Saturday, January 28, 2017

EDITORIAL: Trump’s Alt Reality

If the first 72 hours are any indication, we are in for a wild ride through an alternate reality, which Donald Trump and his advisers are setting up in the White House. In Trump’s world, facts are negotiable, but their values are set by the chief executive.

We happen to agree with Trump on much of his stated trade policy, in stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership and renegotiating other trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, to protect American manufacturing. But we don’t have confidence he’ll follow through.

First, Trump is a liar. As of Jan. 23, PolitiFact, the independent fact checker run by the Tampa Bay Times and affiliated news organizations around the country, had judged 352 statements by Trump over the past six years and found 70% were either “mostly false” (19%), “false ” (33%) or “Pants on Fire” (18%). Only 4% of the examined statements were rated “true.” In the past month, Trump has kept up the mendacity.

At best, Trump has a reckless disregard for the truth. He often runs his mouth without reflecting, such as when he told CIA officials at a public event Jan. 21 that the Islamic State probably would never have existed if the US had seized Iraq’s oilfields, an act that would have violated international law. Then Trump added, “OK, maybe we’ll have another chance,” as if that quote won’t enrage nationalists in Baghdad and Mosul.

We also don’t have confidence that new trade deals Trump would negotiate would protect the rights of workers and the environment.

In his inauguration address, Trump impersonated a populist when he said, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs …”

There is a lot of wealth in Washington, D.C., but the real money flowed through Wall Street to the richest 1% in the nation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is flirting with 20,000, more than triple its value in March 2009, when President Barack Obama was digging out of the mess George W. Bush left him, and Republican congressional leaders were pledging to obstruct Obama at every turn.

Despite the GOP’s worst efforts, Obama and the Democratic Congress passed a stimulus bill that helped to revive the economy, kept GM and Chrysler in business, passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which didn’t go far enough but went further than Republicans wanted, and curbed the worst abuses by financial speculators. Among other things, Dodd-Frank set up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help consumers resolve complaints against banks, credit unions, securities firms, payday lenders, mortgage servicing operations, debt collectors and other financial companies. And the Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010 and nicknamed “Obamacare” by Republicans, helped 20 million Americans get health care but interfered with insurance companies’ right to increase their profits by denying coverage to people when they got sick. The banksters never forgave Obama and the Democrats. Trump has imported several of those Wall Street denizens into the White House, including at least a half-dozen alumni from Goldman Sachs, and Trump’s plan to repeal both Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act puts the lie to his populist pose.

Trump’s Goldman Sachs crew includes Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Treasury secretary who left GS to scoop up California’s IndyMac savings and loan in 2009, renamed it OneWest Bank and made a fortune foreclosing on distressed homeowners. Gary Cohn was the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs before Trump picked him to head the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Jay Clayton, a Wall Street lawyer who specialized in mergers and acquisitions and has defended Goldman Sachs and other banks in regulatory proceedings, is Trump’s choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Trump’s top donor, hedge fund manager and Goldman Sachs alumnus Anthony Scaramucci, will serve as a senior White House advisor. Dina Habib Powell, a GS executive, will serve as senior counselor for economic initiatives. And Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign CEO and now a senior White House counsel, was a vice president of Goldman Sachs in the 1980s before he joined the entertainment industry and became head of

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of State, was not connected with Goldman Sachs and never had an office on Wall Street, but being chairman of Texas-based Exxon Mobil has its privileges. And workers should not expect much help from Trump’s choice for Labor secretary, Andrew F. Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurant chains. Puzder opposes raising the minimum wage and expanding eligibility for overtime pay. He also is an advocate of automation, since machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, told the New York Times Puzder was “a man whose business record is defined by fighting against working people.”

Ronnie Cummins of Organic Consumers Association noted that Trump “has signaled loud and clear his intent to maximize the profits of giant corporations—like Exxon Mobil, BP, and Monsanto and Bayer (whose merger he’s set to approve)—on a scale never before seen in our lifetimes. Public and environmental health be damned.

“Trump has appointed a slate of millionaire and billionaire corporate cronies to key, powerful positions, with orders to immediately set to work rolling back any regulations or policies that even hint at cutting into corporate profits. We will have an EPA Administrator, an Energy Secretary and a head of the CIA who largely reject the international scientific consensus that human behavior is a contributing factor to global warming.”

Trump was clearly bothered by the taunts that he was short on legitimacy when his winning campaign was found to be boosted by Russian hackers, WikiLeaks and Republican voter suppression efforts in key states. He got an Electoral College victory despite the fact that Hillary Clinton outpolled him nationally by more than 2.8 million votes. So Trump on Jan. 21 sent White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer out to blast the news media for reporting on the massive Women’s March on Washington and other cities around the country, the day after the inauguration. Spicer claimed that “members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting.” He insisted the crowd that watched Trump’s inauguration was greater than the crowd for either of President Obama’s inaugurations, though photos clearly showed the Trump audience didn’t fill the Mall, and DC Metro reported traffic lagging the day of Trump’s inauguration, compared with previous inaugurations and the morning of the Women’s March.

PolitiFact reviewed Spicer’s statements and, after reviewing the “misleading or inaccurate evidence” the new White House press secretary provided, the nonpartisan fact-checking site concluded: “We rate Spicer’s claim Pants on Fire.”

The following day, when presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press to explain Spicer’s “falsehood,” she replied that he “gave alternative facts to that.”
It’s useful for reporters as well as the general public to know they can’t trust Spicer or Conway any more than they can trust Trump.

We already miss President Obama, but we caution those who hope for Trump’s impeachment: That would just put Mike Pence, who might be a more dangerous right winger, in the Oval Office. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2017

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Selections from the February 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
We need truth about Trump and Russia now

Trump’s alt reality


Health care repeal is a stealth tax break for millionaires

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Where did your grain come from?

Dems will fight right-wing court nominee;
Trump would convert Medicaid to block grants;
GOP sens. propose giving states option on Obamacare;
Canadians denied entry for Women’s March;
Trump's inauguration TV ratings worst in 40 years;
Trump makes homebuying more expensive;
Trump picks ‘net neutrality’ foe as FCC head;
Group aims at recruiting, training, supporting young people to run for office;
Trump has high disapproval ratings;
Trump faces lawsuit for violating Constitution;
Abortion rate hits all-time low, not because of restrictions ...

A war on regulations

Faith communities pray for the best, prepare for the worst

No shiny shoes at this inaugural ball

The Trump story the media dare not utter

Lessons liberals learned

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Introducing personhood

The big con

Why self-driving cars will fail

The art of the con

Meeting President Trump’s challenge at the grass roots

Reforming work on-demand in 2017

Practicing respectful free speech

Sober reading

I am NOT a sissy

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Framing philosophy: Good grief!

and more ...

Donald Trump is giving us a government of the Kochs, by the Kochs & for the Kochs

Funny how everything seems to always work out well for some people.
Take the Koch brothers, David and Charles, who kept a billion dollars in their and their associates’ pockets that they had planned to spend to sway the 2016 presidential election for just about any Republican candidate other than Donald Trump. Jane Mayer is reporting in her post-election update of Dark Money, her masterful expose of how the Kochs’ money has perverted American politics, that even though the Kochs sat on their hands in the 2016 election, they are now deeply embedded in the Trump Administration.
Mayer reports that the Trump administration is crawling with Koch operatives and lobbyists. Mike Pence was the Koch’s first choice for president in 2012 and has received significant financial support from the Kochs in the past. The Kochs set new CIA Director Mike Pompeo up in business and have provided him with financial support throughout his political career. Then there’s the cabinet, that skewers towards the kind of anti-regulation, pro-oil, climate deniers that the Koch Bro’s love to love. Did Trump say he would “drain the swamp” or “join the swamp?”
It’s no wonder that Koch’s political director says there is no “daylight” between his positions and those of Trumpty-Dumpty.
As Mayer points out in an interview with NYC-FM’s Brian Lehrer, Trump is poised to deliver what the Kochs want:
  • A weak global warming policy or none at all: The primary Koch business is selling oil and other fossil fuels.
  • A weakening of regulations that reduce industrial pollution: Koch Industries in the largest producer of toxic waste in the United States and among the leaders in air and water pollution.
  • Cutting taxes on the wealthy: The Kochs are multi-billionaires and own the second largest private company in the country.
As the German industrialists who backed Hitler discovered, when you lie in bed with a crazy person, you have to take the good with the bad. It’s hard to imagine that the Kochs, who see that there is a coming labor shortage and therefore are in favor of lowering sentences and emptying prisons of non-violent offenders, would favor a wall, even if they believed it would keep out illegal immigrants (which it won’t, of course). The trade war and much higher consumer prices that are sure to be the outcome of Trump’s proposal to raise tariffs will likely hurt Koch businesses more than it will help them. The banning of immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries seems gerrymandered to help Trump, not the Kochs, since Trump conveniently forgot to include countries with which he has business dealings. Finally, you would think that as extreme libertarians, the Kochs would uphold the right of a woman to have control over her own body and are would therefore not be happy that Trump is reinstituting and strengthening the ban against U.S. funds supporting international organizations that even mention the word “abortion” (a move, by the way which will lead to more abortions worldwide as fewer means of birth control exist for poor women in Africa and elsewhere).
But the Kochs reserve freedom and self-determination to themselves and their billionaire brethren. They really don’t care what happens to anyone else, as long as they can continue to pollute the earth and avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Like the Republican Party, the Kochs hold their nose and let a crazy person with ideas that will hurt most people hold power. The Kochs could be applying a lot of pressure on Congress to impeach and convict Trump. Perhaps they will, as soon as Trump has completed gutting environmental regulations and lowering taxes on the wealthy.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Every other democracy in world history would already have dumped Trump

Looking at the video streams and photos of the marches around the country against the Trump Administration was like sex. There are only three kinds, good, better and best.  

Seriously, I had many favorite photos of the marchers, but my absolute top favorite was of the D.C. police wearing pink caps loaned to them for the purpose taking the photo. It’s not the 19th century anymore. For the most part, police in major cities are educated professionals with working wives. They want Trump as little as the marchers do.  

The truth of the matter is, no one wants Trump except that gerrymandered minority who for this brief instant in history control Republican primaries and the Electoral College. And a good chunk of that minority are orange-dog Republicans. The Republican Party doesn’t want him. The military doesn’t want him. The CIA doesn’t want him. The news media don’t want him. A majority of the people in the country voted against him and think him incompetent for the job. No country in the world save Russia wants him. Correction, China doesn’t really want him but knows that it will be the big winner if he manages to put his program through. 

But no one is willing to even consider changing governments at this point. Except, that is, for a contingency supporting Trump, for whom violent regime change is a fondest dream. 

In no other democracy in the history of humankind would the Trump government still be standing. Every other democracy has either been weak or a parliamentary system which produces multiple parties. In either case, the kind of protest we saw the day after the inaugural ceremonies would have toppled the government. In any parliamentary system, the marches would force the government to resign, something that Paul Krugman pointed out in the New York Times. In Turkey, the military might have taken over and immediately handed power to Hillary Clinton or Paul Ryan. Moreover, no other democracy has had an Electoral College to serve as an intermediary between voters and election results.  In every other democracy, the candidate receiving 2.8 million more votes would have been declared the winner. 

We may talk about Putin, Comey, voter suppression, the news media’s double standard and the GOP ending super delegates as proximate causes for the ascendancy of Donald Trump, but the structural causes are two: the Electoral College and the two-party system, two attributes of American government which are pretty much unique. 

The problem with the Electoral College is the winner-take-all nature of the system, increasing the power of some states and the voters in those states. Winner-take-all is not in the constitution.  States made it a winner-take-all system only in the 1880’s. In other words, we don’t have to attempt the near impossible task of amending the constitution to address the basic problem with the Electoral College. All we have to do is amend state laws to mandate that their electors divide their vote according to the popular vote. Democrats have won the popular vote in four out of five of the last elections but have assumed the presidency twice only. My conclusion: Democrats and progressives should begin a major campaign to either pass a federal law using the 14th amendment as a pretext for mandating states divide electoral votes to reflect popular vote totals. We could also attempt to change state laws, but that’s a little tricky. We would have to focus first on red states, because if only blue states changed the law, Democrats could see their margin of loss in the Electoral College grow at the same rate as their margin of victory in the popular vote increases. 

Imagine if we had more than two parties as national and legislative force. Imagine if we had three, four or more parties. In election cycles of the 21st century, the Democrats and Greens would have formed alliances to rule the government, which would have moved the Democrats to the left. The demands of the Libertarians would have forced the Republicans to ditch Trump for someone real.  

But let’s be realistic. We’re talking about the United States of America, the country founded on slavery and propelled by racism through its entire history. If we had multiple parties, they would without a doubt tend to break down along racial lines. And that could get ugly. 

So we accept all the cheating that went on to elect Trump and let him serve. Everyone conveniently forgets that Republicans fixed the voting rules in many swing states. We conveniently forget that James Comey and Vladimir Putin broke the rules. We forget that the news media created different rules for the two candidates. And we overlook the hundreds of rules that the winning candidate broke in his professional career. But once this seeming ruleless election ends, we all follow the rules that dictate that the winner of the Electoral College, no matter how unqualified and unpopular, has the right to dramatically make disastrous and illogical changes in the direction of the country.  The peaceful transfer of power matters more than the will of either the people or the ruling elite. 

It’s what we in America like to call “stability.”