Democracy DOA?

May 18, 2017

In a mind blowing interview, Trump admitted that he fired the head of the only (semi) independent investigation of the possible collusion of the trump Campaign with Russia simply because it was “made-up story.” It was an admission that had to have made the White House Counsel scurrying for cover … cover to mask a criminal cover-up. The silence from Republicans has been deafening. That’s how I know American democracy is dead on the arrival of Trump.

When Nixon’s attempt to obstruct justice with a cover-up, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee not only legitimately participated in the investigation, they actually led much of it. When it came time, the leadership of Goldwater, Scott and Rhodes convinced Nixon to resign. When Clinton was accused of obstructing an investigation into his personal sexual relationship with an intern, Democrats didn’t like it, but also didn’t obstruct the Congressional investigation and process. Now we have a President accused of obstructing an investigation into matters that likely rise to the level of treason, and … Republicans such as Grassley shrug their shoulders and tell us to “move on.” GOP leadership – McConnell and Ryan — actually supported the probably illegal action. When an entire party puts party politics above the Constitution, then we no longer are a functioning democracy.

Trump once bragged that he could murder someone in broad daylight in Times Square and his followers wouldn’t mind. Firing Comey is confirmation of Trump’s sense that he is above the law. Fully 36 percent of Americans still strongly support Trump, and poll after poll demonstrate that facts and admissions do not affect their support. Although he has a record low job approval from citizens, he still maintains strong support of most Republicans and then there is the 36 percent that would apparently be as unmoved by possibility of treason as much as murder.

When nearly 40 percent of Americans are untroubled by an attack by a foreign power because it was on behalf of their candidate, then why would GOP leadership put country before politics? When the rule of law is no longer enforced then democracy is lost.



Liberalism as a Superior Economic Model

May 11, 2017

Liberal economic policies are consistently more successful than the conservative policies of reduced taxation and unrestrained capitalism. One need only look to the near collapse of the economy in 2008 for one of a multitude of examples from history on how liberal policies rescued the economy from the disastrous results of the conservative, free market crowd.

Conservative economic policy embraces the unrestrained capitalism that has resulted in historical as well as contemporary harm to the health of citizens. Historical products of unrestrained capitalism in the U.S. include slavery, child labor, the massive pollution of water and air. More contemporary disasters created by unrestrained capitalism include the economic catastrophes of the Great Depression and the Great Recession.

Liberal policies on taxes funded infrastructure and public education, expanded the middle class and raised the quality of life for all Americans. The Conservative economic policy of “trickle down economics,” beginning with Reagan, reversed the trend of expanding middle-class wealth, created the greatest consolidation of wealth into the top 1 percent in the history of the world, and stifled economic mobility (five socialist countries now have more economic mobility than the U.S.). If the actual results of tax policies are considered, liberals measure success by the distribution of wealth across all economic classes. Conservatives define success as the creation of wealth for 5 percent of the population. Perhaps the most immediate contrast of the two economic philosophies in our lifetime is that of Clinton and Bush. Clinton raised taxes and the result was job creation, economic growth and the first budget surplus in a generation. Bush reduced taxes and the result was stagnant job growth and the largest budget deficit since Reagan.

Over-regulation may be associated with impeding economic growth, but under-regulation is associated with catastrophic disasters. Industry might complain that EPA regulations have stifled growth (although the benefits of clean water and air cannot be denied). How much environmental regulations stifle growth is a theoretical argument, whereas the results of deregulation are undeniably catastrophic. Deregulation of the financial industry nearly destroyed the U.S., along with world economies, and it took a liberal solution of government intervention (TARP) to prevent a total collapse. Conservatives argue that government intervention and taxes only harm the economy, but that is an ideological argument not rooted in historical fact.

So, given the historical accomplishments of Liberalism, why the animus and why the muted defense from liberals? One answer is that liberals no longer have political power, or the potential for political power. Liberals have not held power in government since before Bill Clinton (who was no liberal) and will never hold power again unless a political/social revolution occurs. The reason why is that politics itself has become a marketplace and money rules. A dozen or so families and corporations now dictate the market (policy) and there is no market for ideologies other than creating more wealth for fewer people. The labels of Democrat and Republican have been rendered meaningless as far as working class Americans as concerned. They may talk differently, but in the end money talks louder. The corrupting influence of money in politics has reduced our ability to effect meaningful political change to a thin veneer of episodic elections serving only to mask the money to be made from those elections. Liberalism doesn’t have a chance … until or unless there is another catastrophe.

What Happened to Liberalism?

May 10, 2017

The label of “liberal” has become a pejorative term in the last 25 years and I wonder why. Young people associate liberalism with failed social policy, failed economic policy, wimpy pacifism and misplaced condescension. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Liberal policies have been responsible for most of the greatest achievements in our history, especially economic achievements. Here is a partial list of what “liberalism” contributed to our society:

  • Creating the 40-hour work week.
  • Establishing child labor laws.
  • Establishing the minimum wage.
  • Establishing workplace safety requirements.
  • Ending the Great Depression.
  • Building virtually the entire infrastructure of the country from the Hoover Dam and interstate highways, to the electric grid and the Internet.
  • Winning two World Wars.
  • Public education, including the best public university system in the world.
  • Giving women the right to vote.
  • Ending Jim Crow segregation laws, enforcing the rights of African-Americans to vote.
  • Creating the greatest industrial expansion in world history.
  • Creating the highest standard of living across all economic classes in world history.
  • NASA, and the resulting technological boom.
  • The EPA, which ended the mass water and air pollution of the previous 40 years.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Health and Human Services (HHS), responsible for nearly 60 percent of all Nobel prizes in science and medicine since then.
  • Creating real economic mobility.
  • Social Security.
  • Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Virtually eliminating poverty, until the 1990s.

Liberalism has had failures, welfare is one example, but once one separates the facts from right-wing distortions the failures of liberal policies are far rarer than the successes. Let’s blog a bit about Liberlaism.


Aging Conscience

May 1, 2017

I’ve always wondered why many older people I meet seem to be less interested in changing the world as they age. Issues that would have incensed them in the past – war, injustice, racism – now seem to evoke only a reluctant acceptance as the inevitable. It makes me wonder what is different about me and my friends that has made us more involved and active in social change as we age. Why is it that I feel more compelled to act as I age in contrast to so many of my contemporaries?

Is it because I am involved with the Law by representing victims and defending Constitutional Rights? There is certainly no less injustice in this era and I talk to the victims every day. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Perhaps as some people age they succumb to discouragement or frustration. Some of my generation are tired and discouraged, and I can hardly blame them. Baby-boomers began a civil rights and gender rights revolution that produced monumental social changes, only to see a slow but steady reversal of those gains since the 1980s.

I know that for many people in my generation the call to social action was less a function of a violated conscience, or personal experience as it was a call to having a feeling that they were part of something… belonging rather than becoming. Changing society seemed to be an easier task than changing one’s self. So, as they age and their energies are demanded by children and careers it becomes easier to become complacent about the society we are constructing for them and less a part of it. The abstract prejudice, the possibility of being drafted, the news images of poverty and hunger in some area remote in Appalachia… even the desperate rhythm of life in nearby urban ghettos seemed remote because of the self-imposed segregation of our parents. These were more symbols of injustice than the personal experience that compels one to respond. Joining a march or a popular movement justified by righteous goals is not a substitute for changing those parts of ourselves that contribute to the very same injustice.

This is how I understand contemporaries who were active in their youth fighting for the rights of racial and religious minorities, or against the military industrial complex who now support the radical right wing in D.C. You know, the people who worked to elect Obama who then voted for Trump. Maybe they didn’t devolve into justifying grabbing a women’s vagina, and simply never evolved to someone who would never consider the thought. Maybe it’s the immediacy of the loss of reproductive rights, civil rights and economic opportunity that is prompting a new generation of resistance now. I hope so.

I know my parents never stopped fighting for labor and civil rights because they were always talking with the victims or seeing injustice first hand. They were “agitators” I guess. Maybe it’s genetic. Or maybe it’s just something our children learn from example, and learn from the opportunity to see the world beyond their bubble. All I know is that the meaning I have in life is derived in part from the justice I can get for victims and the conscience that comes from trying to create change.


All Politics are Local

April 29, 2017

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, former Speaker of the House was elected in 1935 and served in Congress until 1994. He once observed that “all politics are local”. He recognized the ultimate truth of politics on any level – that political action must translate to tangible benefits to individuals. In the post-Citizens United world of politics his observations are certainly axiomatic if government is to exist to improve the lives of citizens and not for the benefit of the donor class. The politics in Washington D.C. is dominated and determined by special interests, and even State politics are increasingly dominated by money. The result has been either paralysis of government on issues that affect most Americans or, legislation on only issues important to money donors in a way that benefits the donors. Collective action is needed and that can only start by appealing to local interests and motivating people.

The only solution to a government run by money and increasingly irrelevant to our daily lives is local activism. Ultimately, the only peaceful revolution possible to change the accelerating slide away from relevance and to plutocracy is from the ground up. Many Americans feel that personally affecting politics is impossible, and that they are powerless to change government. They are right in the sense that individuals acting alone are ineffective. It’s one of the reasons why the donor class constantly tries to pit individual Americans against each other.  Getting people involved in politics is a matter of learning what they care about in their day to day lives and working from there. The temptation is go into a community and tell them what they need to do to change policy. People usually don’t care about policy and they certainly don’t care about your solutions to the policies you are interesting in. I have always found that when you listen to what people in a neighborhood say, and what they are concerned about, then your ability to mobilize them to political action is much easier. Which makes sense insofar as the goal of politics used to be to improve the lives of people.

Local political involvement is the key to generating interest and involvement and, ultimately, change. The little steps of making an immediate and relevant change to a community can translate to bigger steps in State and federal politics. I heard an interview of Elizabeth Warren recently and she made the point that when people learned that the GOP healthcare plan would raise their premiums, if it didn’t take away their insurance altogether, then Congressional phones began blowing up and Town Hall meetings were crowded. Usually Congresspersons pay attention to the person sitting in their office – a person who probably ponied up $25,000 to their re-election fund – in other words, a lobbyist. Apparently when the phones were ringing so often that they couldn’t hear the money donor, it made a difference. It was another example of politics being local.

Translating national policy into local interests is not as daunting as it might seem. If you tell someone that we should raise taxes on billionaires, they would probably demur. If you pointed out that their monthly bill to pay back student loans is too high because Congress raised the interest rate to make a profit to compensate for revenue lost from lowering tax cuts to billionaires, then the conversation becomes relevant to them. It becomes local (even personal). Could they support a law to reduce their college loan interest rates and replace the lost revenue by eliminating tax loopholes for billionaires? They could? Well, could you call or e-mail your Congressperson and support the proposal of Elizabeth Warren and John McCain to close tax loopholes and lower student loan interest rates?

It’s as simple as that. No President or Senator or Congressperson elected by special interests for special interests will change the system. We either find a way to build a revolution from the ground up through personal and local activism, or the Jeffersonian axiom becomes reality: the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots.


How Much Is This Going to Cost Us?

April 13, 2017

The Mar a Lago Summit made me bit curious about something that more and more people are talking about. (I could even be Trumpian and say “Everybody is talking about it…”). How much is the Trump Presidency going to cost us? While Candidate Trump railed against Obama golfing and once said to The Hill “I would rarely leave the White House because there is so much to do…”, President Trump has barely spent 7 days in a row there. Of course, there is no problem playing hard if one works hard in the private world, but we pay for Presidential playing and protection. What is our bill so far?

Trump has gone golfing 19 times in the first 90 days, more than Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton combined in their first year. Of course, virtually all the golfing trips have been to Trump resorts, so in a sense he is double dipping – making a profit from tax payer paid golf outings. You might argue that the Mar a Lago outings are often accompanied by “diplomatic efforts”. Of course, none of these pseud-summit golf outings have produced any tangible results, but the costs of flying there, altering the resort to accommodate security concerns, and housing the diplomatic staff, family members and security teams means that every golf outing is costing the tax payers an estimated $3 million per day (not including golf fees). That’s $57 million dollars for Mar a Lago outings in the first 3 months, or $144 million over 4 years, with a profit for Trump resorts as well.

The decision by his wife Milania to refuse to move with Donald to the White House, while certainly understandable, is also expensive. The costs of providing protection to Trump Tower is $500,000.00 per day, not including alterations to accommodate diplomatic guests. That’s $730 million over 4 years.

The decision to include the entire Trump family as part of the Administration means around the clock Secret Service protection, estimated at a combined $183 million per year, or $732 million for 4 years, not including every “mission” family members undertake. A conservative estimate then, is that Trump will cost us over $16 billion just to occupy the White House, visit Trump Tower and golf, with profits for Trump Resorts in the tens of millions. That does not include any vacations they take.

We are suckers.

Making China Great Again

April 12, 2017

President Trump entertained President Xi this past weekend without any demonstrable results, at least as far as our national interests. The “great negotiator” was apparently as successful with the Chinese as he was with his own Republicans in the House.

There were no agreements on the military expansion into the South China Sea, unfair trade practices in Africa (the Chinese have had no compunction over using bribes to cornering precious metal mining in the entire Continent). No agreement over the North Korean nuclear development, military cyber-espionage or military cooperation with Iran. No agreements over the protectionist policies on Chinese technical markets, Chinese currency manipulation, or commercial cyber-theft. Nothing. Which is why the Chinese considered the Mar a Lago Summit a huge success for them.

There’s lots to consider since the Chinese now are moving rapidly to control the entire Pacific Rim, leaving the United States as the former great power in the Pacific. When President Trump withdrew from the Pacific Trade Pact without any policy or trade initiatives to replace it, the Chinese moved aggressively to fill that vacuum. Indonesia and The Philippines were already establishing extensive trade and diplomatic relations with China before PTP, and American influence over these key countries was already waning.

However, since PTP was withdrawn, Australia, Thailand and even Viet Nam (no friend of China in the past) are negotiating new trade pacts independent of American interests. In the age of international corporations and banking, the economic importance of multi-lateral trade pacts has increased even as the logistical considerations have diminished. However, trade and commerce are also important to establishing popular and political influence in other countries and this may be the most important loss we are suffering.

Since the end of WWII, the Pacific has been solidly under our control, economically and politically. Now China is becoming the controlling power in the Pacific Rim and even traditional allies are drifting to the Chinese. Australia is negotiating directly with the Chinese and are rumored to be putting the expansion of military cooperation with the U.S. on hold. For all the PTP rhetoric during the campaign about “America First”, the complete absence of any Pacific trade policy is rapidly becoming one of the most historic disasters in our political as well as commercial history.

Is it any wonder then, that the Chinese (and European) media are raving about the lack of any tangible result from the Summit. The Chinese are certainly happy to keep things exactly as they are now – an unambiguous win for China. If the Chinese are successful in their current efforts, American influence will become an historical footnote.

“Making America Great Again” is a nice slogan and feeling, but at this moment America is becoming not just weaker in the Pacific Rim, but also irrelevant.