Saturday, February 25, 2017

Editorial: Trump: Evil or Incompetent?

Supporters of Donald Trump object to comparisons of the so-called President of the United States with Adolph Hitler, but Trump does appear to have taken a page or two from Hitler’s playbook as he seeks to exert power and undermine the press’s role as a check on his demagoguery. Trump’s frequent dismissal of the mainstream press as “fake news” and the new charge, “enemy of the American people,” is reminiscent of the Nazi Party’s use of “L├╝genpresse” (lying press) to defame the anti-Hitler press in Germany in the 1930s, claiming they were opposing the “will of the people” — and some Trump supporters actually shouted “L├╝genpresse” at the journalists traveling with Trump during the campaign in October.

In an article for the Los Angeles Review of Books (Feb. 5), Hitler biographer Ron Rosenbaum, who wrote Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, said that during the campaign he declined requests to draw comparison’s between Hitler and Trump. “While Trump’s crusade had at times been malign, as had his vociferous supporters, he and they did not seem bent on genocide,” Rosenbaum wrote, but after the election things changed. “Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German.” The playbook, he noted, is Mein Kampf, and “Hitler’s method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late.”

“There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale,” Rosenbaum wrote. “His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let’s call it what it is: defining mendacity down.”

We hope we’re not alarmist in comparing Trump to Hitler. Maybe Benito Mussolini is a better model for Trump’s ambitions.

There also is the argument that his administration isn’t competent enough to work the levers of power. Trump recklessly imposed a ban on entry into the United States of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, including those who had visas or held green cards as permanent residents of the US, without consulting professionals at the departments of State, Homeland Security or Justice. He fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she said she wouldn’t defend the travel ban because she was not convinced it was lawful. (Trump got someone else to handle the appeal, but the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals panel apparently agreed with Yates.)

Then Trump let retired Gen. Michael Flynn remain as national security adviser for two weeks after acting AG Yates had warned the White House that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the US. Flynn apparently was recorded discussing with the ambassador the lifting of sanctions against Russia, while Flynn was still a private citizen, which would be a violation of federal law. Trump only took action to oust Flynn after reports of the FBI’s investigation of Flynn were leaked to the Washington Post — and Trump and other White House officials later blamed the leakers more than Flynn.

Trump’s performance at his 77-minute press conference on Feb. 16 was remarkable for his hostility to the press as well as what has been his reckless disregard, if not outright contempt, for the truth.

The Grifter in Chief wants his supporters to believe they can’t trust anything they read in mainstream newspapers or TV, but reputable newspapers and TV news programs admit their errors. Trump rarely acknowledges his misstatements, even after they are pointed out. And there are plenty. Of 370 Trump statements examined by PolitiFact, the independent fact checker run by the Tampa Bay Times , it found that only 4% were true and 12% were mostly true, while 50% were rated either “false (33%) or “Pants on Fire” lies (17%). Trump was the biggest liar among presidential candidates from either party in the past election cycle.

Trump claimed that a new Rasmussen poll showed his approval rating at 55% and going up, but other polls show Trump with significantly lower approval ratings, such as Gallup (40%) and Pew Research Center (39%). “Trump’s overall job approval is much lower than those of prior presidents in their first weeks in office,” Pew said. “Nearly half (46%) strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 29% strongly approve.”

Trump dismissed those findings, tweeting, “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.”

So the good news is that less than 40% of Americans may be falling for Trump’s con. The bad news is that 26.7% of eligible voters can swing an election, as happened on Nov. 8, because only 60.2% of the voting-eligible population actually cast a ballot. And Trump supporters appear to be happy with his job performance so far, as a CNN/ORC poll released Feb. 7 showed 90% support among Republicans. The same poll showed his job approval was 44% overall, and 53% of the general public disapproved of the way Trump is handling his job.

Trump isn’t helped by gaffes such as occurred during a Feb. 18 rally in Melbourne, Fla. when he referred to a supposed tragedy in Sweden. “We’ve got to keep our country safe,” he told his supporters. “You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”

Swedes were baffled. Nothing particularly bad happened on Feb. 17 and there were no terrorist attacks in the recent past. “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister, wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, Trump offered his own clarification, writing on Twitter, “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”

In that story, Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed Ami Horowitz, a filmmaker who asserts that migrants in Sweden have been associated with a crime wave. “Sweden had its first terrorist Islamic attack not that long ago, so they’re now getting a taste of what we’ve been seeing across Europe already,” Horowitz said.

It was not clear what Horowitz was referring to, but the New York Times noted that in 2010, a suicide bomber struck central Stockholm, injuring two people. The bomber was an Iraqi-born Swede who had developed an affinity for Al Qaeda. But that attack occurred long before the current wave of migrants to Sweden.

Part of the problem may be that Trump doesn’t like to read or sit still for intelligence briefings; he reportedly gets most of his information from watching cable TV news, particularly Fox News and Morning Joe on MSNBC. So he is one of those Fox News viewers who are more likely to be misinformed about public policy issues than other news consumers, as several studies have found.

In the most recent such study, in May 2012, Farleigh Dickinson University, in its PublicMind survey of 1,185 nationwide respondents, found that someone who watched only Fox News would be less informed on domestic issues than all other news consumers, including those who didn’t watch any news broadcasts. On international questions, Fox News viewers were also least informed, behind MSNBC and people who didn’t watch broadcast news.

But Trump apparently still trusts Fox News more than the Central Intelligence Agency. Maybe he’s modeling Rufus T. Firefly.

Democrats and Republican congressional leaders should set up an independent commission to find out what communications occurred between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s financial dealings in Russia and other nations amount to a conflict of interest. Republicans who don’t stand up to Trump now will end up handcuffed to him in the next election. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2017

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Selections from the March 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Joseph Erbentraut
Farmers rethink support for Trump

Trump: evil or incompetent?


Medicare ‘reform’ versus Populist tradition

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Profits in prison

California weighs single-payer health bill;
Trump truth found wanting at Florida rally;
Newt’s time bomb claims Obama’s regs;
Reality setting in on Obamacare;
Trump’s first-month travel expenses cost more than Obama’s annual costs ...

American Hellscape

Subpoena Trump; Put him under oath

To save Main Street, tax Wall Street

Mexico’s stormy winter of 2017

Steve Mnuchin is no Joe Kennedy and he’s unfit for his new gig

An inoperable tumor

Trump’s immigration policy leads to war

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Deflecting the Trumpercar

Does intelligence have a future?

Is Judge Neil Gorsuch a closet liberal?

Jingoism as foreign policy

Courts and Constitution as saviors? 

Rethinking infrastructure

That’s a fact, Jack

Police stories

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
‘Do not resist’: the post-9/11 iron heel of the state

and more ...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

At emotional heart of transgender bathroom issue is dignity versus anger. In Trump’s world, anger wins out

By Marc Jampole

The latest Trump-GOP assault on human and civil rights has arrived: the rollback of Obama administration rules that have allowed transgendered students to use the schools’ public bathrooms of the sex with which they identify. 

Legal arguments on the issue seem always to reduce to the question of whose rights are more important—the transgendered person’s right to use the bathroom of choice or the rights of those offended to they think that a person of another sex might be in the bathroom with them. I was originally on the wrong side of this issue, believing that  bathroom use should follow the genitals. A close gay friend of mine pointed out the danger to transgenders who want to appear in public looking like the sex with which they identify and thus risk a beat-down if they use a bathroom that corresponded to the sex on their birth certificate.  Moreover, when we consider that all pertinent female business is conducted in stalls and that a transgender with female genitals would have to use a stall in a men’s room, we realize that the harm caused to others is imaginary in all senses of the word, whereas the harm suffered potentially by all transgendered people is very real.  

Making the trangendered use the bathroom of the sex on their birth certificates thrusts on them a decision between four terrible choices, all informed by rejection and fear: 1) Appear in public as what you are and do not use the bathroom, no matter how badly you have to go; 2) Appear in public as what you are, use the bathroom and risk harm; 3) Appear in public “in hiding” by dressing like the sex on your birth certificate; 4) Don’t go out in public. By contrast, no such terrible decision is thrust upon those who object to the transgendered using the bathroom of the sex with which they identify. First of all, it is extremely unlikely they will encounter a transgendered individual, since so few exist. Secondly, if they do encounter one wherever the location, they won’t know the person is transgendered for certain, even if they suspect or think they know. For the most part, the offended party has to be consciously looking to be offended and consciously inferring something offensive. 

A “who’s harmed” analysis thus falls heavily on the side of protecting the rights of the transgendered. 

At the heart of the transgender bathroom issue, however, is the basic meaning of human dignity in our society. The dictionary meaning of dignity is the quality of being worth something, of being honored and esteemed. In other words, dignity is intricately tied to society and to interactions between people. Dignity is the feeling we have that others respect us as free and individual, consider our feelings, think we are law-abiding, are not laughing at us and do not think we have committed a social mistake. 

All dignity, in the bathroom and elsewhere, is mostly a social construct. In some societies, people have no problem doing their business in the open in front of others. And even in our society, we have a sliding scale of what we’ll do and who we’ll do it in front of. Things that are okay in front of a sibling or lover might not be okay in front of strangers. What’s okay at age five may be taboo at age 15.  We may temporarily suspend our definition of bathroom dignity when in the armed forces or on a camping trip. Lyndon Johnson sat on the can with the door open talking to aides as a sign of his power over others.   

As a society, Americans put a price tag on bathroom dignity when we decided not to make public bathrooms a series of small water closets or a big room with a number of completely closed off stalls. These private rooms would enable public facilities to become unisex.  In both Spain and the Netherlands, I found that the stalls in public bathrooms were almost everywhere individual rooms with real locks and even door knobs; and when they were mere stalls, the walls and doors extended from floor to ceiling.  Even in the one or two public bathrooms in which there was space at the top or the bottom of stalls, it was never more than an inch or so. And in both countries, the toilets were always well stocked and clean—even in bus and train stations. Spanish and Dutch societies display respect for the individual reflected in the privacy they give everyone to do what is a very private action for most people. Contrast with America, where high school students in many public urban high schools today have to sit on the porcelain throne in a low-walled, doorless stall. 

In America, we would rather cut corners, save a little money and provide less private public bathroom facilities. If Americans valued dignity in the bathroom as much as the Spanish and Dutch do, the challenge of accommodating the bathroom needs of the transgendered in public places wouldn’t exist.  

A failure to value individual human dignity results in placing the hypothetical rights of those offended by the thought of seeing a transgendered person in the bathroom over the real rights of the transgendered, who will certainly lose dignity by looking like a woman in the men’s room, or like a man in the women’s room. They may also lose a pound of flesh or a few teeth, as well. Safety issues aside, a thirst for dignity is at the heart of the desire of the transgendered to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify.

By contrast, the emotional component of being offended by a transgendered person in the bathroom is anger, which may be caused by a variety of factors: because the transgendered person is different, because the viewer’s religious sensitivities have been offended, perhaps as a reaction to her-his own confused sexual feelings that contradict what her-his role models say is morally right.   

Thus, by not allowing the transgendered to use the bathroom they want to use, the Trump administration has said it values the anger of some over the dignity of others, which is par for the course for Trumpty-Dumpty. It’s worth noting that lots of thinkers have proposed the idea that if one group is denied dignity or the concepts associated with dignity by a society, everyone in effect is denied it. No one has ever said that about being denied the right to be angry, although the right to express anger in legal, nonviolent ways is protected under the First Amendment. It’s in the nature of a free society to favor the rights of those who offend more those who take offense. 

Let’s speak truth to power. Those who want to overturn the Obama transgender rule are doing so for religious or moral reasons. They want to impose their religious value system on the rest of the country. At heart, they oppose all forms of sexuality except heterosexual relations, and those should preferably be between a man and woman who are married to each other. If they can’t outlaw the transgendered, they want to chase them into dark corners, not only so they won’t have to see them, but also to make the lives of the transgendered harder than they already are.  Moreover, opposition to transgender rights serves as wedge for a slew of other prejudices - against gay marriage, other LGBTQ rights, abortion, birth control. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trump’s war on immigrants comes home. Guess what? It’s part of a larger war on our economy & values

The other day I was at a friend’s house when her housekeeper Kelly (not her real name) announced that my friend would probably never see her again. It turns out Kelly is an undocumented worker from a Caribbean country, something my friend never knew since she contracted with a cleaning service, which she assumed handled employment procedures and policies.  

Kelly is leaving America now before she is captured in a routine Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) round-up and deported. Her reasoning is impeccable: If she leaves now, she can take her possessions. If she waits until she is picked up, she will likely lose everything not in her immediate possession. The fact that all three of her children in her home country now have good middle class jobs and she has a grandchild back home helped to tip the scales in favor of leaving America.  

Kelly is one frightened lady. She quickly reeled off ICE raids she has heard have occurred recently: at the Atlantic Avenue subway station, a major transportation hub in Brooklyn; in Brighton Beach, home of many Russian immigrants; throughout Queens, which is the most ethnically diverse place in the galaxy. She rattled off location after location where immigrants tend to congregate that have been felt the wrath of the ICEmen and ICEwomen coming. 

Kelly wasn’t reacting to the raids per se, but to the increased publicity about the raids. My encounter with her came before Trump’s Draconian executive order greatly expanded the categories of undocumented immigrants who would be priorities for deportation. The statistics show that Trump’s ICE is not picking up or deporting undocumented individuals with any greater frequency than Obama’s ICE did. Of course, one of the dirty little secrets of the Obama Administration was the zeal with which his Department of Homeland Security rounded up and deported the undocumented. Kelly, who has never been in trouble with the law anywhere for anything, is reacting not to statistics, or even to her own experiences. Her fears primarily are a response to Donald Trump’s troglodytic chest-thumping and ugly threats. And she is not alone. As the news media have reported, immigrant communities across the country are feeling an overwhelming anxiety over raids and deportation, greater than what they have ever felt before.    

We ended up having a lengthy conversation with Kelly. Besides cleaning houses for the service, she also has independent clients, which makes her, as she put, “an entrepreneur.” She certainly displayed many traits of successful entrepreneurs like practicality and a certain business cunning. It also turns out that Kelly is well-versed in current events and seems to know more about immigration trends, the economy and the constitution than the blowhard who won the vote in the Electoral College in the last presidential election. A talented person who is a great asset to her clients and to the overall community. America is a lesser nation without her. 

According to all studies, America will be a lesser nation without the millions of people Trump wants to deport.   For example, about seven years ago, a study by economist Giovanni Peri for the Federal Reserve Bank (THE FED) of San Francisco found that when immigration increases, the wages of the average U.S. worker increases a little and that the productivity of the entire economy improves. More recently, Peri and another economist, Andri Chassamboulli, have found that deporting undocumented immigrants decreases employment and would lower the wages of native born Americans, while legalization of the undocumented would increase both employment and wages for American citizens. In other words, sending the undocumented home, as the Trump Administration wants to do, hurts the overall economy and all workers. 

Most of the upper middle and solidly middle class people who supported Hillary Clinton (who we should never forget was one of the most qualified presidential candidates in American history and defeated Trump by almost three million votes in the popular election) have expressed sincere empathy with immigrants, Muslims, poor women, those without college diplomas and others who seemed the likeliest victims of Trumpian and Republican wrath, greed and stupidity. Many of those who are well off without being rich have acted on that empathy by attending demonstrations, writing Congressmen and donating to organizations fighting Trump’s policies or helping its victims.  

I think for the most part, though, those of the upper middle and solidly middle part of the wealth spectrum thought they wouldn’t be hurt by a Trump Administration, especially once the stock market started to soar. They have jobs, healthcare, money in the bank, and ancestors who came from Europe. I think many have felt a little guilt over the fact that they would probably continue to thrive under Trump’s America. I have no studies on this issue, but see a lot of evidence of it on social media. 

But there’s no reason for those who are well off but not rich to feel guilty, because the big hurt Trump and the GOP are planning for America will affect everyone but the very rich. As more immigrants—legal and otherwise—return or are returned to their native countries, the economy will shrink. Business and individuals will find it harder to fill the jobs that immigrants tend to take because native born Americans don’t want them—housekeepers, dishwashers, taxi drivers, short-term laborers, farm workers. Meanwhile, the Republican plan to “fix” the Affordable Care Act will end up raising the cost of health insurance for everyone, even those few people who did not benefit from its implementation. Dismantling pollution regulations will also raise healthcare costs for everyone, as more people will get sick. Wait. There’s more! If Trump gets his way and tariffs on imported goods rise, everyone will end up paying a lot more money for everything they buy. Everything. Lowering taxes on the wealthy will not create any more jobs in the private sector, if the history of western capitalism since before the 19th century holds true, but will reduce government jobs as programs shrink to pay for the additional tax cuts. Lower taxes on the wealthy will soon enough create another bubble in the stock market and/or other assets, as rich folk search desperately for places to park all the extra money they have. History again tell us what will happen. The bubble will burst. Billionaires may lose a couple of hundred million. Those in the upper middle class may lose their retirement savings. The economy will be savaged, putting millions of people who aren’t independently wealthy out of work all along the income spectrum. 

There’s a whole mess of pain coming for everyone but the ultra-wealthy.