Tag Archives: Trump

A Few Thoughts On The Recent Shutdown…

According to a number of reports, Donald Trump’s poll results declined significantly during the government shutdown. Since I cannot fathom why anyone still does support this ridiculous and pathetic man, I’ll leave it to others to mull the implications of those polls.

The shutdown and its aftermath were instructive, however, on a number of dimensions.

First and foremost, it delivered a striking rebuttal to the GOP’s constant refrain that government is never the solution, it’s the problem.  A post to Daily Kos  noted that the constant media references to 800,000 government employees understated the wider effect of the shutdown:  at least 40 million people were affected in one way or another. Many  endured long security lines at the airport, and uncertain safety in the air. Others couldn’t get tax questions answered (no one answered the IRS phones).

Businesses that depend upon patronage from government employees have seen steep declines: everything from food trucks at the National Mall to landlords accepting Section 8 vouchers, to cafes and delis accustomed to drawing their lunch crowds from nearby government buildings have seen fewer customers.

It’s not just business. Even anti-government ideologues rely on federal food inspections.  Even elderly Fox News viewers expect and need their Social Security checks. Local governments require the dependable remittance of federal program dollars. The list goes on.

The shutdown also exposed a previously unappreciated risk to private companies and not-for-profit organizations that do business with government–or more accurately, do the government’s business. Millions of Americans are effectively government workers due to the terms of outsourcing contracts–what we like to call privatization. (Estimates of the number of people who–although not technically employed by government– work full-time delivering government services run as high as 18 million.) The shutdown idled millions of those contract workers–and unlike employees who actually get their paychecks from government–they won’t be paid for their enforced “vacation.”

And of course, economists are busy calculating the amount of the economic “hit” caused by the shutdown, and estimated to be in the billions.

All of this damage was the consequence of a profoundly stupid demand for a wall that will never be built and would do nothing to deter undocumented immigration or drug traffic if it were.

The voters who still support this President want that wall as a symbol, not a barrier; they want to send a message to folks south of the border. We don’t want your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free–at least not if their skin is brown or black. I am more convinced than ever that Trump’s support comes from people who embrace a mythical American past in which white guys ruled the roost–where women were subservient and dependent, and other men were inferior by definition.

I do wonder how those supporters rationalize away the fact that Trump folded–completely caved–by accepting exactly the deal he’d initially rejected, and that the ignominious  end to his bluff was engineered by a highly competent woman.

That last fact is responsible for my shadenfreude.

I think I love Nancy Pelosi.

While Nero Fiddles…

Here is what truly terrifies me.

America is currently in thrall to the clown occupying the Oval Office. Every day there’s a new outrage, a new assault on democratic norms and the rule of law. If it isn’t the buffoon himself, it’s a member of what has to be the worst cabinet ever assembled. And we are all transfixed by the spectacle.

Meanwhile, the earth keeps warming.

Studies confirm that the rate at which the climate is changing is accelerating. Ice is melting faster than anticipated, the oceans are warming more quickly and feeding ever-stronger hurricanes, island nations are disappearing into rising seas.

And human health is endangered. According to a new review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Earth may experience a net increase of 529,000 adult deaths by 2050, due to food shortages caused by climate change.

While the report has several other “take aways,” including new evidence of global warming, here are a few bearing on human health:

There are a number of health risks that operate through both direct and indirect links to climate change, including malnourishment, diarrheal disease, malaria and heatstroke.

An example of a direct health effect of climate change is heat-related death.

Other health effects are linked to climate change less directly. For example, rising temperatures can lead to changes in the range and distribution of vector-borne diseases, like malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Climate change is also linked to health effects that vary by factors such as geography, race and socioeconomic status. For example, the relative socioeconomic status of a country will to some extent determine the ability to cope with or mitigate the effects of climate change. Hotter regions of the world tend to be poorer, and these economies will face additional challenges as global temperatures rise.

An estimate for climate change-associated adult deaths resulting from expected changes to the food supply predicts a net increase of 529,000 deaths worldwide by 2050, which vastly exceed previous estimates by the World Health Organization.
This is a conservative estimate, because it does not include deaths from other climate-sensitive health outcomes and does not include morbidity or the effects associated with the disruption of health services from extreme weather and climate events.

A World Bank estimate suggests that “climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.”

The authors of the report note that there would be numerous health benefits if  global carbon emissions could be reduced to zero.  There would be less exposure to air pollution (which is estimated to account for 6.5 million premature deaths yearly). Shifting to a plant-based diet would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by  20 to 30 percent and would dramatically improve health outcomes, and shifting more transportation to walking, biking and public transportation from personal motor vehicles would not only reduce emissions, but would also encourage health-promoting physical activity.

Seems like a win/win to me.

This report adds to the steadily mounting evidence of the enormous threat to global civilization posed by climate change. Worse, the evidence shows that the threat is considerably more imminent than previous estimates suggested.

Meanwhile, rather than a sense of urgency, rather than a national effort to do what we can to avoid the worst of the likely consequences, we’re all watching the soap opera/gong show that is our current national government.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump tweets while the globe heats.

And we really, really don’t have time for this.

 

 

How It Can Happen Here

A month or so ago, the New York Review of Books ran a lengthy essay by Christopher Browning, titled The Suffocation of Democracy.

Browning is a historian specializing in the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, and–as one might expect–the essay considers the parallels and differences between then in Germany and now in the United States. He notes several troubling similarities–and one equally troubling difference. After sketching U.S. policies in the run-up to World War Two, and emphasizing the importance of the post-war international agreements, he writes

Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference for bilateral relations, conceived as zero-sum rivalries in which he is the dominant player and “wins,” overlaps with the ideological preference of Steve Bannon and the so-called alt-right for the unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states—in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.

In addition to the “agenda of withdrawal” parallels, he compares the political weakness of those in control of the Weimar Republic–weakness that led them to cast their lot with Hitler–to the shrinking American support for conservatism that led to the GOP’s embrace of Trump.

But Browning saves his most scathing–and accurate– criticism for Mitch McConnell, writing

If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments. Systematic obstruction of nominations in Obama’s first term provoked Democrats to scrap the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations. Then McConnell’s unprecedented blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination required him in turn to scrap the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to complete the “steal” of Antonin Scalia’s seat and confirm Neil Gorsuch. The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process is once again on display in the current Kavanaugh hearings….Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump.

The difference Browning identifies between then and now is equally unsettling. Hitler had to take overt actions to dissolve labor unions, to seize control of media and pursue other measures that consolidated his power. Browning says such actions are no longer necessary, because American democracy is being suffocated from within: the independence of the judiciary is being steadily eroded; the free press still exists, but has been neutered by a flood of propaganda and fake news; and systemic flaws like gerrymandering and the Electoral College have allowed the GOP to win elections despite garnering only minority support.

On these issues, often described as the guardrails of democracy against authoritarian encroachment, the Trump administration either has won or seems poised to win significant gains for illiberalism. Upon his appointment as chancellor, Hitler immediately created a new Ministry of People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels, who remained one of his closest political advisers.

In Trump’s presidency, those functions have effectively been privatized in the form of Fox News and Sean Hannity.

I think it was Mark Twain who said history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

 

“Mother” Has Many Meanings…

More from the theocrats…

By this time, most politically-aware Americans have read about Karen Pence’s new job.

“Mother” is once again teaching at the Washington, D.C. school where she worked when Mike Pence was in Congress. The Huffington Post describes that school, noting that everyone isn’t welcome there.

In a “parent agreement” posted online, the school says it will refuse admission to students who participate in or condone homosexual activity, HuffPost learned through an investigation into discriminatory admissions policies. The 2018 employment application also makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the “unique roles of male and female.” …

The application says that the school believes “marriage unites one man and one woman” and that “a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.” The application asks potential employees to explain their view of the “creation/evolution debate.”

Not only did Mrs. Pence (aka “mother”) previously teach at the school for 12 years, the Pence’s daughter Charlotte attended, according to the school’s website.

JoeDee Winterhof, who is a senior Vice President for policy at the Human Rights Campaign,  had an excellent response.

“Why not teach at a school that welcomes everyone, instead of choosing one that won’t serve LGBTQ kids, kids of LGBTQ parents? The Pences never seem to miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some.”

Mrs. Pence is certainly entitled to believe that gay people are sinners, that women should submit to men and that there is actually a “debate” about evolution. (Although–forgive the snarky aside–according to people who worked in the statehouse when Mike Pence was governor, she doesn’t seem to obey that “submission” directive. Quite the contrary.) The fact that a Congressman’s wife chose to work at a school with this philosophy might raise eyebrows, but there are a lot of Congressmen and a lot of wives, and so far as I know, their choice of employment is rarely seen as sending a political message.

The spouses of Presidents and Vice-Presidents, however, are judged by a different standard; at least they were  before this disastrous and embarrassing administration.

When the wife of a Vice President–even an accidental and smarmy Vice President–chooses to work for an institution that labels a significant  proportion of Americans sinful and unworthy, that’s not only a statement of her values, it’s a deliberate message of exclusion that is directly at odds with important American principles.

That message is underlined by its hypocrisy.

If “mother” and Pastor Pence really disapproved of all the forms of sexual immorality described by the school, they wouldn’t even enter the same room with Donald Trump. Since they agreed to be part of the Trump Administration, it’s pretty obvious that they are willing to be selective about the sorts of “immoral” sexual behavior they condemn.

Pussy-grabbing and other assaults on unwilling women, serial infidelity, and consorting with prostitutes–those things are evidently minor transgressions. What must be condemned are relations between people of the same sex who love each other–and who may even be married to each other.

This is bigotry (barely) masquerading as piety, and it’s nauseating.

These people are vile.

 

Blame The Courts

What’s that old saying? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

 Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars a few days ago, Ed Brayton actually endorsed a theory offered by Jonah Goldberg.

Both Goldberg’s column and Brayton’s comment on it were offered in the run-up to Trump’s demand that he be given broadcast time to address the nation about the “crisis” at the border. Both predicted that Trump would declare a “national emergency” entitling him to ignore Congress and build his ridiculous wall.

As we now know, during that broadcast Trump simply reiterated his previous, fabricated “reasons” for building the wall. But he has continued to threaten the tactic.

Goldberg noted that such a move would be contrary both to common sense and the rule of law.

Do we really want to establish the precedent that the president can simply declare “It’s an emergency” like some magical incantation and then completely bypass property rights and the will of Congress just so he can fulfill a campaign promise that, if Sam Nunberg is to be believed, began as a consultant’s gimmick to get the candidate Trump to talk about immigration and what a great builder he is?

Moreover, if Trump actually attempted to use the military to seize private land, spending money Congress did not authorize, think of what the news cycle would look like, not from Trump’s perspective but from the perspective of other elected Republicans. Assuming that the Supreme Court or Congress didn’t stop him — a big assumption — would you like to run for office defending hourly images of armed U.S. troops kicking in doors or rolling out concertina wire? Is it beyond imagining that at least one Texas or Arizona rancher would get shot defending his property?

According to Goldberg, the theory then circulating in Washington was that the White House was fully aware that an order of that sort would generate multiple lawsuits and would likely be blocked almost immediately by the courts. That–in their view–would be the best of all possible worlds; it would extricate Trump from a box of his own making. He’d be able to tell his base he’d done everything he could, but his plan for America’s safety had been blocked by those terrible judges.

The reason this scenario seems so plausible is because such a patently illegal declaration would mimic a dishonest and destructive strategy that is pursued with some regularity by legislators at all levels of government. They can pass a bill they know to be unconstitutional, placating the constituents who want it, secure in the knowledge that the courts will bail them out.

I still remember a long-ago conversation with a student in one of my graduate classes, who happened to be a State Representative. He had just voted for a bill requiring schools throughout the state to post the Ten Commandments. I knew he was fully aware that such a law would violate the Establishment Clause, and I asked him why he had voted for something he knew to be unconstitutional. He replied that the “folks back in Mayberry” would be angry if he’d voted no, so he’d decided to “let the courts take the heat.”

There are a number of problems with that strategy. It rewards moral cowardice, and it feeds hostility to the judiciary among people who don’t understand the constitution, the function of the courts, or checks and balances.

And eventually, if Trump and the GOP get their way, pretty soon we won’t have competent, principled judges on the federal bench who are willing to “take the heat” in order to protect the constitution from cynical legislators pandering to constitutionally-illiterate voters.