Tag Archives: Trump

Why Knowledge Actually Matters….

I’m constantly amazed by the number of Americans who look askance at candidates for public office if they have government experience and/or training– the voters who express their preference for electing “outsiders” who will not be “disadvantaged” by actually knowing how government works.

I’m pretty sure those same voters wouldn’t choose a doctor who had never been to medical school, or a mechanic who didn’t know where their car’s engine was located.

Doctrinaire libertarians and “small government” conservatives may be nostalgic for the days of the Vermont Town Hall meetings, but this country is not going to get rid of the agencies that inspect our food and drugs, ensure that airplanes don’t crash into each other, keep businesses from colluding to fix prices, corporations from lying to prospective shareholders, and more. (Nor–despite the fantasies of this Administration and the real harm it can do–are we going to get rid of environmental rules and regulations, enforcement of civil rights laws, or public schools.)

Voting in a “management team” that doesn’t understand what government agencies do or how they do it, a team that is unfamiliar with constitutional checks and balances, and ignorant of settled U.S. foreign policy, diplomatic norms, and the definition of the national interest is like asking the company janitor to assume control of a multi-national corporation.

Even if he was a really good janitor, it isn’t going to go well. If he was an unstable and intellectually limited janitor with very spotty cleaning skills , he’s going to do a lot of damage to the company.

A couple of examples may illustrate the problem.

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump confidently asserted that he would bring back jobs in the coal industry. He argued that “burdensome” regulatory activity–like keeping miners safe and coal ash out of Americans’ drinking water–had caused the industry’s declining employment.

But as this article and several others explain, what’s killing coal is the market, not regulation.

The U.S. coal industry basically imploded as Chinese demand slipped. Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal and Walter Energy have all filed for bankruptcy over the past two years. (Peabody Coal is nearing a plan to pull itself out of bankruptcy.) The number of people who work in coal has tanked, too. In 1985, the industry employed 177,000 people. At the end of 2008, that number fell to 86,000. It was at 56,000 by last year.

“The market is telling coal that it’s a dying fuel source because we have abundant supplies of natural gas that are indigenous to the country,” Pete Fontaine, a veteran environmental lawyer who works for fossil fuel companies, told HuffPost. “You can scrap rules that make coal mining more expensive, you can scrap the Clean Power Plan, but ultimately coal is on the way out.”

Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton points to another example:

Like virtually every other environmental measure, Trump is trying to roll back the CAFE standards for efficient engines in cars and trucks, on the premise that such regulations increase the price of cars. But in reality, doing so would actually cost consumers more money.

Trump’s misguided move to appease the ever-myopic U.S. auto industry would undo efficiency gains that will provide consumers $98 billion in total net benefits, primarily from reduced fuel use. Individual car buyers would lose “a net savings of $1,650” (even after accounting for the higher vehicle cost) as the EPA concluded in its final January “Determination on the Appropriateness” of the standards.

The savings from the new standards are so significant that the EPA calculates “consumers who finance their vehicle with a 5-year loan would see payback within the first year.”

Rolling back the standards would also boost U.S. oil consumption by 1.2 billion gallons and increase U.S. carbon pollution by 540 billion tons over the lifetime of the model-year 2022–2025 cars.

When managers–private or public–don’t know what they don’t know, and are unwilling to educate themselves or consult people who do understand the way things work, they advocate “solutions” that make matters worse.

When experts are scorned as “elitists” and scores of knowledgable agency employees are told to pack their bags, what comes next won’t be pretty.

Isaac Asimov, the brilliant scientist and science-fiction author, said it best:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

That cult of ignorance has given us an Administration that rejects science and subject-matter expertise in favor of conspiracy theories and authoritarian ideologies.

I wonder–if America survives this, what lessons–if any–will we learn?

When The Emperor Has No Clothes…

Yesterday, the Republicans’ much-hyped replacement of the Affordable Care Act went down in flames.

There are multiple lessons to be drawn from the legislative fiasco we’ve just witnessed, although I am doubtful the people who most need to learn those lessons are capable of doing so.

The first–and most obvious–is that Donald Trump presides (in the words of David Gergen, who has served both Republican and Democratic Presidents) over an incompetent and delusional Administration. “I actually think this may be the worst hundred days we’ve ever seen in a president.”

As one wag commented, William Henry Harrison had a better second month.

Political commentators have repeatedly catalogued the myriad ways in which Trump is unsuited for the Presidency–including but not limited to his emotional and mental instability, lack of intellectual curiosity and ignorance of the structures and operations of government. Those deficits translate into an inability to understand that Presidents–unlike CEOs of closely-held corporations–cannot simply issue orders to Congress, a co-equal branch of government, and expect compliance.

The art of a legislative “deal” is distinctly different than the art of developing a parcel of real estate. A successful Presidency requires skills that Trump neither possesses nor understands.

Then there is Paul Ryan, who has long been lauded as the Republicans’ policy wonk. The lesson here is that in a group of midgets, even a short guy looks tall. Ryan has had seven years to craft a replacement for Obamacare; clearly, he spent none of that time considering what such a replacement should look like. Ryan has been “defrocked”–shown to be all political posturing and no policy chops. The bill he tried to peddle to his fractious caucus was an abysmal piece of legislation–a “steaming pile of excrement” in the words of one Republican lawmaker.

Even if Ryan had possessed the skills credulous pundits have attributed to him, however, it probably would not have been possible to bridge the deep divides within the GOP. The aptly-named “lunatic caucus” wants nothing less than a government retreat from any participation in healthcare, including Medicaid and Medicare. The moderates–mostly elected from more competitive districts– understand that such a retreat is neither possible nor desirable, and wanted legislation that they could have described as improving upon the ACA.

The only thing the two factions agreed upon was that they were being asked by a President with a 37% approval rating to vote for a measure supported by 17% of voters.

Congressional Republicans are hopelessly divided between the radical ideologues produced by 2011’s extreme gerrymandering (who don’t give a rat’s patootie what their party’s leadership wants) and the GOPs (somewhat) more traditional representatives.

The third lesson, then, is that It will only get worse.

The Party of No is no longer capable of getting to yes.

A New Embarrassment Every Day

Donald Trump may not be making America “great” again–unless your version of “great” is white, Christian, intolerant and angry–but he is certainly making the U.S. government the focus of attention, both at home and abroad.

Each day, the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful nation does something to embarrass sentient Americans and appall foreign observers. Sometimes, it is a prominent display of boorishness, of the sort we saw during Angela Merkel’s visit, but usually it is a statement or a tweet that puts Trump’s incredible ignorance on display–the sort of obliviousness that Dana Milbank addressed in a recent Washington Post column.

Seeking and winning the presidency has been a magical voyage of discovery for Donald Trump.

Tuesday night, he divulged a most remarkable finding: Abraham Lincoln was — are you sitting down for this? — a Republican.

“Most people don’t even know he was a Republican,” Trump told a group of Republicans. “Right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don’t know that.”

As Milbank noted, a lot of people actually do know that, considering that the GOP routinely calls itself the “Party of Lincoln.” He went on to catalogue other discoveries that evidently came as a surprise to our President: Health policy is complicated, slavery is bad…

Beyond this Lincoln revelation, Trump has happened upon many other things that people didn’t know. Such as the complexity of health care: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” he said recently. And the existence of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

Later, touring the new African American history museum in Washington, Trump discovered that slavery was bad. Spying a stone auction block, Trump said, according to Alveda King, a part of his entourage: “Boy, that is just not good. That is not good.” King also told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that upon seeing shackles for children, Trump remarked: “That is really bad. That is really bad.”

I’m relieved to know that our inarticulate President considers slavery “bad.” Evidently, however, his enlightenment about human equality stops there. His misogyny–embarrassingly on display during the Merkel visit–emerged again with his choice of delegates to the U.N. Conference on Women’s Rights. As Common Dreams reports:

Earlier this week, the State Department announced that representatives from infamous anti-LGBTQ hate group the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) and from the far-right Heritage Foundation will represent the U.S. at a United Nations conference on women’s rights later this month….

One delegate, Lisa Correnti, is an executive vice president at the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-FAM), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group since 2014. C-FAM was explicitly formed in the ’90s to push back against the rights of women in U.N. resolutions and policies. One of C-FAM’s core missions is to advance laws that restrict the rights and protections of LGBTQ people; its president recently called contraception and gay rights “devilish gospel.” The organization signed on in favor of Russia’s anti-gay laws, which have led to arrests, prosecution, and physical assaults from government agents for gay Russians.

Adding insult to injury, these delegates “are opposed to the U.N. as a whole and the fundamental rights of women in particular.”

The unanswered question is: did the Administration know its chosen delegates would be seen as an “in your face” rejection of the conference’s entire premise? Or did they just assume that an organization named “Center for Family and Human Rights” would be supportive of women’s rights? In either case, it’s another humiliation for the U.S.

If the Trump Administration were a comedy show, we might find its level of cluelessness amusing. If it was the government of an emerging third-world country with no tradition of democratic rule or experience with international diplomacy, we might shake our heads and dismiss the spectacle as a remnant of pre-modern autocracies. (“Sad!”)

Trump and his terrifyingly unqualified cabinet and staff are in a position to do incredible harm to our country and our fellow citizens, and thus far an equally inept (and in some cases dishonest) Congress has aided and abetted, rather than restrained or opposed this travesty of an administration.

It’s beyond embarrassing.

 

Crying Wolf When There’s a Wolf…

Godwin’s law is an Internet “meme” that recognizes a recurring phenomenon of online argumentation: as discussions get lengthier and more passionate,  a debater will eventually compare someone or something to Hitler. Godwin’s Law provides that when such a comparison is made, the guilty person has effectively forfeited the argument.

Godwin’s Law is recognition that name-calling is not productive debate. An accusation that a person or argument is “just like” Hitler is generally unconnected to any actual resemblance between the accused and Nazi Germany. (In other times, the comparison might have been to Satan or the Anti-Christ.) The person doing the name-calling is using Hitler as a stand-in for “evil” (and by falling back on an ad hominem response, demonstrating the poverty of his or her substantive argument).

As a Jew, I have always found thoughtless, almost casual use of the Nazi epithet particularly inappropriate, because it tends to minimize the historical horror that was Nazi Germany. If everyone you disagree with is a Nazi, then actual Nazis are no longer moral aberrations.

Worse, when you have habitually been describing behaviors with which you disagree as Nazi-like, what do you do when something truly Nazi-like emerges? Will the genuine threat be dismissed, as in the story of the boy who cried wolf?

Which brings me to Sebastian Gorka.

Gorka is a top aide to Donald Trump. He was previously the “national-security editor” at Breitbart, working with Steve Bannon. Bannon, of course, is now President Trump’s top strategist. Gorka’s virulently negative  views on Islam are similar to those of Bannon, the President and most of Trump’s other top aides. As an article in the Atlantic noted, however, those views are far outside the mainstream of scholarship on terrorism and Islam, and experts in the field view Gorka’s qualifications as highly questionable, at best.

Now, Slate has reported on a story uncovered by The Forward.

Reporters Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses found strong evidence that Gorka swore a lifetime oath to a far-right Hungarian group, the Vitézi Rend. The State Department classifies the Vitézi Rend as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II; as such, members are “presumed to be inadmissible” to America under the Immigration and Nationality Act and must disclose their membership on immigration applications. (The organization was banned in Hungary following World War II but reconstituted after the fall of communism.)

Two leaders of the Vitézi Rend told Forward that Gorka is a full member.

The disclosure of Gorka’s ties has been met with demands for an investigation from at least two Senators, and by dark humor on Facebook. (A photoshopped picture of Angela Merkel has her saying, “In the United States, you call it the ‘alt-right.’ In Germany, we refer to it as “why grandpa lives in Argentina.”)

Given the disquieting parallels between how the Nazis behaved as they were coming to power in Germany and the early actions of the Trump Administration, the Urban Dictionary has issued a notice “suspending” Godwin’s Law.

THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

With the emboldening of the Alt-Reich Fascists all over North America and Europe following the election of their cheeto-dusted Fuhrer, Donald J. Trump, The Godwin’s Law is hereby suspended in solidarity with the Anti-Fascist resisters, until further notice.

This time, there may be a real wolf…..

This Isn’t Who We Are–Is It?

I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but America is in the midst of an identity crisis, and the identity that emerges will shape the future our children and grandchildren inhabit.

Are we the people who inscribed “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” on the Statue of Liberty? Or are we self-absorbed climbers seeking to ingratiate ourselves with the powerful and privileged while devaluing the poor and ignoring the needs of the disadvantaged?

Are we a country committed to working with other nations to solve problems and resolve disputes, or are we belligerent saber-rattlers throwing our weight around?

Do we respect scientific expertise and intellectual excellence, recognize the social value of the arts and humanities, or do we sneer at the life of the mind and swagger with the hubris and arrogance of people who don’t know what they don’t know?

These are the questions posed by the “budget” the Trump Administration has presented to the U.S. Congress.

Trump’s budget cuts programs like Meals on Wheels that feed housebound seniors. It drastically curtails housing assistance to  poor people.  It takes the axe to  job training and education. It  eliminates the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps low-income job seekers age 55 and older find work by pairing them with nonprofit organizations and public agencies. It dramatically reduces funds for scientific and medical research.

The budget ends support for both NPR and PBS–sources of unbiased information for millions of Americans. It eliminates the endowments for the arts and the humanities.It destroys the EPA’s ability to enforce the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. It guts the State Department and “soft power” in favor of more and more powerful weapons–despite the fact that the Department of Defense has previously insisted that such expanded military capacity is unnecessary and even counter-productive.

As Daily Kos posted, 

Trump’s budget does have its increases. There’s much more money for defense, so Trump can add ships the Navy didn’t ask for, build more planes that the Air Force doesn’t need, and in general make defense contractors moan in ecstasy. There’s also a lot more money for DHS — because deportation forces and walls don’t run cheap.

CNN Money described what America would look like if the budget were to be passed as introduced:

More agents along the border, but a hobbled PBS. A bigger military, but less chance of getting a decent lawyer if you’re poor.

The budget unveiled by the Trump administration on Thursday would remake the United States — vastly expanding national defense but cutting or gutting dozens of programs that touch the lives of Americans every day.

 Charter schools would get more money. But federal money would be eliminated for an agency that improves water and sewer systems in impoverished corners of Appalachia.

The takeoff and landing of your plane would be guided by an air traffic controller working for a nonprofit, not the government. If you live in a small city served by subsidized commercial airline service, you might have to drive farther to get to an airport.

And if you use Amtrak trains to travel across the country, that would become harder, if not impossible. The budget would end support for the company’s long-distance train services.

It isn’t just that the proposed budget is inhumane– a “reverse Robin Hood” exercise that privileges the already privileged. It is also fiscally insane.

People who understand policy–who can connect the dots–know that most of the proposed “cost saving” cuts will end up being much more expensive than the amounts being saved; Meals on Wheels, for example, keeps seniors in their homes longer, and helps them avoid time–overwhelmingly paid for by Medicaid– in hugely more expensive nursing homes. Job training programs reduce welfare rolls. Clean air and water reduce medical outlays. Research breakthroughs save money while improving lives and health.

The budget that encapsulates Donald Trump’s “vision” for America is a prescription for a third-world country, where art, music, science and scholarship are considered effete affectations, where compassion for the less fortunate is a weakness and poverty is seen as evidence of a lack of merit (and certainly not a problem with which the privileged need concern themselves.)

Donald Trump’s “vision” for America is a nightmare.

Lady Liberty weeps.