Sunday, April 30, 2017

To do or not to do may mean little in 2018 to Trump's supporters

Donald Trump’s 100 days are up with very little to show for it, save a few items to satisfy bigots that Trump hasn’t turned “soft” on them, like claiming that he wants to be president for “all” Americans, not just a minority consisting of white xenophobes and nativists. Far-right commentators and Republican lawmakers—and “lawmakers” should be put in quotes when applied here, since Republicans tend to spend their time undoing laws when they are not just lounging about on the taxpayer dime—are warning that if Trump’s anti-healthcare agenda, pro-rich tax “reform,” and racial and ethnic paranoia is not translated into something more substantial than mere rhetoric, then there will be “hell to pay” in the 2018 mid-term elections. Of course, one recalls when a party actually does something constructive—like passing affordable healthcare for all, (some) regulation against a reenactment of the “Great Recession,” rolling back the worst abuses of the Bush-era tax cuts, and saving hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs by keeping the domestic auto industry afloat—there was still “hell to pay” from voters who thought it was too much and it was time to put a stopper on it. 

That equation might be different now, because Republicans are in power and they do what they always do, rule by subtraction. Some voters seem to believe that “less” is “more,” but that equation only make “sense” for those who think less wages and benefits for working people should mean more for the few. One paper-pushing corporate CEO who “earns” $100 million a year in compensation is probably paid at least $98 million more than they are worth, and that money could have been applied to a $10,000 raise for 10,000 low-wage employees; multiply that by a few factors (after all, we are talking about just the top .001 percent in that example), you can see just how out-whack this country’s priorities are. And Trump’s proposed tax “reform,” cutting rates for the rich by half, is supposed to “help” working Americans? 

There were those who were farsighted enough in the depths of the Great Depression to know that the top marginal tax rates of 70 to 90 percent went far to undo such imbalances by making it more beneficial for corporate executives to employ more people and pay higher wages, since personal greed was not “profitable” for them. It also helped the federal budget because more people were paying taxes (not to mention not being on public assistance), instead of being “replaced” by a few idle rich doing what they could to avoid paying taxes at all. But along came Reagan, and the era of personal greed over national well-being prevailed, and continues to be so.  Trump and Republicans claim that reducing tax rates to 15 percent for the super-rich will create jobs, which even the economists who pushed a much less “radical” cut under Reagan admit that its trickle-down benefit never came about, in fact going in the opposite direction ever since.

Trump and many of his supporters in Congress are the product of personal greed and social elitism, and voters who believe Trump is for the “little guy” will soon become disabused of that notion if his agenda actually becomes law; ethnic and racial scapegoating will not create jobs, but likely cost jobs by forcing businesses to shut-down because complaining is an easier occupation than getting one’s fundament off the sofa while watching Fox News. No, what might make a greater impression of what a Trump presidency really means won’t be apparent until he actually does manage to get the Republicans to pass his agenda. It might not become apparent right away, but it did take less than a decade for the massive anti-regulation financial “reform” of 1998 which the greed-ridden Clintons endorsed to do its work, and outside a few of the worst institutional abusers, the ones who “paid” were working people. 

One wonders if the reality of Trump matters more than if his agenda becomes substance or not by 2018. Polls on healthcare reform and immigration seem to indicate that the opinion of a radical minority carries far more weight than that of the majority in the minds of Trump and the Republicans, but what does that matter?  Does doing nothing “safer” than doing something, or does simply rolling back “change” to the “bad” we already know easier to tolerate? Perhaps people don’t want too many “complications” in their lives, especially those things they can’t perceive directly effecting them, since ignorance of the “unknown” tends to unleash powerful emotions, like paranoia and scapegoating. 

But does that also mean they don’t like the idea of having “choices,” which Trump intends to deprive them of? If people can’t afford healthcare, or their employer doesn’t provide it, does that mean they don’t want the “choice” of an alternative (like Obamacare), other than dying? Do they feel more comfortable not having a “choice” about whether unregulated financial institutions are allowed to gamble away their hard-earned money, like they tried to do before the Great Recession? Do they prefer not having a choice if there is environmental and food safety regulation, and polluters are allowed to pollute unfettered by any regulations or laws? Or are we a nation of the kind of person I once overheard, an older man, demanding to know why he should pay taxes to fund public education. He has no kids. 

What do I think will happen in 2018 if the Trump/Republican agenda does not come to fruition? Probably no more than if it does, and nobody notices too substantial an effect on their lives either way. Gerrymandering has entrenched the Republicans in the House of Representatives, and they might lose a few seats in the Senate. This is a country that only understands pain of the personal pocket book kind; for now, Trump and the Republicans have found it expedient to focus white paranoia on the usual suspects, but that will only work if things are only so bad enough that the most vulnerable can be blamed. Anything bigger, white voters will have to consider that maybe—like in 2008—minorities and “liberals” were not to blame for the state of country, but people like Trump, his rich friends and Republicans.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Trump's governing "philosophy" dispenses with the "common good"--or any other "good"

I haven’t posted anything here for a while not because nothing is happening, but because it is so hard to respond to lies and stupidity befitting a child, and so much is happening that angers and frustrates seemingly on a daily basis that one hardly knows where to start. Every day a new example of the inhumanity inherent in an ideology that denies the validity of the social contract in favor of what Hobbes’ called the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” life which the political and economic “elites” wish to foist on society as a whole in order to “validate” the their own selfish brutality. The social contract, according to Rousseau, recognized that “libertarian” and “natural” philosophies allowed for an “undeveloped” sense of ethics and morality, and that the contract as enforced by civil government instilled in the governed a more developed sense of moral responsibility to their fellow man. Civil society should follow the “general will” for the common good of all, "directed towards their common preservation and general well-being." Locke believed that the populace required government to protect them from those seeking to “injure or enslave” them—not to make it easier for private individuals or orgnizations with the economic, political and judicial power to do so. 

Yet the social contract is under violent assault by Donald Trump and his alt-right henchpersons who seem unable or unwilling to answer for their moral and ethical defects. From healthcare to immigration to taxes to economic regulation to environmental protection to Trump’s evil budget proposal, the greed and inhumanity of the far-right’s assault on the social contract continues unabated. Trump has attempted to usurp the contract that is the underpinning of democratic civil society with the fascist ideology of corporate control by the “elites” of society which he himself is a part of, along with Republican politicians whose worldview is closely aligned with the Antebellum period of this country’s history. Yet millions of voters in this country who are seen merely as “plebes” by the self-entitled “patricians” have willingly allowed themselves to be duped by unsubtle rhetoric that plays on their paranoia, bigotry and search for scapegoats. Instead, the demand for civil and economic rights by the “dark races” must be fended off by expanded military and law enforcement power—to be paid for by abandoning the social contract almost completely.

The working class poor—a term seemingly interchangeable with that of “minorities” in the minds of those who see the world through a racial prism—are not the “problem” and never were. The reality is exposed in even the most commonplace of situations. For example, I’m sitting in a restaurant for whom those who are cost conscious find convenient for their pocketbook. While I am sitting there feasting on the value menu items I observe a man wearing a buttoned-down shirt and tie come into the establishment not as a customer but merely to sit at a table and go to work on a stack of scratch tickets from a nearby lottery ticket vending machine. When he was done with those, he walks out into the lobby and slid some bills into the vending machine, and returned with a new stack of cards, with apparently the same result of failure. I observed this activity repeated a third time, and a fourth time as I was leaving. This time I could see that he was loading a wad of $20 bills into the vending machine; he must have spent at least $500 on scratch tickets in the last hour. 

Observing this, I could not but be overcome with a feeling of disgust over the distribution of wealth in this country. Nobody really needs to be “rich” to be happy. Who really needs a mansion if not to store expensive, useless knickknacks to impress other conceited people. For me, books and a music and video collection more than adequately fills empty time, and writing this blog gives me a small connection to world at large. I don’t need to waste money going out to expensive amusements and eateries in order to “socialize” and confirm one’s vanity—or to waste hundreds of dollars on scratch tickets. Meanwhile, millions of working people in this country barely make ends meet, thanks to the belief that a few people have a right to decide what is a proper distribution of income, which includes one’s expectations of how much money they should “earn” more than mere working people; the vast majority of those who decide are corporate executives who just happened to drop into their positions without ever having to dirty their hands with actually creating the wealth they so easily rob. “Class,” of course, has a great deal to do with it;  people who work in an office believe they are superior to those who work in the warehouse or production facility. They get the free coffee and pastry, while the “working class” have to do with the overpriced items in a vending machine.

Thus the most significant inequality in this country is not what you hear from talking heads on cable news, “pretty people” with “victim” complexes that their own existences is exposed as self-serving indulgence, but is in fact the inequitable distribution of wealth. This inequity doesn’t even have to do with the “top one” percent and everyone else, but from above and below the median income in places like Seattle; half the people in Seattle make almost $100,000 and above a year. It is a white (and Asian) good old boys and girls club where club members and their friends “look out” for each other. Even in “liberal” Seattle, racial tolerance only goes so far as the under-represented minority is useful to be patronized with a few crumbs thrown well down the social ladder to ease any “guilt.” However, that is at least more than what Trump and his gang of racists are willing to do.

 We are told that if we remove the incentive that allows the tiny minority to skeletonize the working class in order to gain as much personal wealth as possible, that this “elite” class loses the motivation or ability to create jobs. Trump and his ilk speak out of both mouths here, blaming immigrants for low wages, yet refusing to support adequate minimum wage rates, saying it will “hurt” businesses. Yet this mindset loses sight of the fact that wealth cannot be created in a vacuum; in order to allow the few to push paper, crush data or make phone calls all day from a comfy chair, someone has to do the actual work, and it is those people who have become little more than nameless, faceless numbers on a spread sheet. If they don’t “accept” the way of the world, they are simply replaced; they don’t get a multi-million dollar “golden parachute.” They are not seen as human beings with problems that are largely the result of poor compensation for their labor. 

Trump repeatedly claims that he is for all Americans—although his definition of who is an “American” is not exactly clear; his rhetoric and actions seem to limit that “privilege” to those who share his pallid complexion, if not his bad hair. Yet even that is a con-job: his administration is entirely under the control not of persons who have a working knowledge of their responsibilities to those constituencies under their purview, but of rich and/or powerful elites whose only “responsibility” in their minds is to their own enrichment at the expense of the “plebes.” They feel no responsibility to maintaining civil society in accordance to the social contract; their “answer” to the defects of their ideology is oppression and tyranny, the more the better. This is the evil that underlines the Trump administration—the more so because Trump himself has never felt compelled to play by the rules of the social contract.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Falcons' super meltdown can never be lived down

The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots are like the Yankees of the Joe Torre era—a team you loved to hate because they were so arrogant and had the titles to back it up. When the Falcons took a 28-3 lead in the third quarter of  Super Bowl 51, one couldn’t but rejoice at the prospect that Donald Trump supporter Brady would be denied the “privilege” of being feted by that bigoted blowhard in a White House ceremony. 

But it was not to be. The Falcons completely collapsed in the most shocking of fashions. After the Patriots cut the lead to 28-9, a botched on-side kick gave the Falcons a chance to answer with points of their own, but failed. The Falcons’ defense, which had been harassing Brady all day, managed to stave off another touchdown deep inside their territory and force a field goal with 8 minutes to play. The Patriots were still theoretically three scores behind, 28-12. But with less than six minutes to play, the Falcons lost their wings. 

The alleged NFL Most Valuable Player, Matt Ryan, demonstrated why raw numbers do not necessarily equate to “value”; after all, the Falcons had lost five games during the regular season, four of which after blowing fourth quarter leads. In a similar situation in the divisional round against the Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers did not wilt under pressure. Rodgers did not fumble the football deep in his own end after being blind-sided by a blitzer after a badly missed blocking assignment. He did not get sacked for a 12-yard loss on a horribly stupid play call when the Falcons were within game-clinching field goal range. And he did possess the required tools to heave a “Half-Mary” pass in the waning seconds to get into game-winning field goal range.

The Falcons’ defense, so dominant for nearly three quarters, suddenly had the consistency of butter in the hot sun as the front line became “gassed” and the secondary acted as if they forgot what their assignments were. The Patriots not only scored on their last four possessions of regulation, but they converted on two two-point conversion attempts to tie the game and force overtime. This would be the first ever overtime game in Super Bowl history, but when the Patriots won the coin toss, the rest of the game was anti-climactic. There was no “drama”; the only “hope” that the Falcons had was if Brady threw an inadvertent pass that was intercepted. It didn’t happen. 

We can say that Bill Belichick is a better coach than Dan Quinn, because he didn’t make boneheaded-after-boneheaded decision when the game was slipping away. Not just in allowing an ill-conceived pass play when a field goal would have won you the game, but wasting a time out when a challenge flag was thrown in thoughtless desperation. Losing 34-28 in overtime when you were the underdog would normally be seen as a worthy, valiant effort; instead, no loss could be more maddeningly stomach-churning. There was no comparison to the Oilers blowing a 32-point lead against the Bills in 1993, since the Oilers were already in a tail-spin heading into the fourth quarter. The Broncos’ 55-10 and 43-8 losses in the Super Bowl were “unexpected” at the start but entirely predictable in hindsight. In this game, the Falcons had a 25-point lead that seemed unassailable, and were still leading by 16-points and had the ball with six minutes to play before they simply gave it away. This is the kind of loss no team can live down.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How about this for an "alternative" fact: The U.S. trade imbalance with Mexico is actually too little

Why are Donald Trump’s attacks on NAFTA hypocritical and out-of-touch with reality? Try to wrap your head around this, if you can: The U.S. has a population of 300+ million, and the average annual personal income of $44,000 in 2015. Mexico has a population of 120 million and an average personal income $13,000. Mexico imported $235 billion worth of products from the U.S. in 2015, and exported $295 billion. What this means is that residents of Mexico purchased on average almost $2,000 worth of U.S. products per person, or 16 percent of their purchases. U.S. residents, on the other hand, purchased about $950 of goods from Mexico, or 3 percent of their purchases, per person. 

Of course, this is an overly simple way of looking at this, since if someone purchases a car made in Mexico, the amount spent by one person can be spread out quite thin (one purchase of a car can account for the purchases of 30 other people who purchase no products at all “made in Mexico,” save for produce. Meanwhile in Mexico, American-made goods generally fall into the hands of the relatively “affluent”: the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development reported in 2015 that Mexico has the worst income disparities among its member nations, with just 2,500 people holding 43 percent of the nation’s wealth (financier Carlos Sims alone holds the equivalent of 6.3 percent of the nation’s GDP), while over half the population lives in poverty; the bottom twenty percent’s average net worth is a scant $80. Obviously most Mexicans have not reaped the benefits that Trump fear-mongers that they have.

Another fact that does not have “alternative” interpretations: China, Japan and Germany all have vastly larger economies and purchasing power than the typical Mexican resident, yet combined they purchase less U.S.-made goods than Mexico; China alone has 5 times the population of the U.S., and its GDP is currently 60 percent that of the U.S.; yet it’s exports are nearly five times that what it imports from the U.S.. China’s exports are certainly more “obvious” than Mexico’s, seemingly most of the apparel we wear and the electronic gadgets we use.  With all three of these countries the U.S. has larger trade deficits than it does with Mexico--by six times in the case of China.

Again, everything is “relative.” Since the U.S. has a larger economy than every other country, it can technically “absorb” more imports than the countries it exports to. Thus it can be said that U.S. trade with Mexico actually benefits the U.S. disproportionately, while trade with Germany is more “proportionate” given that its buying power is only a quarter that of the U.S.’, while China obviously does not absorb anywhere near a proportionate amount of U.S. exports as the U.S. does from China. Trump’s claims about jobs being “lost” to Mexico far pale in comparison to jobs that have simply disappeared because U.S. companies could not compete with low-cost products from Asia.

In order to achieve a trade “balance,” the U.S.—besides somehow forcing a more proportionate trade with China—has had to take advantage of the markets of countries with lesser economies, such as “developing” or “Third World” nations, and force them to take in excess U.S. products, while importing virtually nothing from them. This seems hardly “fair,” although it would come as no surprise that Western “brands” are more popular than the homegrown variety, denoting “social status.”. 

In any case, as former Vermont governor and progressive Howard Dean recently opined before a Canadian audience, attacks on NAFTA are out of proportion with reality, and serve no purpose but to harm relations and the economies of all three nations of NAFTA. There are other, far more pertinent issues that prejudice against Mexico and Mexicans cannot explain, and it is hardly in the U.S. interest to create a “failed” state right on its southern border.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is Bernhard Langer a better "American" than Serena Williams? Maybe in Trump's anti-matter universe

Don’t you feel “good” about being an “American” these days? This past weekend Serena Williams won the Australian Open tennis tournament, her 23rd grand slam singles title and a new record for titles won either by women or men since professionals were allowed to compete in them in 1968. There were a few former women stars on hand to witness the event, like Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert—players who disparaged Williams in the past for not showing enough “effort” in standing virtually alone against the Eastern European hordes—particularly those who many Americans “fans” gravitated to, mesmerized by those cocktail dresses overlaying pallid complexions and blonde hair. 

But Williams’ story turned out to be less newsworthy than that concerning German golfer Bernhard Langer, who like Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova enjoys the tropical climes of southern Florida, and while avoiding paying taxes by retaining the citizenship of their native countries. Langer, it seems, was the “source” of a story put out by the Trump administration about “voter fraud” being witnessed in Florida. Langer, it was reported, merely did his duty as an avid Trump supporter (does that make him a “secret” sympathizer of neo-Nazis, a growing problem in Germany as here). Upon reading the embarrassing news reports about himself, Langer attacked the media for disseminating this “misinformation.” Of course, the real “fraud” being perpetrated here is by Langer and the Trump administration, since the media only reported what it was told by the Trump people, supposedly based on what the “witness” Langer told them. 

Unfortunately for Langer, the Trump report was quickly converting him into a liar and a fool as well as a bigot, which the “media” had the bad manners of exposing. Langer now admits that he couldn’t have seen any voter fraud himself since, well, him even being at a polling place might be “misconstrued” as voter fraud since he isn’t a U.S. citizen.  He now claims that he was merely passing on information given to him by a “friend” who supposedly witnessed voter “fraud,” the nature of which remains unclear, although one suspects that to some people voting while dark-skinned constitutes voter fraud. Furthermore, contrary to what the Trump administration told the media, Langer says he never even spoke to anyone there, but does claim that he told this story to another “friend” who had connections with someone in the administration, and that was the person who passed on the bogus claim, and from there we received another alternative “fact” from Trump’s anti-matter universe. 

This is the “America” we live in now. Serena Williams may be an American, but she is also black and is thus less worthy in Trump’s new White World Order—orchestrated by racist Steve Bannon—than, say, some Arian-Nordic foreign type who is just here to soak-up the sun, and winning senior tour golf tournaments using anchored putters, which the PGA is now banning because the use of it by players like Langer is deemed “cheating.” Langer has won $22 million on the Senior Tour, after having won only 3 events on the regular PGA Tour