis are said to oppose, a step certain to destabilize one of the world’s most dangerous regions? Why take a step that will make his (ridiculous) promise of a “deal of the century” bringing lasting peace to the Middle East impossible?

From the outset, most experts understood that the “deal of the century” was most likely beyond reach and that its collapse may lead to President Trump lashing out with such moves as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and giving the green light to expand Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The fact that the White House may take a controversial step on Jerusalem now, before he even has a chance to unveil his plan, means one of two things.

The first is that his advisers live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience. In fact, this is already a public fear. Despite deep partisanship on almost every issue, Americans come together on this issue: 81 percent of all Americans, including 71 percent of Republicans, prefer Trump relying on experts in his Middle East diplomacy, not on inexperienced family members and personal lawyers.

But there is a second possibility: That the Trump administration has already given up on its “deal of the century” and is looking for ways to pin the blame on someone else.

CNN agrees.

The ramifications of an embassy move would be felt far outside of Jerusalem. It would overturn 70 years of international consensus, and, many argue, would effectively signal the end of moves to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The status of Jerusalem is an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations between the parties, as part of a peace agreement. Moving the embassy is seen as America pre-judging that delicate issue. The obvious wisdom of leaving the issue open is why 86 countries have embassies in Tel Aviv–and none have embassies in Jerusalem.

In 1995, in response to intense lobbying by “pro-Israel” interests (including those Christian Zionists),  Congress passed a law requiring America to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Every President since then, Republican or Democrat, has refused to move the embassy, citing national security interests. Every six months, each of those Presidents has used a presidential waiver to circumvent the embassy move.

 

A number of American Jewish organizations have criticized Trump’s decision, accusing the President of ignorance and of ‘irresponsible’ decision-making. Polls show only 20% of American Jews supporting this decision.

The eruptions throughout the Arab world that have already occurred as a result of Trump’s rash, uninformed announcement–and likely future reactions that will endanger Israel and trigger more violence– are among the many negative consequences of electing a profoundly unfit, uninformed, mentally-incompetent narcissist to the Presidency.

Why Trust Matters

In 2009, I wrote a book titled Distrust, American Style. In it, I looked at the issue of trust through the lens of social capital scholarship. Trust and reciprocity are essential to social capital–and especially to the creation of “bridging” social capital, the relationships that allow us to connect with and value people different from ourselves.

I didn’t address an issue that I now see as critical: the intentional production of distrust.

Today’s propagandists learned a valuable tactic from Big Tobacco. For many years, as health professionals insisted that smoking was harmful, Big Tobacco responded brilliantly. Rather than flatly disputing the validity of the claim, a response that would have invited people to take sides and decide who they trusted, their doctors or tobacco manufacturers,  they trotted out their own well-paid “scientists” to claim that the research was still inconclusive, that “we just don’t know what medical science will ultimately conclude.”

In other words, they sowed confusion–while giving people who didn’t want to believe that smoking was harmful something to hang their hat on. If “we don’t really know…,” then why  stop smoking? Just wait for a definitive answer.

It is a tactic that has since been adopted by several interest groups, most notably the fossil fuel industry. Recognizing that– as ice shelves melted and oceans rose– few would believe a flat denial that climate change is real and occurring, they focused their disinformation efforts on creating confusion about what was causing the globe to warm. Thus their insistence that the scientific “jury” was still out, that the changes visible to everyone might be part of natural historical cycles, and especially that there wasn’t really consensus among climate scientists. (Ninety-seven percent isn’t everyone!)

The goal was to sow doubt among all us non-scientists. Who and what should we believe?

Now, as information about Russia’s interference with the 2016 election is emerging, it is becoming apparent that Russian operatives, too, made effective use of that strategy. In addition to exacerbating American racial and religious divisions, Russian bots relentlessly cast doubt on the accuracy of traditional media reporting. Taking a cue from Sarah Palin and her ilk, they portrayed the “lamestream” media as a cesspool of liberal bias.

In fact, the GOP’s right wing has been employing this tactic for years–through Fox, Hannity, Limbaugh and a variety of others, the Republican party has engaged in a steady attack on the very notion of objective fact. That attack reached its apogee with Donald Trump’s insistence that any reporting he doesn’t like is “Fake News.”

Both the Republican and Democratic bases have embraced the belief that inconvenient facts are simply untrue, that reality is whatever they choose to believe. (Granted, this is far more prevalent on the Right, but there’s plenty of evidence that the fringe Left does the same thing.)

The rest of us are left in an uncomfortable gray area, increasingly unsure of the veracity of the items that fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. It’s bad enough that years of Republican propaganda have convinced the GOP base that credible outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have “libtard agendas,” but thanks to the explosion of new media outlets made possible by the Internet, even those of us who are trying to access accurate, objective reporting are inundated with “news” from unfamiliar sources, many of which are reliable and many of which are not. The result is insecurity–is this true? Has that been report verified? By whom? What should I believe? Who can I trust?

Zealots don’t worry about the accuracy of the information they act on, but rational people who distrust their facts tend to be paralyzed.

And that, of course, is the goal.

 

 

 

Freedom From? Or Freedom TO?

The lyrics from an old song keep running through my head. “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake, baked a cake…”

Unless you’re gay, of course.

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine which version of that song we’ll sing.

Masterpiece Cakeshop insists that its cakes are “art,” and that the Constitution protects the refusal of the “artist”–aka the guy who bakes the cakes– to bake them for LGBTQ folks. According to the baker, forcing him to sell his “art” to anyone with the money to purchase it compels him to express approval of something his religion condemns–in this case, same-sex marriage.

Those of us who are old enough to remember when “sincere” religious belief was the argument advanced by retailers refusing service to African-Americans tend to frame the issue differently: Does either clause of the First Amendment operate to exempt people from complying with laws of “general application”?

The word “theocrat” gets thrown around a lot these days, and for perfectly understandable reasons, but the question the Court will address is the inverse of what we usually mean when we use that term. Theocracy implies the imposition of one group’s religious beliefs on the nation as a whole through law–using the power of the state to enforce conformity with the religious precepts of a dominant sect.

Here, the question is whether and when respect for an individual’s (presumably sincere) religious belief should exempt that individual from compliance with rules that everyone else must follow. Under what conditions–if ever– should the law allow such exemptions? During prohibition, I’m pretty sure that most Americans–even ardent prohibitionists– would distinguish between Catholics sipping wine during Mass and party-goers imbibing bathtub gin. When the Supreme Court decided the Smith case, ruling that the use of peyote in an Indian religious ceremony was a violation of state drug laws (laws of “general application”) the resulting uproar was a sign that most people considered the decision to be an overly-zealous application of the principle.

When someone is asking to be exempted from a law that wasn’t originally intended to constrain their particular behavior, it may or may not be appropriate to grant the request. When someone wants to be excused from complying with a law that was expressly intended to protect other people from harm or discrimination, however, the calculus changes.

My religion might teach me that I have an obligation to sacrifice my first-born; my entirely sincere belief that I should do so will not exempt me from a law against infanticide. I might sincerely believe that my particular God has no problem with my stealing from people who don’t share my religious beliefs, but that sincere belief won’t keep me out of jail.

In short, my “religious liberty” defense fails when I invoke it to excuse noncompliance with  laws protecting others. Neither my right to “artistic expression/free speech” nor my liberty to believe in a religion of my choice gives me permission to mistreat or disadvantage others. As my friend Steve Sanders pointed out in a wonderful op-ed for the New York Times  on Sunday, anti-discrimination laws regulate conduct, not expression. As he wrote, “if our baker/artist decided that he could not be true to his muse without the use of banned coloring agents, would the food safety laws have to yield? Of course not.”

It’s worth noting that the foregoing analysis generously assumes a sincere belief on the part of the objecting merchant, although it’s glaringly obvious that most people claiming religious or “artistic” exemptions are simply attempting to justify personal bigotries. Evidence of their lack of integrity makes the analysis easier, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t change the result–the claim fails either way.

If he’d known you were coming, gay couple,  Masterpiece Cakeshop should still have to bake you a cake…

 

 

And The Hits Keep Coming

Very few voters know–or care– much about the census. Counting the people who live in the land between “sea and shining sea” is one of those boring, technical tasks that government does, but  I doubt that a single vote has ever been cast because the voter felt that  it was done well or poorly.

Just because the census doesn’t arouse much in the way of passion, however, doesn’t make it unimportant. In fact, it is very important.

The Constitution requires that the count be conducted every year that ends in zero–that is, every ten years. The census ensures that citizens of each state have the “correct” number of representatives, a number based upon population. It also tells us just how diverse the country is, which categories are growing and which are shrinking. One of the most important functions of the census is that it gives analysts–not just government analysts, but those working for a multitude of businesses and nonprofit organizations– the data they need in order to make important decisions and avoid wasteful efforts.

In a recent survey, 74% of city officials said they relied on the data collected by the census–that it was very important to the discharge of their duties. In a recent article, Think Progress reported

Ethnic minorities and traditionally underrepresented groups especially rely on the census for the voice it gives them in government — and are at risk if the survey goes awry or if their communities are not accurately counted. Because the Census Bureau uses this data to draw congressional maps, an undercount of diverse populations that traditionally vote Democrat could end up benefiting Republican districts.

That last sentence may hold a clue to the present straits in which the Census Bureau finds itself.

The Republican Congress has declined to fund the Bureau at the levels required–even cutting its budget despite the fact that significant population growth has expanded its workload. Worse still, the agency has been without leadership since the resignation of its previous director, and Talking Points Memo reports that Trump is proposing to appoint a pro-gerrymandering professor to the position.

The 2020 U.S. Census will determine which states gain or lose electoral power for years to come, and President Donald Trump is leaning towards appointing a pro-gerrymandering professor with no government experience to help lead the effort.

Politico reported Tuesday that Trump may soon tap Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who has no background in statistics, for a powerful deputy position that doesn’t require congressional approval.

He authored a 2008 book titled Competitive Elections are Bad for America.

This is a position that has historically been held by a career civil servant who has served many years in the Census Bureau. Brunell would come to the post from stints as a “consultant” for a number of Republican-controlled states that have been sued for racial and partisan gerrymandering, including Ohio and North Carolina.

Civil and voting rights advocates have been sounding the alarm since the beginning of this year about the fate of the 2020 Census, and the bureau currently has no director and faces a severe budget shortfall.

Now, there are fears that the appointment of an ideological conservative could lead to changes in the Census that could have repercussions for many years to come. For example, conservatives have long argued for adding a question about citizenship status to the Census, which may scare immigrants away from responding and being counted. As deputy director, Brunell would also have power over the ad budget used to encourage people to participate in the Census, and could potentially steer those resources in a way that favors conservative strongholds.

While most rational (and terrified) Americans are fixated on Trump’s more high-profile unstable and erratic behaviors, and upon Congressional Republicans’ passage of  irresponsible legislation that earlier iterations of their party would have loudly condemned, the knee-capping of the Census Bureau illustrates the real danger posed by this collection of crazies and incompetents.

This is the problem with putting people who hate government in charge of government. They will destroy its effectiveness in order to justify a return to that pre-social “state of nature” which Hobbes accurately described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.’