Prosecutors Live’s Matter

July 31, 2017

The numerous reports that the Trump legal team is investigating Robert Mueller in an effort to undermine his credibility before he makes recommendations on potential criminal prosecutions was interesting for a number of reasons. Many Trump supporters hate (and that is not too strong a word) the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and one of the less overtly racist reasons they offer is that they find it objectionable to question or impugn the motives of the police as a way of diverting attention from the criminal behavior of the man (usually) that they shot. Now we have a situation where the Trump team is deliberately trying to impugn the motives of a law officer even before that officer takes action. How will the rank and file cult react? I suspect that the real objections to the message of the Black Lives Matter movement are racially motivated, so I don’t expect that any Trump supporters will be bothered by his attempt to impugn Mueller with any and all types of false accusations. Trump supporters are all about law and order until it comes to Trump. We’ve been talking lately about how the Trump phenomenon has exposed the thin fabric of morality that Conservatives wrap themselves in to feel better than those dirty Liberals. National security, Christian values, law and order, smaller government… these are the words we have heard for decades from Conservatives – words that have been exposed to be as reliable as a product label from a Chinese pharmaceutical.

The silence of Conservatives as Trump continues to undermine our national security (by siding with Putin against our own intelligence services), or suggest amoral solutions to his legislative failures (e.g. allowing Obamacare to fail with the resulting human tragedies), has exposed the hollow core of the principles of the Conservative Movement. The brazen hypocrisy of Republicans at their convention shouting “blue lives matter,” after refusing for years to approve funding for medical treatment of first responders to 9/11, might have been written off the same way as the Swift Boat conventioneers who never spent a moment in military service shouted to take back Kerry’s citations, except that it is now their guy who is attacking the FBI, the Justice Department and even personally attacking law enforcement officers. However, this is a personality cult, and if Trump tells his followers that the Law Enforcement Establishment and the National Security Establishment are both out to get him, then they will abandon those institutions as quickly as Trump turns on his own promises. It will be no longer even a pretense that Conservatives are for a strong national security or law and order – and will abandon those principles without an inkling of conscience.

Renaissance or Gentrification?

July 28, 2017

There is a conversation going on in Detroit on the issue of long time businesses being forced out of business by the escalating real estate prices (such as Henry the Hatter). The downtown Detroit area is booming in a way not seen since the 1950s. Occupancy of renovated buildings is over 90%, and renovations of long abandoned buildings is exponentially increasing. In fact, the demand for space in downtown exceeds the rate of renovations. The result of the extraordinary demand is that prices for square footage has also increased, in some cases doubling. This has caused long-time area businesses (most of which are owned by African-Americans) to be forced out of business. Many of these businesses were the only lifeline for the downtown area during the bleak decades of the 80s and 90s. This has sparked a conversation of “gentrification” and questions about the racial politics of the real estate boom. There is no question that many, if not most, of the movement of people living downtown and businesses owned are white. One could not notice this fact after the reversal of nearly 40 years of “white flight” from Detroit. What was initially welcomed as a positive development of young, white professionals moving into Detroit has now become questioned as poorer African-American residents are being forced to move due to escalating prices. However, I don’t think that what is happening in downtown Detroit is “gentrification,” or necessarily a bad thing, for long-time Detroit residents.

Those of us who never abandoned Detroit as a place to work can’t deny that large areas of the downtown area have not only become safe, they have become destinations. Parks and plazas from Grand Circus Park to Lafayette Park to other hidden gems have been transformed from a center of pan handling, drug dealing and other less desirable activities into places with vibrant stores, living spaces and foot traffic. They are clean, safe and active areas. Many of the buildings long abandoned have been renovated and are filling up as soon as available. This is not “gentrification”, which is the taking of existing properties through artificially inflating prices. It is the investment in, and renovation of, unusable spaces into viable residential and business properties.

The rise in real estate value may have forced some businesses who are unable to compete to relocate, but the rise in real estate value has benefitted African-Americans far more than the loss of a few long-time businesses. For example, the rising prices of real estate has raised the value of homes near the downtown area. The increase of businesses has provided Detroiters with more choices and better prices. Businesses forced to relocate are really being forced to improve their business models, in a process that is much more normal.

That said, it is also true that the transformation of the downtown area is also unsustainable until the renovations include neighborhoods with quality schools. Detroit remains a kind of commuting destination rather than a true urban center. At this moment, most people moving to the downtown area are young, single professionals. This makes it a two-dimensional renaissance. Until the possibility of raising a family in the area evolves, then much of the African-American middle class which moved to the near northern suburbs of Southfield, Oak Park, etc. will not join in the renaissance.

Who Cares???

July 27, 2017

The pattern seems established – a template formed in a political campaign and propagated by the Conservative hate media. Trump says or does something false, stupid, cruel, classless, embarrassing, dangerous – one runs out of pejoratives to capture the last year and a half. The response from his followers is immediate: “fake news” to “he didn’t say that” to “he didn’t mean that” to “what about Hillary?” Add a new one to the string: “who cares?” Junior got caught colluding with the Russians and the evidence (even as it continues to emerge) is undeniable. Up to this point, the mantra has evolved from “absolutely no one in the Trump Campaign has had any discussions with any Russians ever…” to “there is absolutely no evidence of any collusion…” to “The DNC (i.e. Clinton) colluded with the Russians…” to “everybody does it and would have done the same…” to today’s attempt at damage control: “Who cares? We should be colluding with the Russians…” Apart from the continuing pattern of lying, what the Trump campaign did may or may not have been illegal – we still don’t know all of the evidence collected by the special investigator – but what they did should never be normalized or accepted by patriots who care about the country more than politics.

The idea of soliciting, or accepting the material assistance of a foreign power to affect an election has always been considered crossing the line by all political parties. When that foreign power is also committing espionage to facilitate that effort it begins to look like treason. When Trump in effect admits accepting the help of Russian espionage to win the election and asks “who cares?” he is reiterating his contention that he could murder someone in broad daylight and still have the strong support from his base. Up to this point he seems to be right. Evangelicals strongly support him even with his history of misogyny, serial adultery and marriages, pathological lying, etc. No Evangelical would tout Trump as a model of Christian virtue, but he has their undying support. There is no wall, no end to ISIS, no repeal and replace so far, no immigration reform, no new infrastructure or jobs programs, etc. but his base remains supportive. The Trumpcare plan would devastate health care for tens of millions of Americans, most of whom voted for Trump, but the base remains supportive. Trump has taken the side of a foreign adversary over our own national security organizations, praised foreign despots and alienated allies, with no notable decline of support from his base voters. It’s a cult-like phenomenon with facts and reality routinely dismissed by supporters if adverse to their emotional conviction. This has obviously scared the daylights out of Republicans in Congress, who cower in silence even as they have been attacked and betrayed by the Trump Administration.

The idea that ANY American would dismiss collusion with a hostile foreign power to win an election would have seemed unthinkable before today, but it seems possible now. The fact that Trump appears to be floating the idea that no one cares about the collusion indicates that he is not only testing the boundaries of his own malfeasance, but also the very foundation of our Republic – the idea that we all have a responsibility to protect our democracy from foreign influence.

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.