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Degradation

No wonder the KKK has endorsed Trump for re-election.

In case there was any doubt about the slime this “President” represents, his awarding of the Medal of Freedom to one of the most despicable people in the country should erase it.

Limbaugh is as close as Trump could come to awarding the medal to himself.  He has mocked all manner of human suffering, and he shares Trump’s obsessive hatred (actually, jealousy) of Barack Obama, whom he has referred to as a “Hafrican American,” and about whom he liked to play a mocking song called “Barack the Magic Negro.”

And of course, Limbaugh was an enthusiastic birther.

As Ed Brayton has noted, barely nine months into the Obama presidency, Limbaugh declared (with no evidence at all) “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the Black kids cheering.” It was only a small part of his constant insistence that that “race riots are part of the plan that this regime has.”…Brayton also reminded readers of Limbaugh’s constant attacks against immigrant communities.

In 2019 alone, he said that “the Democrat party has imported the third world into this country and they have not assimilated,” compared asylum-seekers coming to the U.S. border to the invasion of Normandy, and quipped that “maybe toilet water is a step up for” some migrants.

Both CBS and the New York Times have published lists of the incredibly offensive, racist and sexist garbage that Limbaugh has regularly spewed–ample evidence that bestowing the Medal of Freedom on this pathetic gasbag makes a mockery of an award intended to highlight human–and humane–achievement. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t belong in the company of people like Elie Wiesel, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. In a just world, he would be shunned by all decent people.

But of course, Donald Trump is not a decent person.

This travesty is just one more bit of evidence–if any more evidence is needed–that the political divide Trump exemplifies is not between Republicans and Democrats. It is between white nationalists and the rest of us. It is simply no longer possible for voters to pretend that they support Trump because they approve of his non-existent economic “policies” or because they they are grateful that he’s been putting unqualified ideologues on the federal bench.

What Trump voters really approve of are the attitudes, bigotries and ignorance constantly and crudely expressed by the Rush Limbaughs of the world and parroted by Trump–and the “policies” that give aid, comfort and encouragement to the KKK and Neo-Nazis.

There is a meme I’ve seen several times on Facebook, a quote by a self-identified German (whether accurately attributed or not, I don’t know):”Dear America: You are waking up as Germany once did, to the awareness that 1/3 of your people would kill another 1/3, while 1/3 watches.”

In November, we will be in a position to assess the accuracy of that numerical observation.

 

 

 

 

 

Red States, Blue States…And Death Rates

The other day, during a political discussion (these days, pretty much every discussion gets political) my youngest son wondered aloud whether it had been a mistake to win the Civil War. The red states of the South have been an economic drag on the blue states for a long time–they send significantly fewer dollars to Washington than they receive courtesy of blue state largesse.

My son was being flip, but his characterization of Red and Blue states wasn’t far off. As Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column in the New York Times, “the political divide is also, increasingly, an economic divide.”

Democratic-leaning areas used to look similar to Republican-leaning areas in terms of productivity, income and education. But they have been rapidly diverging, with blue areas getting more productive, richer and better educated. In the close presidential election of 2000, counties that supported Al Gore over George W. Bush accounted for only a little over half the nation’s economic output. In the close election of 2016, counties that supported Hillary Clinton accounted for 64 percent of output, almost twice the share of Trump country.

Evidently, however, we don’t just live in different economies–lately, we also die differently.

Back in the Bush years I used to encounter people who insisted that the United States had the world’s longest life expectancy. They hadn’t looked at the data, they just assumed that America was No. 1 on everything. Even then it wasn’t true: U.S. life expectancy has been below that of other advanced countries for a long time.

The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation. True, a recent Times article on the phenomenon noted that life expectancy in coastal metropolitan areas is still rising about as fast as life expectancy in other advanced countries. But the regional divide goes deeper than that.

It turns out that the “death divide” Krugman is addressing is closely correlated with political orientation.

I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population. In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.

There are a number of possible explanations: blue states expanded Medicaid while most red states didn’t, for example. The gap in educational levels is probably implicated as well; better-educated people tend to be healthier than the less educated, for a number of reasons.

Krugman also notes differences in behavior and lifestyle that affect mortality. (Although obesity has dramatically increased all across America, obesity rates are significantly higher in red states.)

Krugman references–and debunks–conservative explanations for the death divide:

Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”

But European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy. And even within America these evils are concentrated in states that voted for Trump, and have largely bypassed the more secular blue states.

Although he doesn’t mention it, I’d also be interested in seeing a comparison of gun deaths in Red and Blue states.

Actually, conservatives like Barr inadvertently make a point: culture and values matter. Just not the way they think.

 

 

A Shared Understanding of Reality

For probably twenty years, I have written about the growing gulf between libertarian and “country club” Republicans, on the one hand, and the Evangelical/social conservative/white nationalists who make up an ever-growing percentage of the party, on the other.

I think it is safe to say that the “Never Trumpers” come disproportionately from the ranks of the (increasingly endangered) libertarians.

While I have significant differences with libertarians on economic policy, they tend to be educated and thoughtful proponents of a particular worldview, not– like so many on both the far Right and far Left–emotional and tribal “my way or the highway” extremists.

Trump’s assault on norms of democratic governance has deepened the rift between libertarian Republicans and the others– a rift underscored by a recent article from Reason Magazine,titled “Trump’s Congressional Defenders Deny Reality.” (Reason is a premier publication of libertarianism.)

During Monday’s impeachment hearing, Republican lawyer Stephen Castor denied that Donald Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose Trump in next year’s election. “I don’t think the record supports that,” Castor said.

That jaw-dropping moment starkly illustrated the lengths to which Republicans have gone in rebutting the charge that Trump abused his powers for personal gain. The president’s defenders have repeatedly contested well-established facts in a way that makes fair-minded nonpartisans despair of having an impeachment debate based on a shared understanding of reality.

According to the White House’s own transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into the claim that Biden pressed the Ukrainian government to replace Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin with the aim of thwarting an investigation of Burisma, an energy company that employed Biden’s son Hunter as a board member. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution,” Trump said, adding that “it sounds horrible to me.”

Trump asked Zelenskiy to “look into it,” and Zelenskiy agreed, saying his new prosecutor general “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned” (i.e., Burisma). Trump himself has said what he wanted from Zelenskiy was “very simple”—”a major investigation into the Bidens.”

You can argue, as Republicans have, that there was nothing improper about that request. But you cannot credibly deny that Trump made it.

This, in a nutshell, is America’s current dilemma: We do not have a shared understanding of reality. There are multiple reasons for this state of affairs: increasing tribalism, a media environment that encourages confirmation bias and discourages a shared recognition of fact, a widening divide between educated and uneducated Americans, and the cynical manipulation of persistent racial and religious resentment by people who profit from that manipulation.

Thoughtful individuals who disagree about politics and policy can nevertheless come to satisfactory resolutions–they can engage in the scorned but utterly necessary process of compromise. Ideologues and members of a cult–inhabitants of alternate realities–can neither participate in a legitimate conversation (defined as one in which the parties actually hear what the others are saying) nor reach an accommodation that requires them to relinquish even a small part of whatever it is they are demanding.

In the real world, it has been conclusively proven that Russia–and not Ukraine–meddled in our 2016 election. In the real world, Trump withheld desperately needed and congressionally approved military aid in order to get Ukraine’s President to announce an investigation into his (Trump’s) political rival.

But that’s in the real world, and elected Republicans don’t live there anymore.

 

Pardons And Predatory Loans–A Day In Trumpland

Like a broken record, I keep coming back to one question: what can his supporters be thinking? 

In just one November week, the President of the United States pardoned three war criminals and endorsed a measure facilitating predatory payday loans. A report in Talking Points Memo has details of both.

President Trump’s pardons: “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio. Michael Behenna. And this week, three convicted or accused murderers: Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, both of whom Trump pardoned, and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who Trump granted clemency.

Gallagher, the best-known of the trio, was acquitted of charges that he murdered an teenage Islamic State captive. But he was convicted of posing with the boy’s body. And his own SEALs testified against him, including SEAL Dylan Dille, who testified that he witnessed Gallagher shoot innocent people with a sniper rifle. Another SEAL under Gallagher’s charge testified, “I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS.”

 “I stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state,” Trump said Tuesday. In this case, that apparently means the Defense secretary, the (fired) Navy secretary and military prosecutors.

If Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, who was forced out over his strong denunciation of the pardons, is a member of the “deep state,” then we need more deep state operatives.

In his letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Spencer criticized Trump for interfering on Gallagher’s behalf.

“…I no longer share the same understanding as the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” he wrote. “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Among the multitude of concepts that elude our Moron In Chief is the fact that his pardons endanger American troops. If we do not obey the rules of “good order and discipline,” our antagonists will feel no compunction to treat American prisoners humanely. You can visit Lawfare for a perceptive discussion of the other damage these pardons do.

Allowing lenders to profit from imposing outrageous interest rates on those least able to pay them may not be as monumentally evil as encouraging war crimes, but it is appalling nonetheless.

Want to make payday loans in states where it’s outlawed? Rent a bank! Laws governing interest rates on predatory loans vary widely from state to state. Predatory lenders hate that. They want to be able to charge 120% APR in Colorado just like they do in, say, Wisconsin. How do they do that now? They use the bank in Wisconsin to process a high-interest loan that, in all other respects, was effectively carried out through a storefront in Denver. Yes, this really happened, and yes, the Trump administration has taken the banks’ side in the ongoing legal battle.

A 2015 court decision has hampered this effort somewhat for predatory lenders, but the FDIC and the Comptroller of the Currency want to change that, announcing a proposal that would actively promote the practice.

FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams “is doing the bidding of loan sharks who have a decades-long history of trying to get around state consumer protection rules,” Americans for Financial Reform spokesperson Carter Dougherty observed. “And now a federal regulator is helping them do it.”

These two actions weren’t the only measures the administration took that week to unravel safeguards and undermine the rule of law, but even if they were–even if they stood alone–how do Trump’s supporters defend them? What sort of people continue to wear their MAGA hats, and proclaim that Trump was “chosen by God” and “a better President than Lincoln?”

The only answer I can come up with is: people who believe in a God who wants White Christian men to dominate others, and people who still resent Lincoln for freeing the slaves. (They were, after all, black people.)

I always knew there were some people who held these views. What is heartbreaking is that there are so many of them.

Minimum Wage And The Real World

There is evidently a lively argument about who authored the much-quoted observation “It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So.”

The quotation has been attributed to Mark Twain and Will Rogers, among others, but whatever the source and however folksy the articulation, it counts as real wisdom.

I thought about that very human tendency to cling to verities that “we know for sure” are so when I came across some recent research into the consequences of raising the minimum wage, because for a long time, I was convinced by the (very logical, very persuasive) argument that raising wages would depress job creation.

It turns out there was a logical fallacy in the formulation of the argument that, if employer  had to pay his current employees more, he would have less money available to hire additional workers. That actually would be true–all else being equal.  Those of us who accepted the formulation–including your truly–didn’t realize how much else wasn’t equal.

In the real world, putting more money in the pockets of people who don’t have much disposable income actually increases demand and boosts economic growth.

When something they’ve believed turns out to be wrong, reasonable people change their minds. There’s a difference, however, between ideology and a mistaken belief–ideology is stubborn. It rejects contrary evidence, no matter how convincing.

With respect to minimum wage rates, a number of previous, peer-reviewed academic studies have found little to no impact on hiring as states and municipalities have raised the  wage, casting doubt on the “wage hikes will kill jobs” mantra, but the number of states that have recently raised their minimum wage allowed these recent researchers to draw broader conclusions.

Eighteen states rang in 2019 with minimum wage increases — some that will ultimately rise as high as $15 an hour — and so far, opponents’ dire predictions of job losses have not come true.

What it means: The data paint a clear picture: Higher minimum wage requirements haven’t reduced hiring in low-wage industries or overall.

State of play: Opponents have long argued that raising the minimum wage will cause workers to lose their jobs and prompt fast food chains (and other stores) to raise prices. But job losses and price hikes haven’t been pronounced in the aftermath of a recent wave of city and state wage-boost laws.

And more economists are arguing that the link between minimum wage hikes and job losses was more hype than science.

What we’re hearing: “The minimum wage increase is not showing the detrimental effects people once would’ve predicted,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at international accounting firm Grant Thornton, tells Axios.

“A lot of what we’re seeing in politics is old economic ideology, not what economics is telling us today.”

The doom-and-gloom that opponents have predicted, “are part of the political policy debate,” Jeffrey Clemens, an economics professor at UC San Diego, tells Axios.

His research for the conservative American Enterprise Institute is often quoted in arguments against minimum wage increases.

But Clemens told Axios: “People will tend to make the most extreme argument that suits their policy preferences, and it’s not surprising if that ends up being out of whack with the way things unfold on the ground.”

As part of the study, researchers used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to compare the rate of  job growth in four states with low minimum wages against the rate in eight states with high minimum wages. All 12 states saw growth in restaurant, bar and hotel jobs.
Four states had job growth higher than the U.S. median, and three of them have raised their state’s minimum wage; three of the five states having the slowest job growth kept their wage at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

The bottom line: Opposition to higher minimum wage laws is increasingly based in ideology and orthodoxy rather than real-world evidence, economists say.

The evidence says I used to believe something that just wasn’t so. Given that evidence, I don’t believe it any more.

That isn’t so hard, is it?