Monday, August 14, 2017

The true measure of the man

While Donald Trump’s mindless rhetoric and threats in regard to North Korea and Venezuela reminds one of Greg Stillson from the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone and the horrific future that would-be president promised unless he was stopped, on the domestic front we have to come to grips with the fact that Trump and crew’s white nationalism is white supremacy, and we shouldn’t mistake it for anything else. Unless one is a white supremacist or just doesn’t give a damn about what is happening in this country, it is clear that something very bad has been occurring since the rise of the so-called “Tea Party,” outraged by the election of a black president in 2008, and the subsequent election of a unabashed white nationalist in 2016 feeding off white racial animus. If hypocritical CNN and the like had been honest about exposing the racist element behind far-right groups like the Tea Party since the beginning instead of giving them a “mainstream” platform, we might not be where we are now in this poisonous atmosphere of hate and paranoia. 

So Trump has finally bowed under pressure from his new chief of staff and from numerous Republican senators and issued a “forceful” denunciation of the white hate groups involved in the violence in Charlottesville, VA. But let us remember that he only did this under pressure; his initial reaction was the true measure of the man. John Oliver on HBO pointed out that it is the easiest thing in the world to denounce Nazis, but shockingly Trump could not bring himself to do even that at his press conference on Saturday. He did not want to antagonize the base of support that he knows very well is largely responsible for him being elected because they knew that he himself is a white nationalist and self-identifies with the white “victimhood.” Why else would they parade about shouting "Hail Trump"?

I felt little but disgust with Trump’s hypocrisy today, calling for “love” and “equality” when his own Justice Department is in the midst of using its civil rights division to attack policies that “victimize” privileged whites. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared on NBC’s Today show to defend Trump’s initial reactions, the utter visage of race hate was clearly to be seen when the black host pointed out the hypocrisy of Sessions’ defense of Trump after the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer praised Trump’s statement as a sign of support; the plantation master Sessions clearly hates to be “scolded” for his racial hypocrisy by black commentators.

One should feel not only disgust at the spectacle of neo-Nazis, the KKK and assorted Caucasian domestic terrorists on parade in Charlottesville—during which a white supremacist drove a vehicle into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters, killing one and injuring 19—but of our so-called president’s response to it. The Race Baiter-in-Chief, who consistently uses racist “dog whistle” tweets and commentary to “reassure” his base on his faithfulness to the “cause” of white nationalism and “victimhood” is, as his chief “strategist” Steve Bannon has said, the alt-right’s “blunt instrument” to carry out their racist agenda on behalf of whites who believe “their” country is being “stolen” from them by blacks, Hispanics and Jews.

Trump, no doubt under the spell of white nationalists like Bannon, Sessions, Steven Miller and the unabashedly fascist Sebastian Gorka, is loath to offend his racist base, which he managed to do anyways with his weak-kneed “many sides” were to blame statement; KKK leader David Duke—who as a student at LSU was often seen parading about in a Nazi storm trooper outfit passing out the party’s propaganda—was apparently incensed that Trump would even hint that maybe those purveyors of race hate parading about with torches, guns and combat shields could possibly be faulted. Trump needed to look in the mirror, said Duke, see that pallid face and realize who put him in office in the first place. 

But who ever accused Trump of having any shame? Not to worry; The Daily Stormer declared that “When asked to condemn, he (Trump) just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.” The mother of the man who police say clearly deliberately tried to run over and kill as many anti-fascist protesters as he could falsely claimed that her son was not a white supremacist, but merely a Trump “supporter”; The question is: “What’s the difference?”  And then Homeland Security adviser Tom Bosser refused to call the man what he was, a domestic terrorist, instead referring to him as merely a “murderer.” And finally the Justice Department bowed to criticism, issuing a statement that it will “investigate” the violence in Charlottesville; that’s right, you’ll have Jim Crow himself (Sessions) overseeing the goings-on at the plantation. The “fix” is in. 

Many Democrats and some Republicans with varying degrees of credibility decried the violence and Trump’s initial refusal to call things as they were. But why would he? Every time he claims that he “loves” everyone, and claims he believes that he represents “all” American regardless of race, creed or color,  we have to remember that he was elected on precisely the opposite view, and continues to hold those views. After all, he incited violent reaction by his supporters against lone protesters at his various campaign rallies, and demeaned and dehumanized whole groups of non-white people on a regular basis because he knew that is what his most strenuous supporters wanted hear and be acted upon, and past evidence suggests that Trump believes it too, even if it is lies; when Bill O’Reilly challenged him about his campaign claim that blacks are responsible for 81 percent of whites murdered, Trump merely noted that it was the information he was given, suggesting that if something sounded bad against a minority group it must be true, like “all Mexicans are criminals and rapists.” 

Meanwhile, emboldened losers from the white trash front are coming forward to add their own special aroma to the already foul atmosphere. For example, a few days ago police arrested a neo-Nazi cell consisting of three men and two women in the town of New Port Richey in Florida, apparently attempting to fund their activities through identity theft and bank fraud; according to the local newspaper,

Deputies served the warrant at a home in the 9200 block of Kiowa Drive around 7 a.m. Aug. 8. Once inside the home, deputies say they came across “hundreds of pages worth of (miscellaneous) bank account and additional personal identification information.” They also found credit cards, military and state IDs, insurance cards and other items. About 12 grams of meth, several gun holsters, ammunition, drug paraphernalia, three firearms and a rifle were also seized, according to an email from the sheriff’s office.

In addition, deputies found “hundreds of pages of American Nazi Family propaganda (rules, hierarchy, oaths, etc.)" in the home, the email added. The American Nazi Family is associated with the Aryan Brotherhood, the sheriff’s office said.

White racist domestic terrorists are out there and emboldened by the current administration, so we are to expect Trump and his racist advisers and attorney general to do something meaningful about it? Who is kidding who?

Postscript: It only took Trump a day to rediscover his true self, if he had ever lost in the first place. Not only did Trump in a shocking stream-of-conscious press conference (not to be mistaken for "conscience") fully backtrack on his teleprompter-guided script from the previous day, he claimed that some of those people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the neo-Nazis were "good" people, and that many of the protesters against the hate they represented were "violent" people. He went on to make assertions that made it clear that he is no historian; statues of Confederate generals--most of which were built in response to either a resurgence of the Klan during the 1920s, or as a reaction against the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s--represent one thing, and one thing only: the defense of the "states' right" of maintaining the institution of slavery, and this is not the "culture" anyone should be "celebrating."

Afterwards, Trump seemed extremely pleased with himself; at least people like Duke, white nationalist Richard Spencer and (not leaving the ladies out) former Arizona governor and the very visage of death itself, Jan Brewer, as well as far-right commentator Ann Coulter, who insists that racism doesn't exist in this country--al expressed deep satisfaction with Trump's reverting to his natural state. What is certain is that Trump has no moral or ethical credibility left; he is firmly on the side of race hate, and it is far too late for anyone to make a credible defense that he is not. Any hope that this so-called man will evolve from his primitive state is of course gone, because he chooses to exist in a state that is not conducive to moral or ethical growth. He should no longer be regarded as "president," but a man playing the role in his own television reality show, and the "joke" is on the American people.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

It is not too late to face the ugly truth about Trump--or for himself to

Is Donald Trump suffering from the onset of advanced schizophrenia? He certainly acts and speaks as if he has delusional paranoia. I mean, when you have U.S. Senators like Jack Reed, who was overheard on a hot mic suggesting a very real concern that Trump is “crazy,” and Susan Collins expressing “worry” about Trump’s behavior, maybe that we should take that more seriously than we would prefer not to? We see evidence of it every time Trump “tweets,” engaging in denial, fabrication, bullying and threats. Isn’t it “crazy” that he claims the Republican healthcare bills are “great” when in fact they are something considerably less than that? Does he think that it is “great” that the 20 million or so people currently with affordable health care will not if these ill-conceived and inhuman “plans” actually become law? Furthermore, isn’t it crazy (and delusional) to repeatedly call what is clearly bad “good” or “great”—especially when there is no evidence of thinking involved concerning action and result, only blunt force? This is what Sen. Collins was worried about; reading over Trump’s budget proposal, he simply “x” outs everything that doesn’t have some connection to the military, homeland security or law enforcement. There is no regard to human cost by Trump and his party of millionaires and billionaires. 

But if Trump is in fact not “crazy,” then the alternative is much worse: he is congenitally inhuman. At least Barack Obama wanted to help a broad spectrum of people regardless of ideology or political affiliation—not harm as many as possible. And who will tell Trump the truth so that he will actual listen? Apparently, no one. His need for constant reassurance of his own infallibility is apparent in his selection of Trump uber-fanboy Anthony Scaramucci as his new communication’s director. Scaramucci is already behaving like a Mafia thug, with Trump as his “Godfather” and threatening everyone in sight. 

Marine general John Kelly is the new chief of staff, but what authority will he really have to control this den of wolves? If one takes an historical perspective, Adolf Hitler had a “ruling” style that most closely resembles that of Trump. Like Trump, Hitler was poorly versed in policy and rarely involved himself in the day-to-day minutia of governing. Their governing “systems” are shockingly similar in another way (besides feeding into racial and ethnic paranoia and scapegoating): that there exists competing factions within the “inner circle” desperate to curry his favor and tell him anything he wants to hear, and engaging in undercutting and backstabbing one another. A policy “decision” is simply something that sounds “good” to Trump, even if it is simply a personal whim of someone who happens to have his ear that moment. It doesn’t matter what the end result is; the “fuhrer” is only interested in being pleased, and it doesn’t matter how many people vulnerable to hate are harmed or die because of it. 

In the meantime, commentators can only nibble around the truth. In regard to the healthcare nightmare for millions that is “Trumpcare,” Greg Sargant wrote in the Washington Post that

This is another reminder that, as Jonathan Chait notes, the health-care debate has been gripped throughout by a refusal on the part of Republicans to forthrightly acknowledge or defend their own actual priorities. In some cases, this has been deeply cynical, with Republicans claiming that no one will be worse off because everyone will have “access” to insurance, or even that the bill wouldn’t cut Medicaid at all. In the case of President Trump, it’s hard to disentangle his cynicism from his seemingly impenetrable ignorance. Trump has complained behind closed doors that the House bill is “mean,” and has called for “more money” to be added, which suggests he dimly grasps that cutting health-care spending on poor people will hurt them.

Also in the Post, Jennifer Rubin noted the hypocrisy of Trump supporters in the face of this evil:
No group has been as blindly loyal to President Trump as Christian conservatives. They have not let religion or values get in the way of their support. Consider the “Access Hollywood” tape, the attack on a Gold Star family, a mass of inexplicable ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials (and the president’s open invitation to Russia to continue hacking), the firing of the FBI director, the humiliation of evangelical-favorite Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the politicization of the Boy Scouts, the threats to the special counsel and now an interview with Trump’s out-of-control, potty-mouthed communications director. What about Trump, exactly, reflects their values? (Taking Medicaid away from millions and separating families to deport law-abiding immigrants?) The Trump administration is a clown show — but it’s the evangelicals who supplied the tent, the red noses and the floppy shoes. Each day presents a new insult to the office of the presidency and a repudiation of civilized behavior.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times inched closer to the truth when he wrote 

Think about it. Losing health coverage is a nightmare, especially if you’re older, have health problems and/or lack the financial resources to cope if illness strikes. And since Americans with those characteristics are precisely the people this legislation effectively targets, tens of millions would soon find themselves living this nightmare. Meanwhile, taxes that fall mainly on a tiny, wealthy minority would be reduced or eliminated. These cuts would be big in dollar terms, but because the rich are already so rich, the savings would make very little difference to their lives…

So it’s vast suffering — including, according to the best estimates, around 200,000 preventable deaths — imposed on many of our fellow citizens in order to give a handful of wealthy people what amounts to some extra pocket change…So one way to understand this ugly health plan is that Republicans, through their political opportunism and dishonesty, boxed themselves into a position that makes them seem cruel and immoral — because they are…

Or to put it another way, Republicans start from a sort of baseline of cruelty toward the less fortunate, of hostility toward anything that protects families against catastrophe. In this sense there’s nothing new about their health plan. What it does — punish the poor and working class, cut taxes on the rich — is what every major G.O.P. policy proposal does. The only difference is that this time it’s all out in the open. So what will happen to this monstrous bill? I have no idea. Whether it passes or not, however, remember this moment. For this is what modern Republicans do; this is who they are.

But in the end, it is Trump who is ultimately responsible for this indecent, immoral and inhuman behavior because he has the pen to sign-off on it, or let the ACA die by refusing to enforce it, or fund it. This is a man who has lived in his unreal “reality” show since he could use his mind, entirely cut-off from the rest of humanity. He knows his only true connection with the mass of people who voted for him is racial animus. There is no point in denying this, since most whites identify minorities with low-income or unemployed people who are the principle benefactors of public assistance; even low or no-income whites believe this, mainly because they blame minorities (who by the way are not the ones paying them low wages) for their problems. Meanwhile, Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, continues his war against minorities; this “genteel” Southern racist has received the ire of Trump for his “recusal” from the Russia investigation, but that has only allowed Sessions more time to engage in his racist passions, which of course Trump full-throatedly approves.

Yet this truth is not getting out to the American people, mainly because too many people are too lazy to read. They certainly are not getting the truth listening to Fox News, and for all the attacks made on CNN by Trump, that network is loath to alienate even white bigots. I’ve heard no talk about the utter immorality of the Trump administration and its policies; the Russian “problem” might be grabbing most of the headlines, but even news on the Republican healthcare woes are not approached from the vantage point of the essential evil of their proposals.

Curiously, the only public figure who has given an intelligent assessment of Trump via the audio-visual medium does not even speak English as his first language. Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, posted a video on YouTube in which he attempts to personally address Trump on his considerable shortcomings as president and as a human being, although in my opinion he being too kind to Trump:

Amigo, you have a ton of flaws, but in my opinion, the one underlying problem with your presidency is that you are doing it for the wrong reason. This is a picture from my inauguration,  one of the proudest days of my life. I can tell you exactly what I am thinking of in this picture: that I have been honored with the massive burden of millions of expectations, and I must do my absolute best to be worthy of that trust. This is you in the most solemn moment of your life. Thinking about how big your crowd was, worrying about if the last guy had a bigger one than you. Donald, his is much bigger. 

This is so important, Donald, and I really want you to concentrate on what I am saying. So I brought something that will make it easier for the bees living in your brain to focus. Here is the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you have ever seen. Now that I have your full attention, Donald, a presidency is not measured in praise, loyalty or lavish gifts. It is measured in the amount of lives it improves. And the worse the quality of those lives, the more credit for the improvement of their lives. If everything you do is designed to make like better for millionaires, or billionaires, your presidency will be infamous. 

You much reach down to the people who make you uncomfortable, who might look different than you, and lift them up. This is what great presidents do. When you became president you did not become boss of your people. They became the boss of you. Even the ones who didn’t vote for you. You can call them haters, losers, but they are still your boss. You live in their house. They pay your salary. And if they don’t like the job you are doing, then in a few years…months? You’re fired! Your whole image is as winner. But if you keep robbing from the poor, to give to the rich, your tenants will take your name off your buildings. Your children will take your name off your grandchildren (fat chance of that; his children are dependent on his money). And you will go down as the single biggest loser your proud country has ever produced. 

This is a dark thought, ain’t it? But there is still time to change it. Roll-up your sleeves, learn about your country you’re leading, and dedicate your life to helping the poor people  you claimed to care about back when you were campaigning. And if at the end of four years you walk into Mar-a-Lago and the entire place erupts into boos, there is a chance you will have become a good president, maybe even a great one. But if you walk in and the millionaires and the billionaires greet you with cheers, then you have failed your country. Your name is mud, and history will grind you beneath her heel. You see Donald, it is possible not to eat the whole cake. 

In another video, Fox attempts to probe into the deepest, darkest corners of Trump’s mind, and offers this advise:

Cute kid, huh? You know who that is? It is you, before you turned into you. Donald, instead of building a wall, build a bridge across the oceans of time, and walk back across it, and find this small boy, and tell him that just because his father doesn’t love him, doesn’t mean he cannot love the world. 

Fox offers an honest assessment of Trump, something that most Americans would not concede to someone representing a country they believe is occupied by mostly “stupid,” lazy, violent, subhuman people.  Unfortunately, the question is who is listening, or better yet, who wants to listen? Certainly not diehard Trump supporters too consumed in their hate to face the ugly truth.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Is reducing the national debt a legitimate excuse for gutting the ACA and Medicaid expansion? No.

For the moment it seems that after claiming that the House healthcare bill was “dead on arrival” before proceeding to negotiate in secret a bill that is not only very similar to the House version, but in some ways even worse, Mitch McConnell and his far-right Senate colleagues’ have stubbed their toes in wading into the healthcare quandary. After years of denouncing the Affordable Care Act, yet expecting to do little but use it as a rhetorical tactic for their own re-elections after the expected Hillary Clinton election, Republicans have once more exposed the fact that they not only never had a “plan” of their own, but never expected that they would have to concoct one—and it shows with their rushed, badly thought-out legislation. 

The Congressional Budget Office report suggests that instead of being just as “mean” as the House version, the Republican Senate healthcare bill is actually “meaner,” principally because although it spreads out Medicaid cuts a few years longer, the cuts are in the long-run deeper than the House version. It also continues the House action to essentially deny affordable care for those with pre-existing conditions, and shifts the burden of cost from the wealthy to the low-to-middle-income and older Americans. 

It is now reported that a bi-partisan network of governors worked behind the scenes to derail the Senate bill, persuading a few Republican Senators from their states to oppose the bill. Because of these defections that bill has been shelved for the moment, although one should take a cautionary note since the awful House bill also had its hiccup—and what was eventually passed was even worse than the original. There is some light talk about abandoning a partisan bill and crafting a more “bi-partisan” bill that will likely shed those on the radical fringes of both parties, but might actually pass and be “better.” But no one should be overly sanguine about that possibility.

Meanwhile, we have to discuss one of the reasons why there are still voters who oppose what they admit is in their own best interests. In some locales, low-income Republican voters are questioning the party’s attitude toward affordable health insurance, particularly in regard to ending Medicaid expansion. But The Guardian recently visited a West Virginia country music hoedown and discovered that in spite of reservations about ending the current system, some people insisted that there are “legitimate” reasons for gutting the ACA and replacing it with something worse. “I know it’s risky, at my age” not to have health insurance, one man said. But something should be done about the national debt: “They’ve got to do something to get it under control.”

Another Republican voter, a disabled former construction worker who relies on Medicaid—one of over 500,000 people in West Virginia who do—it’s also about the “debt”: “They want all these things kept in that we just can’t afford to keep in.” He’d rather “suffer now” and do his little bit to reduce the national debt, so that future generations (or rather his) “can have it better”. He added, bizarrely, that “Just like we have to cut the music programs. I hate to see them cut, but they got to be.” When you have voters equating grade school music programs as having the same importance as healthcare, you know that there is something seriously wrong with the thinking of many people in this country.

Is reducing the national debt a legitimate excuse for denying healthcare to 22 million more people? According to the CBO, the House bill will reduce the deficit by a little over a $100 billion over ten years, while the Senate will save over a $300 billion. But those numbers could be subject to change, like the cost of needless military adventures. And is that “savings” really that much in the grand scheme of things? Forget that proposed tax cuts for the wealthy far outstrip those figures; consider this: Even with the Vietnam War and Great Society programs, under the LBJ administration the national debt grew from only $308 billion to $362 billion from 1963 to 1969. The debt only increased marginally during the administrations of Nixon, Ford and Carter. 

But then the national debt tripled under the Reagan administration, thanks to massive military spending, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and major adjustments to marginal tax rates (not to mention that “trickle-down economics” was a destructive sham that led only to runaway income redistribution to the wealthy). The debt then increased 50 percent during the four years of the elder Bush administration, then 40 percent during the eight years of the Clinton administration, and finally nearly doubling during the second Bush and Obama administrations. Today the national debt is in the neighborhood of $20 trillion. That is a lot, isn’t it? But not to Republicans who told us that ballooning debt is “good”—if it is Republicans who are creating it; it’s only “bad” if it is created during Democratic administrations.

Last year, Jeff Spross wrote in The Week the prevailing view among economists concerning the national debt:

But it can enable wealth creation. The government can hire people to build roads and bridges, to clean up public spaces and parks; to provide education and health care. All that is real economic production made possible by the government's power to borrow and create money. Similarly, while simply giving money to the poor doesn't create wealth, it does give them the initial resources they may need to re-enter the economy — and thus begin creating wealth again.

Furthermore, the “savings” even in the Senate healthcare bill is a relative tiny drop in the bucket even if that was the “goal”—and it isn’t, because if the ACA was a Republican creation they’d be fighting tooth-and-nail to preserve it. And it is nothing compared to estimates of tax evasion in this country, with estimates anywhere from $100 to $300 billion a year. 

Like all the rationalizations of people whose opposition to social programs is based on their racial and class attitudes without consideration to the greater good of all, the national debt rationalization for cutting Medicaid expansion—which like most such expenses actually helps rather than hinders job creation and the economy, and not simply winding up in the pockets of those who already have much more than what they need—has no sense at all to it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Past U.S. Open Championship proves that without Woods, mediocrity reigns in golf

Since the exit of Tiger Woods from the PGA tour I have lost almost total interest in golf, save to observe that there has been a succession of “young guns” who have turned out to be mere pretenders to his pedestal. At this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day—the 1, 2 and 3 ranked players in golf—failed quite miserably to even make the cut. Another darling of the tour, Jordan Spieth, finished over par and in 35th place. All told, 8 of the top 12 golfers failed to make the cut. 

One would assume that the course must have been extremely difficult, as the U.S. Open historically is meant to be. But in a “record-setting” tournament, it played more like a free-swinging PGA Championship; 32 players broke par for the tournament. Some no-name named Brooks Koepka won the tournament by four strokes with mind-boggling 16-under par—in a tournament where the winner is often the only player to sneak in under par. Five other players came in with double-digit scores, none of them “stars” on the tour. Steve Stricker was the closest “name” player, finishing 11 strokes off the pace in 16th place.

None of this should be a particular “shock” to anyone, given the current state of the “talent,” and the way the sports media has attempted to inflate the current state of the game. Is it “good” that there is no one “dominate” player in the game who represents the gold standard? Not really. For the “casual” fan, you need to have a vicarious connection to a player who you know is going to be not just competitive every week, but has a very good chance of winning. Instead, we see McIlroy falling off the map after one stellar season, and Spieth has done nothing since winning two majors. They are not Woods’ “successors”—they are just more of the same that he would have run into the ground in his prime. 

The “dominate” factor in professional golf (other than the fact that the LPGA is dominated by Asian players) is that there is a lot of mediocrity, with being the “best” meaning fortunate in having a good season or two before returning to mediocrity. In other words, golf without Woods is back to being what it was before.