Monday, January 15, 2018

When Trump called Haiti and African countries “s***holes,” he was also calling the people who come from there “s***” and included all African-Americans

By Marc Jampole
There have been four justifications made by GOP and FOX apologists for Donald Trump’s outrageous characterization of Haiti and the countries of Africa as “s***holes.” The excuses range from the duplicitous to the cynical:
  1. He didn’t really say it: Only the true believer believes this obvious lie. No one has denied that Trump used that word and several witnesses have confirmed it.
  2. These countries really are “s***holes,” or hellholes as many journalists are now using in its place. So what? We’re talking about people, not the countries they come from. We investigate every refugee and immigrant for terrorist tendencies or a criminal past. Why should the economic condition of the country matter? If anything, one could rationalize a preference for people fleeing hellholes over those from cushy countries. If you’re unhappy in the utopia that is Norway, what kind of malcontent or socially maladjusted person are you anyway? Whereas, if you have the gumption to leave a “hellhole” and better yourself, you’re the type of person we want and need.
  3. That’s the language average Joes use in bars. That doesn’t make it right. The President is supposed to uplift the level of discourse, not debase it to the lowest common denominator.
  4. It appeals to his base. Which is why the base and Trump are so dangerous. We can’t forgive or justify a racist comment by saying it’s okay because some people like it.
These attempts to forgive, explain or contextualize Trump’s remark avoid the uglier truth behind the ugly statement: that the only countries the Donald labels as “s***holes” have primarily black populations. While his comment denigrated African countries and Haiti, it also communicated that Trumpty-Dumpty believes that the people from those countries are inferior. The not so hidden subtext was a slam at African-Americans, a group that Trump has long abused both verbally and with his actions. We thus cannot regard his remarks as solely anti-immigration, or anti-immigration from certain countries. The remarks also manifest an explicitly anti-African American mentality. When Trump called Haiti and African countries “s***holes,” he was also calling the people who come from there “s***” and he meant every African-American.
The last person as racist as Donald Trump to be afforded the majority of votes by the Electoral College was Woodrow Wilson, who as president re-segregated washrooms, cafeterias and work areas throughout the federal government, in the process terminating or downgrading the employment of thousands of African-Americans. His many actions and comments disparaging blacks and elevating whites gave permission to the growing racist sentiments of the progressive era. It’s no surprise that it was during Wilson’s presidency and afterwards that the KKK got its second wind, becoming an important social and political force not only in the South, but also in the Midwest and West. About the KKK, Wilson said, “The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation—until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.” He sympathized with white supremacists who hated the Reconstruction period ”because the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded.” Wilson also feared and hated East Asians, as witnessed by this choice nugget: “Oriental Coolieism will give us another race problem to solve and surely we have had our lesson.”
In his new biography of Ulysses Grant (who may have done more than any other white person to advance the cause of blacks in America), popular historian Ron Chernow builds the case that no American president has held as openly racist views as Andrew Johnson, who ascended to office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. One quote from Johnson should suffice: “This is a country for white men and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” Johnson actually told Congress that “negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people.” In private remarks, Johnson often used the n-word, which may be next on the list of taboo words and phrases that Trumpty-Dumpty rehabilitates now that we can say “s***hole” in public discourse without too much embarrassment. As president, Johnson tried to slow down the Reconstruction process of integrating freed slaves into Southern economies and governments, for which he was impeached and almost convicted.
Both Johnson and Wilson managed to whip up hope among the significant minority of Americans who believed that whites were superior to blacks and that blacks posed a threat to white America’s way of life. During both their administrations, violence against African-Americans, especially in the South, while the federal government pulled back on their protection of the civil rights of minorities. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing the same thing happen under the current administration. The head of government sets the public conversation and is one of the main forces in determining what is appropriate and inappropriate in the marketplace of ideas. There may be several points of view on any given issue, but one of them is always the president’s.
While racism has played a quietly growing role in Republican ideology since Goldwater, no recent national candidate before Trump had the gall and lacked the good taste to play up racist ideas in an explicit manner. Trump makes himself absolutely clear even to those not attuned to the subtle degradations of racial coding. When he says, “Make America great again,” no one has any doubt that his true message is “Make America white.”It won’t happen, because within three years, he’ll be impeached, resign or lose the next presidential election. But while in power Trump and his minions will do a lot of damage to our minority and immigrant populations that will last years after he is gone. Moreover, he has opened the same Pandora’s box of racism that Andrew Johnson refused to shut after the Civil War and Wilson helped to pry open again in the Progressive Era.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Editorial: GOP Smash and Grab

It grates on us every time Donnie Trump is described as a populist. He talked a populist line during the presidential campaign, with promises such as “Under a Trump presidency, the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.” But his campaign promises were entirely unbelievable, and his first year in office have proven the skepticism was warranted.

He had a long record as a New York real estate developer and entrepreneur who had his clothing line made in China; imported Chinese steel to build his hotels; stiffed his subcontractors, making them sue him to get paid; and resisted unions at his properties. He had a reputation as a liar, demonstrated by PolitiFact’s running tally since 2011 that showed him telling the whole truth only about 4% of the time through November 2016. But Trump apparently attracted just enough suckers, possibly influenced by Russian hackers spreading fake news on the Internet, combined with voter suppression in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to surprise some of his closest aides, as well as his wife and possibly even himself with his upset victory over Hillary Clinton.

Lying Donnie conned his way into the White House by promising to fight for working people and protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but after his inauguration he installed administrators whose job has been to dismantle every worker- or consumer-friendly regulation that President Barack Obama implemented.

Trump also installed a half-dozen current and former executives of Goldman Sachs to deliver the goods to the plutocrats, as usual, while he spends short days in the Oval Office, then retires to his bedroom at 6:30 p.m. for Big Macs, Filet-O-Fish and a chocolate milkshake.
We didn’t really need Michael Wolff’s explosive tell-all, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, to let us know Trump was in over his head and alarming even his closest advisers with his apparent descent into madness. But it confirmed rumors that have been leaking out of the White House for months.

Then, as the year was coming to a close, with the Great Misleader’s unpopularity stuck in the 30s and dragging down congressional Republicans, the window of opportunity to pass major legislation was closing. Wealthy donors threatened to withhold money from their dependent Republicans if the GOP didn’t furnish a massive tax break as a return on their investment. Republicans in Congress drafted a bill that would raise taxes on working families to pay for huge tax giveaways to billionaires and corporations, in the legislative equivalent of a smash-and-grab robbery.

The AFL-CIO labor federation noted the tax bill would rig tax rules in favor of big banks, hedge funds and Wall Street financial firms. The richest 1% of households would receive 83% of tax cuts, and the richest 0.1% would get an average tax cut of more than $148,000. The tax bill is full of complex tax gimmicks that would encourage tax dodging while enriching lawyers and accountants, and the Senate finally passed it on a 51-48 vote Dec. 19. The House then finally passed the bill 224-201 Dec. 20

The GOP scam offers job-killing tax breaks for outsourcing, as it lowers the US tax rate on offshore profits to zero, giving corporations an incentive to move American jobs offshore. Republicans also put a tariff on goods manufactured in storm-damaged Puerto Rico, which will harm efforts to rebuild industry in that forlorn American territory.

Republicans also signaled that once they’re done increasing the deficit with their wasteful tax boondoggle, they plan to use the deficit as an excuse to cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, giving another lie to Trump’s assurances that he would protect the safety net. The Republican budget, already signed by Trump, would cut Medicaid and Medicare by $1.5 trillion — the same price tag as the tax bill — and Republicans are proposing a $492 million cut in the Social Security Administration, reducing the agency’s staff so seniors will have a harder time getting access to benefits.

Republicans promised their plan would help the middle class with tax relief that will stimulate economic growth and higher wages — classic supply-side economic hogwash, which failed under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, George W. Bush in the early 2000s and in Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback from 2012 until mid-2017, when Republican legislators finally joined Democrats to restore the taxes, over Brownback’s veto. (The entire Kansas congressional delegation still voted for the new tax scam, however.)

Although Republicans claim the tax scam would cut taxes for working families, at least in the first few years of the implementation, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sees tax increases for millions of working people, as the average household making less than $75,000 would pay more in taxes by the year 2027. In all, 70 million households earning less than $100,000 eventually would pay more under the new law.

And any increase in take-home pay from the tax cuts likely will be offset with increases in health care costs, as the law also repealed parts of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which means health care premiums in the individual market will rise by 10% or more. The CBO estimated 13 million people would lose health insurance, and health experts say thousands of Americans could die every year from loss of coverage.

The reduced tax revenues will spur automatic cuts to Medicare and other programs to offset the reduction in revenue caused by the tax breaks under the 2010 Pay-As-You-Go law, unless Congress votes to waive the PAYGO rules — which would require Democratic support in the Senate, since 60 senators are needed for the waiver.

Republicans also encouraged state and local governments to cut spending on public education, infrastructure and public services working families depend upon, by limiting the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. However, a new backdoor school voucher program would give tax breaks for tuition at private schools. Republican leaders in Congress also plan to use the deficit they created as an excuse to cut federal funding for education and other essential services.

The American public has caught on to this scam. A CNN poll released Dec. 19 found only 33% of Americans favor the GOP tax bill, while 55% oppose it, making this the most unpopular bill in 30 years. A Gallup Poll released Jan. 8 showed Trump’s job approval stuck at 37%, while 58% disapproved and on generic congressional races Democrats were leading. 42.1% to 34.7% in an average of polls reported by HuffPost’s Pollster Jan. 2.

The corporate press — whose owners will rake in big bucks from the tax cuts — has rated this a great victory at last for Trump and his Republican Congress, and that might improve GOP popularity in months to come. But this plutocratic tax bill puts a target on the back of every Republican member of the House and the Senate who have enabled Lying Donnie as well as Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It makes it imperative that Democrats regain control of Congress in 2018 so they can block any more bad things from happening — including confirmation of the teabagger lawyers Trump is putting forward for lifetime appointments to judgeships. GOP committee heads also are helping Trump obstruct justice in the Russia probe.

It probably will take until 2021, after Dems regain control of the White House as well as, we hope, the House and Senate, that Democrats can repeal this dreadful tax bill — if necessary, by the same reconciliation process by which it was enacted. And Dems may profit from the lesson on how to pass bills without a 60-vote supermajority. Among other things, expansion of Medicare to cover everybody now appears to be within reach with a simple majority. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 2, 2018

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2018 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the February 1, 2018 issue

COVER/Medea Benjamin 
10 Good things about a TERRIBLE year


EDITORIAL
GOP smash and grab


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
Virginia town models First Amendment


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Women lead the way in 2018


DISPATCHES
Feds prepare crackdown on cannabis industry;
Trump wants to waste money on Border Patrol agents, too;
Trump administration plan to bail out coal and nuclear plants rejected by fed agency;
Expansion of offshore drilling faces big obstacles;
Trump promised to ‘protect and fight for’ American workers. How that went;
Washington Dems’ ambitious vote agenda;
Cliven Bundy set free due to prosecutorial misconduct ...


ART CULLEN
Lack of bird flu research should make you queasy


JILL RICHARDSON
A new year’s resolution: Time to speak up 


JOHN YOUNG
2018: a year the GOP would just as soon skip


ELLIOTT NEGIN
Trump vows to kill 50 years of federal health and safety protections

JASON SIBERT
Missouri voters look for another try at living wage


JOEL D. JOSEPH
Country of origin labeling works


BOB BURNETT
Make America weak again


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
Death by a thousand cuts


SAM URETSKY
Trump undermines AIDS programs


BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel 
Mother knows best


WAYNE O’LEARY
The Franken travesty


JOHN BUELL
My 2017 favorites


BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Trump this


ROB PATTERSON
Put sexual predators on the run


SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson 
Who put the woe in Lake Wobegone?


MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Lone wolf Antifa in new anti-neo-Nazi German film


and more ...

Health Expenses Around the World



Graphic by Kevin Kreneck


Friday, January 12, 2018

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Another attempt at privatization of a government function fails. This time it’s collection of back taxes


By Marc Jampole

Once again, privatization of a basic government function has failed. As the New York Times reports, the Internal Revenue Service paid $20 million last year to private collection companies to collect unpaid back taxes. The companies were able to dun people for a mere $6.7 million in back taxes. Sometimes they were paid a 25% commission on back taxes collected solely through the efforts of the IRS. But there’s much worse, 45% of the take was from taxpayers they weren’t supposed to go after: hardship cases for whom paying back taxes would prevent paying basic living expenses.
As Gomer Pyle, the rube played by Jim Nabors for years on two situation comedies, would put it, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
If Congress had studied history, it would have known that privatization of tax collecting—which used to be called tax farming—doesn’t work as efficiently as the government doing its own collection. (To be accurate, private companies are trying to collect back taxes for the IRS; historical tax farming collected all taxes.) Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece all had third-party for-profit enterprises collecting taxes, as did the early kings of Europe. Historians now consider having the government bureaucracy collect its own taxes as one of the earliest signs of a modern government. The advantage of the government doing its own collections is twofold: It gets more of the revenues and the taxpayers are happier, since tax farming generally led to abusive practices by the tax farmers, who sought to maximize profits by squeezing taxpayers. Of course, even if Congress had known what a failure privatized tax collection is, it might have still passed the 2015 bill requiring the IRS to use private contractors.
When will politicians, both Republican and Democratic, learn that the private sector doesn’t always work as well as government does in providing services, especially when those services involve most if not all of the population?
Let’s tally the performance of the private sector when it takes over functions previously performed successfully by government.
We’ll start with private schools. Advanced research now demonstrates without a doubt that when you correct for poverty and disabilities public school students do better on standardized tests and improve their performance more over time than do private schools. And no wonder. Compared to private schools, public schools are more innovative, have more experienced teachers and provide those teachers with more continuing education.
Private prisons have proven to be a complete disaster virtually everywhere they have been tried in the United States. A few years back, the Wall Street Journal detailed the woes that the state of Idaho had after it privatized its state prisons in 2000; its private prison contractor walked away from a new contract, leaving Idaho with several lawsuits alleging that understaffing led to gangs rampaging violently through Idaho’s private prisons. The Journalreported that Michigan recently dropped plans to house 968 cons in a privately run prison after the bids by private companies exceeded by millions how much it would cost the state to do it. A few years back, a study showed that private prisons cost the state of Arizona more than a public system would have. When the State of Ohio gave its first inspection to one prison, it found that since a private company had taken over the facility compliance with regulations fell from 97.3% to 66.7%, a stunning decline in quality. As long ago as 2010, The Lexington Herald-Ledger called the privatized prison system in Kentucky a failure and cited the many abuses at one notorious private-run correctional facility.
How about private armies? People seem to forget that since Bush II, we have farmed out a large part of our military functions to private companies like Blackwater (formerly run by the brother of our current pro-privatization Secretary of Education) and Haliburton (the former company of Bush II’s VP, Dick Cheney). At a certain point, we had well over 100,000 military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, hired mercenaries loyal to their company not to the United States and not indoctrinated with the values and ethics of the American military. Using contractors drove up the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and led to a number of scandals of abuse of local civilians. And perhaps most significantly, we have failed to win either of these wars. And why would anyone think we’d have a better chance to win with hired guns, not well-trained U.S. soldiers? The United States has recognized the inferiority of privatized armies since we beat one in the Revolutionary War.
Then there’s our privatized health insurance system, which costs much more than other nations and yet delivers inferior health care, if judged by outcomes. In 2015, the United States spent almost three times on healthcare as the average of other countries with comparable incomes. Despite these outsized U.S. expenditures, people live longer in 29 of the 34 other countries surveyed. When compared to nationalized health insurance systems, we have fewer hospital beds per capita, higher rates of infant mortality and fewer people covered by health insurance. If you don’t think government does a better job of providing healthcare, ask anyone who has just switched from a commercial plan to Medicare what they think. I immediately noticed the improvement in benefits and access to care that Medicare provides.
For one more example, let’s go back in time to the early days of data processing. Many states and the federal government would outsource data processing to private companies such as Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS). Back in the 1980’s, it would cost Perot’s company about 6-8 cents a transaction, including labor costs. EDS charged governments 72 cents a transaction, a pretty fat profit margin. It doesn’t take much of a business head to figure out that the governments would have saved their constituents a lot of money if they had bought the computers and done the work themselves.
Of course, evidence means nothing to Trumpty-Dumpty and Republicans. Just this week, we learned that the Trump administration has abruptly halted work on the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, which analyzes substance abuse and behavioral health problems and recommends which work and which don’t, based on actual evidence. The program has been around about 20 years and features a website listing 453 programs in behavioral health that have been shown, by rigorous outcomes measures, to be effective. Like all Republicans, Trump and his advisors would prefer that the public be free to select from any number of treatments, even those that evidence has shown are little better than quackery. The freedom to select something that doesn’t work because you don’t have enough information and/or have been fooled by an unethical charlatan is more important than cutting the cost of health care and getting people the best treatment.
The contemporary Republican Party seems to run from science, which disproves virtually all of its fundamental ideas regarding the economy, free markets, the environment and public health. Their religious faith in the power of privatization is greater than the evidence that shows it doesn’t work.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The danger of an Oprah presidency: Instead of being chief of state, POTUS becomes a celebrity figurehead


By Marc Jampole

No one can really answer the question, “Would you vote for Oprah for president?” out of the context of who the other choices are. In a primary against almost any other Democrat, I would vote for the opponent—maybe I’d vote for Oprah over Corey Booker or Heidi Heitkamp, because they’re so conservative. Maybe. But I would certainly vote for Oprah over just about any Republican Maybe I’d vote for John Kasich, Jon Huntsman or Nikki Haley instead of Oprah. Maybe.
Do I think Oprah is qualified to serve as Commander in Chief?
Hell, no.
Sure, she’s a personable entertainer and a shrewd businesswoman, truly a self-made billionaire. Her politics seem to fit in with Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s: a centrist looking left who will repair the damage of almost 35 years of Reaganism and move us along towards a socialist democracy, but at a snail’s pace and while ignoring the needs of labor unions. She seems to believe in science and respect expertise. She is as sincerely compassionate as the current generation of Republicans are mean-spirited. I am certain that if elected Oprah would surround herself with left-leaning centrists distinguished in their respective fields or bright political minds. She would be a feel-good president, much like all our presidents were between Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office. With a solid Democratic majority in both houses she could have a historic presidency, on par with the accomplishments of Roosevelt and Johnson. But that’s what I predicted about the impending Hillary Clinton presidency, back before anyone knew that the Russians were attempting to fix the results.
But that doesn’t mean that Oprah should run. She’s just not qualified. She’s never run a government bureaucracy. She’s never shepherded legislation to passage. She’s never juggled electoral concerns with governmental realities. She’s never voted for or against something that affects the lives—and sometimes deaths—of thousands, or millions.
Moreover, what the United States doesn’t need right now is to solidify the idea that a celebrity is qualified to be president, or that to be president of the United States, you must be a celebrity. The mainstream news media would like nothing better than to continue a reality TV approach to covering politics. It’s much easier than getting knowledgeable and asking intelligent questions about real issues. But if we keep electing people with no government experience who have primarily been entertainers or athletes, we’ll end up with a titular presidency, a front person who spouts off the words of others, with the real power up for grabs in the back rooms of the White House. Okay, we’ve sometimes had that situation before, but a celebrity presidency institutionalizes the ceremonial approach to the office, with the real power lying elsewhere, hidden away from public scrutiny.
I’m not saying Oprah will act like a reality show participant as president. She’ll certainly know how to comport herself with dignitaries, foreign leaders, the news media, Congress and the public. There will be no displays of ignorant rudeness, like riding in a golf cart while everyone else walks or pushing past the head of another country to get into the center of a photo. I’m quite certain that while she will tweet and give Facebook updates with great frequency, a President Oprah would not resort to feuding, insulting, exaggerating, bullying, bragging and the other reality TV techniques that Trumpty-Dumpty employs.
But hers would still be another celebrity presidency. And that has to be bad for the country, no matter what her administration might accomplish.
At various times, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were labeled rock stars, a derogatory phrase meant to imply that they were no better than celebrities. Opponents denigrated Ronald Reagan as an actor. But all these individuals had been involved in government before running for president. All had won elections before. That’s what Oprah needs to do, maybe even serve in a cabinet post. At the age of 63, it’s a little late to get started, but even if she served one term as a senator or governor, it would transform her from celebrity to elected official. It worked for Nelson Rockefeller and Jack Kennedy. It worked for George Murphy, Al Franken and Ronald Reagan. It worked for Sonny Bono. Okay, maybe not for Sonny.
Now that we’ve had our fantasy about possibly electing one of the most likeable people in American to follow one of the most despised, the Democratic Party has to get back to sifting through likely candidates who have electoral and governmental experience. There are any number of qualified Democrats out there: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill DeBlasio, Sherrod Brown, Chris Murphy, Amy Klobuchar, Gavin Newsom, Tammy Baldwin, Chuck Schumer, even (holding my nose and frowning) Andrew Cuomo. But not Oprah, please. (also not Bernie, Joe Biden or Hillary.)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What connects deporting dreamers and refugees & the new war on pot? The need to fill the private prisons owned & operated by Trump/Session supporters


By Marc Jampole

The body count is getting higher: Add 200,000 Salvadorans to 780,000 dreamers and 45,000 Haitians. That’s well over a million people now, mostly productive and hard-working, ripped out of our economy and communities. These are many of the people who make our hotel beds, fix our pipes, take care of our elderly, slaughter our chickens, pick our crops, deliver our groceries and build our roads and housing. We can expect labor shortages in all these and other industries.
Don’t expect people postponing retirement to fill the gap—the ones who work past 62 are mostly professionals in desk jobs. You might see a senior staffing a cash register at Walmart or flipping burgers at MacDonald’s, but Baby Boomers’ expansive waists, bad knees, sore rotator cuffs, aching hips and general arthritis will rule out plucking oranges from trees, walking patients around hospital wards, making deliveries or operating a jack hammer. As with most of their policies, the Trump GOP’s deportation of more than a million productive Americans goes counter to the best interest of the country. We need to address global warming; he walks away from the Paris Accord. We need to raise taxes on the wealthy; they lower them. We need more workers or face a labor shortage; he kicks out millions.
Add to the more than a million refugees and other immigrants Trump intends to kick out of the country by 2020 a yet unknown number—the additional number of people who will be thrown in jail as a result of the Justice Department’s new crackdown on marijuana. Will it be 10,000? 20,000? 50,000? However many, they won’t be leading productive lives contributing to the economy.
On the surface, what unites deporting dreamers and refugees with ratcheting up arrests for something that should be legal—and is in many states—are the sheer stupidity of the actions, the mean-spirited cruelty underlying both policies and the deleterious effect each will likely have on the American economy and on many individuals.
A follow-the-money analysis uncovers another connection between these two deplorable stupidities: Both will line the pockets of the operators of for-profit prisons. The way back to wherever someone or their parents started usually runs through a detention center, so virtually every dreamer or refugee kicked out of the country will spend some time under lock and key for long periods of time. And every stoner or pot entrepreneur busted will end up detained, sometimes for years.
What a boon to for-profit prisons, which the Obama Administration had begun to phase out. The incarceration industry and its investors have been riding high since Trump announced that he was rescinding the Obama decision and relying even more heavily on private prisons. Now instead of facing a contraction of business, private prisons are looking at boom times.
As usual, Trump gets it wrong. By almost every measure private prisons have been a disaster: prisoners are more likely to be mistreated and often don’t get enough to eat or adequate medical care; drug use and violence are greater in private prisons. Often the private solution ends up being more expensive. It has never produced a greater rate of rehabilitation.
Besides being a disaster, private prisons also have a distorting effect on our politics and criminal justice system. Private prisons make money only if they are filled with prisoners, and so their operators have long lobbied for three-strikes-you’re-out and other harsh sentencing laws. They have contributed to the campaigns of many law-and-order candidates, primarily Republicans and including Jeff Sessions and now Trumpty-Dumpty.
“Crony capitalism” means giving large government contracts to your friends and financial supporters. It’s been around since the Revolutionary War and served as one of the primary sources of ultra-wealth during the Civil War and the Gilded Age. Private prisons are the quintessential “crony capitalists,” an industry that emerged only from a desire to privatize and thereby create more opportunity to use government revenues to create profit for private individuals at the expense of taxpayers. Government is the sole market for their services. It is in their best interest to increase their market by increasing the number of people detained and incarcerated. In an era of rapidly falling crime, that means increasing what is considered a crime and expanding the jail time demanded of the perpetrators. Criminalizing both immigrants and pot smokers fill the bill quite nicely.
The Trump Administration operates primarily on hate, fear and crony capitalism. We can see all three motives coming together in granting the wishes of another large industry dependent on government largess.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Upside of downsizing the American dream: It may slow down use of fossil fuels and global warming


By Marc Jampole

In discussing climate change, the very broadest view we can take is the unfolding of evolution. Recent findings uncover a strong connection between the composition of gases in the atmosphere and the development of life on Earth. Factors such as earthquakes, volcanoes, the activity of the sun, the warming and cooling of the globe, Earth’s slightly irregular rotation in orbit and the impact of asteroids have affected the amount of methane, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere and water. Some species thrive and others falter when this mix of gases changes, either suddenly or over large expanses of time.
Most relevant to this discussion is the percentage of oxygen in the air. Paleontologist Peter Ward (University of Washington) and geologist Joe Kirschvink (California Institute of Technology) explain in A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth that in Triassic times, just before the extinction event that ushered in the Jurassic period, the precursors of mammals called the therapsids dominated the earth. Compared to reptiles, these ur-mammals had less efficient lungs (as do mammals), but it didn’t matter since the earth was relatively rich in oxygen.
But something happened during the extinction event that separates the Triassic and the Jurassic periods to reduce the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere, enabling reptiles, including dinosaurs, to thrive and impeding the development of mammals. The rise of the dinosaurs may result directly from a reduction of oxygen and increase in nitrogen in the atmosphere. While science now confirms that the crash of a large asteroid is implicated in the death of all land dinosaurs and most avian dinosaurs (the surviving flyers becoming birds), evolutionary scientists now believe that the central factor in the rise of mammals, and thus primates and humans, was the increase in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere from 14-16% to about 21% about 65 million years ago.
Humanity’s current spewing of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year is already changing the mix of gases dissolved in our oceans. Once the waters become supersaturated with carbon dioxide, if we are still in the midst of our fossil fuel burning spree, we can be reasonably certain that the overall percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase and, more significantly for the survival of humanity, the percentage of oxygen will decrease.
That’s the long-term threat of failing to limit severely the amount of carbon we release into the environment. But before the composition of atmospheric gases radically could change, humanity would already have suffered—and perhaps gone extinct—from pandemics, famines, extreme weather events and resource wars: The four horses of the apocalypse known as global warming.
I recently did the latest version of the individual footprint test, which estimates the number of earths it would take to have the resources to support every human being in my style. Now I’m a voluntary simplicity warrior: I walk or ride the subway as much as possible, only occasionally taking the bus. I was in a car for less than 200 miles last year and took one airplane trip. We eat primarily locally grown food and I eat energy-intensive red meat but once a week. We compost. We live in a 1,200 square-foot apartment in a 17-story building that recently switched to gas heating. We buy only wind-powered electricity and recycle everything allowed. But despite these best efforts, my footprint computes to 1.5 earths for everyone. What else can I do without government intervention, besides maybe to get my building to go solar? The subway has to start using less energy and the buses have to eventually run on wind- or solar power, probably on rails. My food, clothes, computers—everything will have to be made and delivered more cheaply.
And that’s in energy efficient New York City! What about the rest of the country, where automobile travel dominates, mass transit has been allowed to wither and people live in and therefore heat larger spaces, and do so less efficiently, in free-standing houses? If everyone in the world lived as the average American does, it would take the resources of five earths.
The upside of the downsizing of the American dream that the growing inequality of wealth and income has produced is that it will soon shrink the footprint of many Americans. But we have to change what we do with the vast excess capital produced by squeezing the middle and lower classes. Currently, we give it to a small group of very lucky, if typically well-connected, individuals and families, AKA the super wealthy. Instead, we should use taxes to confiscate this excess capital and fund mass transit, wind and solar power, alternative technology development and adaptation, local sourcing projects throughout the United States.
We should also invest heavily in promoting negative population growth. Imagine, if everyone in the world limited themselves to having one child, the population would naturally shrink to a more manageable size. With fewer people, we could sustain a higher average quality of life.
Make no doubt about it—for humanity to survive, Americans will have to start using less energy and other resources and there will have to be a lot fewer of not only us, but of all the peoples of all the nations.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

News flash to Donald Trump: There is only one size to every nuclear button—the length and breadth of the globe


By Marc Jampole
Donald Trump is using twitter again to twit and goad Kim Jong Un, the autocratic leader of North Korea. This time, he’s warning Kim that Trump’s “nuclear button is much bigger & more powerful than his, and my Button works.”
You know that old Russian saying: “Big button, small hands.”
But seriously folks, this comment demonstrates that the man for whom a slim majority of the Electoral College voted in 2016 has no understanding whatsoever of the potential threat of dropping even one nuclear weapon anywhere in the world. Radiation from the fallout will poison the air immediately and show up in milk and other food within months. Additional cancers and birth defects will plague distant populations for decades.
And that’s from one bomb.
Remember that when the U.S. dropped the only two atomic bombs ever used against human populations, no other country had the capability to respond in kind. That has changed. It’s likely that before even one atomic bomb hit the atmosphere of a country with weapons, that country would have already unleashed all the firepower it possessed in retaliation, wreaking horrible destruction on the enemy that attacked it first, but also poisoning noncombatants throughout the Earth. It’s called the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction,” or MAD, the primary justification countries use for having nuclear weapons: If you use it, we’ll use it and the results will be we’re both destroyed. (and the rest of humankind.)
Mutually assured destruction was based on game theory, which is a discipline of mathematics that assesses the probability of intelligent, rational decision-makers taking certain actions in given situations. The frightening words are “intelligent, rational decision-makers” because we suspect Kim and know Trump is neither intelligent nor rational. MAD doesn’t work if one of the decision-makers is mad or ignorant.
A rational person understands that in a world in which ten nations have nuclear capabilities, that every nuclear button is of the same size. Each covers the entire width and breadth of the globe, potentially with a thick nuclear winter of soot and other particles that the firestorms of thermonuclear war would release into the atmosphere.
The world is depending on the common assumption that both Trump and Kim are bombastic blowhards who use words to bloviate, bully and bluff. These insecure and ignorant tyrants would never actually push that big button, whatever its size. Besides, if they did, others argue, someone with a greater understanding of the probabilities would intervene, U.S. generals or the Chinese government.
Of course, when Trump says something stupid, it’s rarely out of the context of botching up the best efforts of others. Instead of praising the recent peace overtures between North and South Korea, Trump has decided to use the taunting language of an insecure middle school bully.
Donald, you fool, when it comes to nuclear weapons, size does not matter. You’re just too small a man to know it.