Hypocrisy of the Right

July 20, 2017

Liberals have been the subject of accusations of hypocrisy by Conservatives for decades. Sometimes the accusation is deserved, like when college Liberals deny the free speech opportunities to Conservative speakers. However, their sanctimonious accusations about the personal morality of liberal concepts (e.g. gay rights, the right to choose, national security, etc.) now are exposed as nothing more than a pretense of a moral foundation. Evangelicals who condemned Bill Clinton for his affair unconditionally support Trump with a history of philandering, serial adultery and divorces, and misogyny and flagrant disregard of the gospels call to serve the poor. Conservatives literally were calling for impeachment of President Obama over his use of executive orders, now point to Trump’s use of executive orders as evidence of his “amazing accomplishments” in office thus far. What was “unconstitutional” for President Obama is celebrated with Trump. Hypocrites.

Perhaps the most flagrant evidence that Conservatives lack any moral compass has been their complicit silence on the Trump missteps on national security. If there was one issue that defined the Conservative brand it was national security, yet they remain essentially silent over the embarrassing embrace of Putin (including siding with Putin against our own intelligence and national security apparatus), revealing sensitive intelligence to Russians in the Oval Office. Conservative were silent after Turkish bodyguards brutally beat protesting American citizens literally blocks from the White House, silent at the lack of response to the death of a citizen after imprisonment in North Korea, silent with the ongoing targeting of American allies in Syria by Russian forces, etc. It is a catalogue of hypocrisy that dissolved the thin veneer of the moral superiority of American Conservatives.

What remains of the Conservative brand? The only issue that ever mattered to them: the redistribution of wealth. For decades, they have accused Liberals of trying to redistribute wealth, which was perhaps their only valid accusation. However, it is a critique that is just as applicable to Conservative policies which has been just as eager (and far more effective) at income redistribution than any Liberal program. Conservative programs leading to “free competition”, “de-regulation” and “trickle-down economics” have produced a massive shift of income from the working class to the top 1% of Americans. The conservative America of today has income inequality that is greater than many third world countries, at the cost of suffering by the most vulnerable Americans. Trumpcare as it is being proposed currently is another example: a massive tax break for the wealthiest resulting in a massive reduction of medical services for the poorest Americans. Billionaires earning hundreds of millions of dollars on Wall Street will get hundreds of millions more by taking away the medical benefits of Americans in poverty working up to 80 hours a week at minimum wage jobs. That is the morality of Conservatives in a nut shell: a thin veneer of moral diversions from an essentially amoral core. Perhaps the exposure of the hypocrisy of Conservatives on their holy dogma of national security and personal morality may be the greatest contribution of the Trump presidency.

The Myth of Trickle Down Economics (Healthcare)

July 19, 2017

Conservatives are strong proponents of trickle-down economics, and unfortunately the Michigan Legislature is dominated by conservatives. I say “unfortunately” because trickle-down economics has left a legacy of failures as long as its own pedigree. The concept was that by reducing taxes on the richest Americans the increased capital would eventually “trickle-down” into investments in businesses that would create more jobs for middle-class families. Prior to Reagan, the highest tax brackets ranged from roughly 90% to 50%. During that period we had the most successful period of economic growth in world history. According to trickle-down proponents, lowering the highest tax rates would result in even greater expansion of growth and wealth that would benefit all Americans. The result of every across the board tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans has been a slower growth rate, and an unprecedented redistribution of wealth to the top 1% of Americans. Conservatives argue that trickle-down economics benefits all because the economic “pie” is bigger – lower income Americans are getter a smaller piece of a bigger pie. The data is undeniable, income for middle class has remained stagnant for decades: in the last 30 years 90% of working Americans have seen a growth rate of only around 15%, and most of that was lost with the real estate bubble crash. Income for the top 1% of Americans during the same period has increased more than 300%. The conservative economic agenda included deregulating capital markets, free trade and “right to work” legislation. The result has been jobs being transferred to other countries and lower wages here in Michigan. Reducing tax rates for the wealthiest has also resulted in budget deficits, where the response of conservatives has been to reduce the social safety net and investments in education and infrastructure to justify even more tax cuts – rob from the poor to pay the rich.

Another variation of trickle-down economics is reducing corporate taxes and relying on tax giveaways. The results of tax giveaways to corporations has been just as disastrous for Michigan. The vast majority of communities offering corporate tax give-aways have been left to face disastrous financial decisions afterwards. Instead of giving across the board tax reductions or giveaways, why not target tax reductions specifically for job creation? That is not part of the Republican agenda of enriching the rich in exchange for campaign funds to help keep power. Stealing money from tax funds collected specifically for the Detroit Schools to subsidize the profits of the Detroit Pistons is an example of how Michigan Republicans enable income redistribution. Trumpcare is another example of taking from the middle-class to help the rich to get richer at the expense of working class Americans.

The ultimate conservative experiment with trickle-down economics is the disaster known as Kansas. Slashing individual and corporate tax rates has resulted in an unmitigated social and financial catastrophe. Contrast the dismal economy of Kansas (and Michigan) with the “left coast liberal” economy of California, with it’s progressive taxes and Green Economy. With middle-class Michiganders increasingly suffering from Conservative economics you would think that there would be widespread discontent with Republican rank and file, but this has not been the case so far. Michiganders have consistently voted against their own economic interests in state elections. Perhaps the next generation of Michiganders will stop responding to the trickle-down pied pipers, once they realize that they have better economic prospects in a third world country like Viet Nam… which, by the way, has better roads…

American Tribes

June 23, 2017

The shooting at a ballfield in Virginia of congressmen and aides is tragic and how we respond to it will affect our country in important ways. It might take a while to understand the causes, the meaning and the results of this violence because so many aspects of our culture are involved.

Will the extraordinary polarization of Washington continue to calcify and will the malignant divisions continue to spread into the broader society? Many academics trace the hardened and personal partisan divide that has so characterized Congress in the last two decades to something as mundane but as consequential as Gerrymandering. Congressional districts have been redrawn to virtually assure that the only fear most representatives ever have is a challenge in their primary from someone in their own party. The result is that congressmen consistently appeal to their base and comply with the policy interests of money lobbies. It is as though the job of representative is one of making calls to donors and issuing inflammatory rhetoric to satisfy their base. The House of Representatives have lived within its self-created bubble until the angry rhetoric and gun violence that many of us suffer has busted that bubble. Children being slaughtered in Connecticut or Georgia resulted in absurdly partisan responses with conservative GOP representatives calling for arming schools rather than common sense laws to limit assault weapons. I haven’t heard many congressmen opining that maybe the congressmen and their aides should start carrying assault weapons to softball practice. Maybe it is too early yet, but maybe congressmen facing the same carnage of assault weapons we face will result in some good legislation.

Another aspect of the broader culture that has contributed to the bitter and now violent political divide is hate radio. The Rush Limbaughs, Alex Jones, etc. have deliberately encouraged a personal characterization of politics that attacks their targets not so much for their policy positions as the result of evil motives. Liberals want to “destroy” freedom, individual politicians are “traitors” who should be executed. For example, Mr. Jones consistently talks about the upcoming “Civil War II” and encouraging his listeners to arm themselves and be prepared to shoot neighbors and even family. He allegedly has over 6 million listeners. Donald Trump exploits the anger and fear when he calls the media “enemies”, and depersonalizes and denigrates Democrats. Leadership makes a difference. History is replete with the lessons that people are vulnerable to fear and too easily encouraged to violence. How do we lance the poison of hate radio without impinging on freedom of speech? It has to come from leadership… from political leaders responding to issues with courage and inspiration. Playing the softball game as exercise in solidarity and support for each other as human being as well as members of the opposite parties is an example of something that can make a difference to society in general. Hate radio already has promoted the shooting as a reason for partisan rage and fear, but it seems that the game itself may have created goodwill.

Let’s hope that the political courage to treat fellow Americans as equally patriotic and worthy of respect, at least the respect to listen to their ideas and consider them in relation to solving a problem instead of an exclusive focus on re-election by appealing to the base – a term that is an appropriate adjective as it is a noun.

Obstruction of Justice

June 22, 2017

The actions prompting accusations of the Trump Administration engaging in obstruction are as numerous as they are clearly intended to interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. Firing the three people investigating his campaign, the threat of firing the fourth (Mueller) along with the personal attacks and thinly described threats, the constant public attacks on the rule of law… these are obvious acts of obstruction. The only issue is meeting the legal criteria, which Trump ought to be rejoicing in, because motive is an element of the crime. Already apologists of the president are defending his motives, not his actions. Paul Ryan suggests that Trump asked Comey to stop a criminal investigation because he is “new to Washington and doesn’t know the long-established protocols”. Forget about the fact that Trump asked everyone else to leave the room before he talked with Comey, suggesting knowledge that he was doing something wrong. Forget the fact that Trump has repeatedly ignored both the advice of his own lawyers, let alone common sense to tweet admissions and threats.

Another line of defense emerging is shaping public perception that the legal process is just a political process. Trump attacks judges as well as the rulings of judges. The normal process of law is being characterized as a “witch hunt”. The net effect of this line of defense is ominous, no matter how you look at it. There is a valid fear that Trump and his apologists are actually attacking the rule of law and if obstruction charges are filed then there will be an attempt to use mob law to cower House members faced with a choice for impeachment. They claim there is “no evidence” of collusion, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence and there must be credible, direct evidence to convene the Grand Jury. The fact that investigators are not releasing the evidence and that they are following legal protocols should be reassuring to Trump supporters, but they are exploiting the legal process to whip us the popular opinion that “there is no evidence”.

It is early in the process of investigations, but the fact that the administration is unwilling to allow the legal process to unfold and is already attacking investigators before the investigation in itself suggests obstruction, if not a guilty frame of mind. The danger of what Republicans are doing now is that they are eroding the trust in the rule of law, which ultimately may do more damage to the country than any impeachment.

What Bothers Me Most …

June 9, 2017

We live in conflict, division. This is nothing new to Baby Boomers such as me. Civil Rights, Viet Nam, Women’s Movement – all issues that caused bitter divisions in American Society. Yet, I can’t help but to feel that somehow, this is different. Many of the those conflicts were generational – it wasn’t as much a shift in values as it was a reinterpretation of the same values. What it meant to be a good citizen, a patriot, or a good human being was changing. The interpretation of facts was changing, but there was always a sense of shared reality – a sense that facts drive the interpretation and not vice versa. The challenge to authority was based on the inconsistency between the authority and facts.

Authorities told us that Viet Nam was necessary for our national defense, that separating races was essential for society to survive, and that women were not capable of fulfilling any other role. The facts of life, what we saw when we interacted with other races, or when women performed male defined roles very well when necessary (such as factory work during WWII) collided with demands of authorities. The questioning of authority from my generation was not about facts, but the interpretation of those facts and what they meant to build a better, more just society.

Today I speak with people… people I have known for years, who have shared the same convictions as me, who seemed to have abandoned those beliefs not so much as a result of a rational process, as much as an insistence of emotions. They are the 38% – the people who support Donald Trump no matter what. I know people who canvassed door to door for Obama who are now one of that 38%. People who based their politics on a sense of empathy for those who had no power, who never would approve of philandering, lying, fear-mongering in their personal lives who now support Trump despite the ample evidence of what the man is about.

I know active duty military, people who love their country who readily dismiss the interference and possibility of collaboration of Trump surrogates with an enemy State to undermine our election because the results justify treason. It is as though the facts of Trump and his policies were irrelevant to the need to support Trump.

Perhaps the irrelevance of facts is a function of an emerging tribalism in American society… where being identified as a member of the tribe is more important than what the tribe is or is not, does or doesn’t do. It’s not uncommon in other societies, especially in the Middle East. However, what defined our country was the fact that we were members of different tribes who came together over an ideal. I don’t know what the ideals of the 38% are, other than hate or fear – hating “Liberals” and the “mainstream media” and Muslims.

People who have acted in the past to help those less fortunate, now dismiss the idea of millions of Americans without health care if it meant that “Obamacare” was ended and their insurance premiums are reduced by pennies. People who identify with religious values that compel them to feed the poor, house the homeless, clothe the naked who support a budget that abandons those people in favor of tax breaks for the rich. Evangelicals support Trump by significant majorities! I know very well educated and intelligent people who used to agree that science should dictate policy, who now dismiss scientific facts and methods as less important than supporting whatever Trump says because of what he has come to signify to them.

What could change these people, not an insignificant number of people, to dismiss facts in favor of their need to be a part of this movement – a movement that increasingly shares the qualities of a cult more than a political movement? Fear? I don’t know, but I worry that this is a conflict that we may not survive as a Country.

What Does It Mean to “Make America Great Again”?

June 8, 2017

This is what I think would make America great: a reassertion of American leadership and exceptionalism.

Before WWI, we were a country defined by our exceptional national character. Leaders of other countries pointed to our collective character as worthy of emulation. This included our “pioneer spirit” – our eagerness to explore and discover. It included our “can do” spirit – the persistence and courage to overcome any obstacle. It included our independent spirit – the insistence on liberties to live our lives free from government mandates. These qualities came to full blossom during WWII, when we were forced to assume the mantle of world leadership. Since that time, American leadership in the world has also become part of what has defined our greatness.

In other words, what made America great was more related to national character and the natural results of that character than economic policy. As the world becomes ever more inter-dependent, it has put more pressure on American leadership. The world needs American leadership. Without our leadership, the world will be far more dangerous with the vacuum filled by the authoritarian power of Russia or China.

One could debate America is no longer great, but it seems to me that any progress we do make depends on restoring those parts of the American character that made us great in the first place. Therein lies the problem with Trump. How does his defunding of scientific research and imposing a political litmus test on scientists in government service square with the pioneer spirit? How does his withdrawing American leadership on climate change, retreat from NATO leadership, and realignment of alliances with authoritarian regimes and the whole “America First” rhetoric square with American exceptionalism and leadership?

I understand the appeal of “America First” because so many Americans are suffering economically. However, I would argue that most of these problems are self-imposed. Allowing money to be considered political speech, bad trade deals (mostly as a function of allowing moneyed interests to dictate the terms), and the devolution of the media from a source of facts to alt-facts based on advertising constituencies has created far more problems than terrorism, or any other external factors. Appeals to fear and exploiting divisions may enable the existing power structure to keep power, but it does nothing to make America great. Our greatness is rooted, and will be revived, by appeals to the “better angels of our nature”.

Why I Might Run for Governor

June 7, 2017

There are far more reasons not to run for Governor of Michigan than to run, but not necessarily the better arguments. When I ran for Governor against John Engler, I was naïve to the political system. I thought that with appeals to popular support based on policies, I could overcome the gravity of Party leadership and money interests. That strategy worked in the primary, when I was able to meet and talk with individual citizens and debate the candidates ordained by the Democratic Party leadership.

However, the same populist campaign that helped me win in the primary, became the source of resistance not only from the GOP, but also the Democratic Party leadership. If Hillary had a valid complaint that she got “absolutely nothing” from the DNC, she should have seen what happened here. Not only did the party leadership give me nothing in terms of financial or logistical support, they actually worked with the media and the GOP to undermine the campaign. I stepped on a lot of toes and it was a lesson I had to learn: doing what was best for the citizens of Michigan was not enough, and pointing out how the Democratic leadership had not served the interests of Michiganders first was fatal. The most important thing is to play ball with the leadership and the money interests that funded them. The experience left me soured to politics, but not to the rank and file.

The system of party obeisance may still be entrenched, even though the party has lost almost every level of government. I don’t know about party politics, but I do know that Michiganders are starving for a government that is less ideological than it is practical. The only valid issue is “what works?” Michigan under the GOP does not work. In fact, the situation in Flint proves that they are criminally negligent in some regards. I do believe that a Governor should have a foundation of values that guides their decisions. However, those values should begin and end with what will work best for the health, wealth and success of citizens. The days of passing laws to appeal to ideology alone are ending. People care less about banning transgender bathrooms as they do about having safe drinking water, well-paying jobs and getting their children a good education. They want solutions, not rhetoric. The question is … can the political party system in Michigan produce a candidate that are more interested in solutions than power?

So, as much as I disdain the political process of running for office, and as much as giving up my law practice for a few years will be a sacrifice, the best arguments are in favor of offering solutions to our problems. Maybe if we ran campaigns based only on policies and not on personality we could find our way out of this dysfunctional political wilderness, and I wouldn’t feel this sense of guilt for not trying to do something to change the system. Now we seem desperate for something, anything, to change the system.