When Trump and others call for opening the economy even if the corona virus is not tamed, they are just being good capitalists

The “cull the herd” strategy for addressing the corona virus epidemic in the United States has emerged in public discourse this week, touted by Donald Trump, some minor politicians from southern states and a few Fox News pundits. Essentially the “cull the herd” strategy revitalizes the specious economic argument against environmental regulation—that doing something to protect the health and well-being of people will destroy the economy. The argument is completely fallacious when it comes to transitioning to a green economy, but does have an element of truth when applied to the corona virus pandemic: fighting it will hurt the economy, even if only in the short term.

These protectors of the American way of life believe that the cure for the pandemic—social distancing and shutting down the economy for a few months—is worse than the disease itself. They wonder whether more people will die because of the temporary economic decline than would if we just let the epidemic play itself out. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick claimed that Americans over the age of 70 are willing to sacrifice their lives so that the American economy can thrive. Speak for yourself, John Alden! 

Note that behind Patrick’s comments is the idea—still not completely proven—that the disease kills primarily the elderly and the infirm. Together with the poor, those two groups are the primary targets for the long-term Republican program to line the pockets of the wealthy by cutting taxes for themselves while gutting social programs. Beyond that, labelling a group for sacrifice always makes it for easier for Americans to approve of inhumane actions, e.g., discrimination, racial profiling or our several wars against Islamic countries.

What the promoters of returning to economic normalcy and letting the virus run its course are not telling us—perhaps because they themselves are ignorant of the facts—is that letting Covid-19 run rampant in the population could lead to as many as 3 million people dying, plus a whole lot of unnecessary suffering among those who can’t get medical attention because the disease overwhelms our healthcare capabilities.

But as despicable a solution as it is to let millions of people die years if not decades before their time, it nonetheless is keeping with the capitalist traditions. 

See, behind the idea of returning to normal is the basic capitalist strategy of risk analysis. Here’s a simple example: Do we add a safety feature that will cost another 50 cents a car, or do we risk a 180 people being burned up every year in rear end collisions? The actuaries and lawyers get together to estimate how much the company will pay out to the families of the dead people and when it turns out to be a few bucks less than putting in the part, they decide to do the right thing…for the business, which means keeping the part out. This scenario describes exactly the Ford decision-making process in the 1960’s and early 1970’s regarding the death trap named the Ford Pinto. Highly immoral, but good business. 

The dirty secret behind the free market is that every week companies make decisions such as the Ford decision not to fix the Pinto’s safety problem. Many of these decisions involve transferring the hidden costs of making something to the public at large. That’s what pollution of all kinds does. Instead of paying to keep pollution out of the environment, companies pass the cost on to consumers in terms of higher medical costs, lost and shortened lives, and a degraded environment. 

The Trump Administration is not the first government to make cold-blooded calculations that value money over human life. The same calculation has driven most of our wars of imperialism, i.e., the Mexican, Spanish-American, Vietnam, Cambodian, Grenada, Iraq and Afghan wars. Is it worth X number of dead on our side to topple a regime that dissed the father of the president and help our Saudi ally? Is it worth Y dead to hold up a corrupt, repressive regime in a southeastern Asian country with no strategic value but lots of contracts with American manufacturers? 

Reading Thomas Piketty’s recent Capitalism and Ideology this week reminded me of two well-known examples of governments acting in full knowledge that their actions would lead to the death of millions. The British authorities consciously did nothing during the Irish famine of 1845-1848, leading to the deaths of 1 million and the emigration of 1.5 million, for a total loss of more than 30% of the population of Ireland. The British essentially sat on their hands and watched it happen, some articulating the advantage of reducing the population of the poor and potential rebels. The British repeated this atrocity at the end of World War II, letting 4 million out of a population of 50 million Bengalis die of starvation rather than release stores of rice. To quote Piketty, “…while adequate food stores existed in both cases, authorities refused to arrange for immediate transfers to the distressed areas, in part on the grounds that prices should be allowed to rise in order to signal to sellers that the time had come to respond to market demand.”

In other words, let’s value the marketplace over people. That decision always conceals the naked truth: let’s value the interests of a small number of wealthy people over the good of everyone else.

The Bengalis and the Irish were considered by the British to be lesser people. That won’t work with the American economy. We won’t sacrifice parents, grandparents and those with diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and cancer so that the stock market recovers in time for the election. 

At least I hope that’s true. A good 25-35% of the population seems to support Trump, no matter what atrocities or stupidities he proposes. A good number of people may believe that the death of Uncle Hiram was god’s will. Let’s hope that the overwhelming number of our elected officials in Washington, in State houses and locally value the lives of all our Uncle Hiram’s and Aunt Mathilda’s.

Bernie versus Biden. It’s not an easy choice, even for progressives

If we were judging only on their ideas and proposals, I would make a strong recommendation that every Democrat give their primary or caucus vote to Bernie Sanders. Biden, like Bill Clinton and Obama, is a conservative Democrat who has always been too quick to give away the store to Republicans, whereas for decades Sanders has taken progressive stands (which usually means the position backed by the facts) on war, equality of wealth, education, the environment, taxing the wealthy and healthcare. Used to being a strident voice from the back bench, Sanders has not developed his policies as much as Elizabeth Warren has (who has?), but his ideas are stirring and right-minded.

But there’s more to deciding between two candidates than where their hearts lie. Two other factors are of equal, and perhaps greater importance in the current election: One, who is more likely to beat Trump? Two, who is more likely to accomplish the wish list of progressives and left-leaners?

Surveys show just about every candidate beating Trump, but Bernie having the biggest lead. If we carefully analyze the Super Tuesday results, however, we get a different picture. Across the board, the more likely a Democrat will win the state in November, the better Bernie did on Super Tuesday; the more likely Trump will win the state, the better Biden did. It’s very possible that Bernie’s lead over Trump is greater than the other candidates’ in the national surveys because he got more votes in California and New York. So what would we progressive rather see? A candidate win California by 4 million votes and lose North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin by a total of 100,000 votes OR a candidate win California by 3 million and also win these important swing states.

As far as the campaign goes, there can be no doubt that Bernie destroys Biden as both a debater and a speechifier. There is also no doubt that Bernie carries more real baggage. The Trump campaign will inundate social media with lies and exaggerations about either candidate. But whereas the Hunter Burisma scandal is made up, Bernie Sanders really has said he was a socialist and he really is a Jew. As a Jewish socialist, I personally identify with Bernie, but understand that many people hate and fear both. Most candidates have scandals and dubious relatives. Few have won as socialists. The very label turns off the dying breed called “moderate Republicans.” Several of the swing states have long histories of fringe and not-so-fringe anti-Semitism. 

I have no idea who is more likely to beat Trump.

But I am reasonably confident that whichever of the B Boys the Dems select, if elected he will get just about the same things done. As I’ve written before, both will move quickly to reverse Trump’s dangerous loosening of environmental and safety regulations. Both will bring competence and science back to government. Both will rebuild bridges with our allies. Both will appoint left-leaning judges. Both will have much less power than Nancy Pelosi when it comes to drafting and passing legislation. 

There are a number of other similarities between the candidates. Both are in the late 70’s with a history of health problems. More significantly, both are likely to name a woman who is a minority as his running mate. Thus, the election of either Biden or Bernie will likely lead to the first woman president.

What to do? Who to pick?

I’ve thought about it a long time, and I’ve decided to do whatever Liz does. Elizabeth Warren, far more competent, experienced, organized and dynamic than either of the B’s, will crunch the numbers and weight the arguments with the very highest level of intellectual rigor and heartfelt empathy for all Americans. Her decision will reflect what she thinks is best for the country. I trust Warren, more than I’ve trusted any presidential candidate since Clean Gene McCarthy.

If Liz endorses Bernie, I’ll support Bernie.

If Liz endorses Biden or decides to make no endorsement, then I’ll support Biden. My reasoning: her ideas are so close to Bernie’s that staying silent is really a nod towards Biden.

Let me close by expressing my disappointment on how the Democratic race has gone. At the beginning of the campaign, I made a list of how I ranked the two dozen or so candidates and found 14 competent to be president (Beto and America’s favorite small town mayor did not make the cut). Warren was first on my list, followed by Inslee. Sanders (because of age and baggage) was 10th and Biden 14th, or the lowest rated of the 14 who made the competence cut. Very disappointing. But either of the B Boys will still better than the ignorant, racist sociopathic and venal autocrat now roaming the White House.

The Democratic Nominating Process is Much Ado about Very Little

Centrist pundits are raising alarms about the possibility of Bernie Sanders getting the nomination, convinced that his so-called extreme policies will turn off centrist voters and conservatives who are disgusted with Trump’s hateful rhetoric. Supporters of Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar and Bloomberg are all saying that their candidate is the only one left who can defeat Trump. Panic-provoking pundits from all over the severely limited mainstream media spectrum are saying that the Democratic party will do what they claim it always does—fracture, shoot itself in the foot, turn off key constituencies and stay at home election day.

But if we look at the hard numbers, review the extremely narrow path that Trump had to Electoral College victory in 2016 and analyze the contrasts between Trump and the Democratic Party, it should befuddle us why so many are in, or pretend to be in, a frenzy.

The truth of the matter is that unless Russians or Trumpites manage to change the actual voting tallies, every Democratic candidate will defeat Donald Trump and every Democratic candidate (with the possible exception of Elizabeth Warren) will end up accomplishing pretty much the same thing as president.

Trump’s losing hand plays out in six key states. We start with the former blue wall of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which Trump won by razor thin margins, all of which are suffering economically as a direct result of Trump’s economic and foreign policies. These three states are now in the hands of Democratic governors, which means it will be harder to suppress the vote in 2020. The Democrats completely ignore Wisconsin in 2016, which won’t happen again. Trump should lose at least one and maybe all three of these states.

A battleground state that Republicans usually seem to win by extremely small margins in Florida. A court recently ruled that Florida cannot make voting by ex-felons contingent on paying the court costs they owe, meaning that there should be a massive influx of new voters in Florida, most of whom will lean blue.  About 200,000 had already paid their fees before the ruling, and only 57% of these voters have to vote blue to give whomever is the Democratic nominee Florida’s 29 electoral votes

All the Dems need is Florida and any one of the former blue wall states to win in the Electoral College, but they are also threatening to turn two long time red states into Democratic strongholds: Georgia and Texas, and for good reason: the enormous growth of minorities in those two states. 

In short, Trump needs another series of miracles to win reelection. Virtually any Democrat should beat Trump.

And virtually every Democrat, from the corporate B-boys (Bloomberg, Biden and Buttigieg) to self-professed socialist Bernie Sanders will do the same things:

  • Try to raise taxes on the wealthy, although some will want to bump up what the rich pay by more, some by less.
  • Heal the wounds the Trump Administration dealt to the Affordable Care Act and build on the Act to cover more Americans and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the healthcare system. Again some will want to go farther than others towards a single payer system, but all will want to offer a public option.
  • Reverse the many Trump Administration decisions to weaken environmental, safety and other regulations.
  • Try to mend the relationships we have with our allies and get back into the Paris Accord and, if possible, the Iran Nuclear deal.
  • Ratchet up election security regulations and laws.
  • Institute a relatively large program to repair and update our infrastructure of roads, highways, sewer systems and mass transit systems.
  • Address global warming with a combination of administrative and legislative action, although some will want to do more than others.
  • Rethink the current military budget, which is just about equal to what the rest of the world spends on guns, bombs and soldiers. Again some will cut the military budget more, some less.
  • Do something to make higher education more affordable.

Moreover, every Democrat (and many Republicans, too) will almost always tell the truth to the American people; demonstrate respect to all people, even enemies; and base most decisions on science and reason.

Some of the tasks on the Democrats’ action list a president can do by her/himself and some require Congress to pass legislation. A careful parsing of the list I put together reveals that the Democrats left in the race tend to disagree most on the things that a president has the least control over because they require legislation: reforming the healthcare system, commitment to global warming, how much to raise taxes on the wealthy and how much educational support to give to families. The things these candidates could do without Congress if elected tend to be stuff they agree on, such as reversing Trump’s regulatory carnage and getting back into international treaties from which we’ve withdrawn.

In other words, no matter who is president, she/he will have to work with Nancy Pelosi and will be subject to Nancy’s program, which will in all likelihood reflect the 2020 Democratic platform. Nancy’s influence will loom especially large if Sanders, Buttigieg, Steyer or Bloomberg are elected. In the case of America’s favorite small-town mayor and the two billionaires, their inexperience will concentrate more power into the hands of Pelosi and her senior congressional team. Bernie’s former role as a rebellious backbencher will limit his ability to influence Congress without Pelosi’s support. It is likely that of all the candidates, Bernie would have the least impact on what a Democratic Congress produces.

In general, we can characterize Nancy Pelosi as a central Democrat, which means she stands at the center position of the Democratic Party, which makes her left of center when considering the entire electorate. As far as the candidates go, she stands slightly to the left of Klobuchar and Biden and slightly to the right of Booker and Harris.

Elizabeth Warren knows how the administrative branch of the federal government works better than any other candidate, simply because she is the only one to have created a federal bureau. Like Biden and Klobuchar (and unlike Bernie) she has deep roots in the party and has worked cooperatively with other legislators, so she will therefore be less beholden to the Speaker of the House. For these reasons, Warren would likely be able to drive the country further left as president than any other Democrat running, which is why I support her. But no matter who is the winning candidate, most of the first term will be spent first returning the government and the regulatory state to the pre-Trump days and then taking Nancy Pelosi-type steps (perhaps not perfect, but not too cold and not too warm) to build upon the party’s vision in the areas of global warming, inequality, healthcare, education and a cooperative approach to international relations.

All the hand-wringing and finger-pointing about the candidates’ electability and vision make for great spectacle and enable social media users to blow off a lot of steam. But at the end of the day, the Democrats should prevail no matter whom they nominate and the winning candidate should move the country back to “Obama” normalcy and start to fix some of our long-term problems. There is no need to fear either Sanders or Buttigieg. (Bloomberg is another story, since he is trying to buy the election, a very significant step away from a representational democracy.) Instead, Democrats should fear poll manipulation and low turnout.

Suleimani was not a “bad” man. Killing him was morally wrong, probably illegal and certainly a catalyst for much future bloodshed

Virtually everyone who has commented on the drone killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani premises their remarks with the idea that Suleimani was, as one MSNBC talking head put it, “a bad dude.” Even the critics of Trump’s action feel forced to mention that Suleimani deserved what he got, no matter the nature of their criticism, and experts have given many reasons to oppose the assassination: Trump didn’t consult Congress or allies and thus acted illegally; it will cause disruptions in markets; former presidents vetoed the assassination many times, it was “the wrong time”; or it will end up getting more Americans killed (not mentioning the deaths of non-Americans, since they don’t count for this administration or country).

But the basic premise—that Suleimani was a bad guy—is absolutely wrong. He was a good Moslem and an excellent general who remained loyal to all Iranian governments he served and stayed out of politics. If he were American, he would be the ideal general, as much of a poster boy as Dwight Eisenhower or Colin Powell. Funny, we should suddenly despise Suleimani as if he were Hitler and still worship Robert E. Lee, a much worse general than Suleimani in terms of meeting objectives who nonetheless caused much more harm to America and its interests.

Suleimani just happens to have been Iranian, not American. But he’s not a terrorist, although he certainly ordered that money and equipment be funneled to terrorists—maybe even as much money and equipment as the commanders in chief of Saudi Arabia, the United States or Russia have given to various and sundry nongovernmental paramilitary operations over the decades.

If Suleimani were a terrorist, it would be easy to justify taking him out with a drone. But he’s an official of a sovereign nation. Underscoring this point is the fact that he was replaced quickly, a sign that he was a cog in a relatively stable government, not someone so irreplaceable that killing him would prevent violence against the United States. Whatever Iran’s plans were before, the death of Suleimani will not change or slow them down. 

Now if the United States were in a declared war with Iran, I would understand going after its leading general. But we are not at war, so our actions are barbarous. We have set a new global standard that no leader or general, and perhaps no elected official of any nation, is ever safe. All are fair game, not just for the United States, but for all sovereign nations. 

Other nations realize the sheer barbarity of this assassination, which is why no other country outside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel has spoken up to approve it. 

The United States has had its hand in assassinations of the high-ranking government officials of other nations before: Vietnam, Chile, Iran itself. These actions were never right in the past, they aren’t right now and they don’t make the Suleimani action right. Furthermore, they don’t even set a precedent for the Suleimani assassination, since in all the other cases, someone else did the dirty work and the result of the killing was regime change. Only in the most ridiculous fantasy could anyone imagine that killing the general of a modern army that follows government dictates would cause a nation to fall. And no one, not even the hawkish fantasist John Bolton, is predicting that result.

Thus the action was completely unprecedented, at least in recent American history.

Every week it seems we say that Trump has finally scraped the bottom of the barrel and cannot do anything more stupid, more venal, crueler or more hurtful to the future of mankind than what he just did. How many times have you heard or read, “He couldn’t possible go any lower?” We said it about his many decisions regarding immigrants, especially refugees. We said it when he walked away from the Iranian nuclear deal and the Paris Accord. About ending emission standards. The trade war fiasco. Threatening an ally in a war with an enemy with loss of aid unless the ally did a personal favor for Trump.

We now, I believe, are finally at the bottom. 

Killing Suleimani was cruel, stupid and will likely lead to much more violence. To understand the greed factor, we have to remember that Trump is paying off business loans to Russia and Saudi Arabia with foreign policy decisions that help them, and killing Suleimani definitely smacks of something the Saudis would like done.  

The only thing more dangerous to the United States and the rest of the world than openly killing someone like Suleimani with a drone would be if Trump authorized the dropping of a nuclear warhead. I once thought the armed forces would intervene and refuse to carry out the order to release a nuclear weapon on another country, perhaps take the Trumptster into custody. Now I understand that his orders will be followed and when he says drop the big one, it will happen.

The last time I was this frightened and felt so little in control of my life was as a five-year-old when I heard that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik. Everyone said it meant that we might all perish in a nuclear war, and I believed them. Night after night, I tossed and turned sleeplessly in my bed until past midnight fearing for my life.

I’m that frightened again. And so should everyone else be.

If the Democrats could stop playing “Let’s see who can out-warmonger who,” they would realize that the act of killing Suleimani without first consulting Congress and our European allies was worthy of another impeachment trial and act accordingly. And if the Republicans would stop drooling over future tax cuts for the wealthy and the repeal of Roe v. Wade for a moment, they would see that they have to support impeachment and conviction before Trump sets off a nuclear conflagration.

The history of presidential misconduct puts a whole new light on the Trump impeachment hearings

When viewed through the lens of today, the defense of Trump by Republicans seems reprehensible to a growing number of Americans. Despite the daily piling up of more evidence of his illegal attempt to force a foreign government to interfere with our elections, most Republicans continue to vociferously support the president. Those who are inching away, such as Senators Linda Murkowski and Mitt Romney, do so with extreme care. Trump’s betrayal of the Syrian Kurds has influenced almost no Republicans to look at Trump in a new light, just as most Republicans ignored Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia—at least at first. 

But in the context of American history, the Republican reaction is pretty standard. As you can learn by reading Presidential Misconduct, virtually everything about the current situation resembles most presidential scandals throughout American history. 

Presidential Misconduct is a compendium essays about investigations into the misdeeds of presidents and their immediate coterie edited by the distinguished historian James M. Banner, Jr. Originally commissioned by the House Judiciary Committee during the 1974 Watergate Hearings, Presidential Misconduct presents the historical record of the misdeeds of past presidents and their cronies reaching back to the Washington administration and compiled by leading presidential scholars of the day. The Committee originally conceived of the book as a benchmark against which Nixon’s misdeeds could be measured. A recently published update includes all the presidential administrations through Obama’s. What is stunning is the degree to which every controversy surrounding virtually every potential presidential misdeed—whether an impeachment hearing or a Congressional investigation—follows a set pattern that only three people break: Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and now, Donald Trump.

In depicting this pattern, I will leave out consideration of one investigation—the impeachment of Bill Clinton related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In every other of the literally hundreds of cases of investigating a president or his administration for wrongdoing (including other accusations against Clinton), the issue was either corrupt practices in which money exchanged hands for favorable treatment or unlawful attempts to influence elections. Only in the case of Slick Willie’s oval office affair was the issue a personal indiscretion—in this case, a sexual relationship between consenting adults. Despite the fact that there are many instances of fooling around by presidents or their advisers, Congress has only once decided to open an investigation related to a sexual dalliance, which lead to Clinton stupidly do what most people do when confronted by their infidelity—they lie. Again, there are numerous documented cases of presidents lying or stretching the truth—Tyler, Lincoln, LBJ, Reagan, Bush II—to name just a few before our current liar-in-chief. You know, the one who manufactures new lies almost on a daily basis. Yet very few have been taken to task for lying and no president other than Clinton suffered punishment for lying about a personal matter. The Trump impeachment hearings have so far completely ignored the more than 20 outstanding accusations of sexual assault against the Donald. A strongly partisan element infects all investigations of presidential malfeasance, to be sure. But the Clinton case is so out of the ordinary that we can learn nothing from it that we can apply to the current situation.

With that caveat out of the way, what we learn from Presidential Misconduct is that the unfolding of the Trump impeachment hearings proves the validity of the old French expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” 1) In virtually all cases, someone found malfeasance by a member of cabinet, a high ranking advisor, an entire department or a close relative or friend of the president. 2) Opinions have always split down party lines, with the party of the president and friendly media aggressively proclaiming the innocence of the accused party and the opposing party and media hotly and noisily proclaiming and pursuing guilt. 3) A common defense was to admit the suspect events took place but insist they were not illegal. 4) Presidents have varied in the speed of their responsiveness to requests for information and the testimony of subordinates. Yet while executive privilege was sometimes invoked at an early point, at the end of the day presidents almost always have provided the information requested without lawsuit and virtually all witnesses called ended up testifying or giving a deposition. 5) The president always loyally supports those accused, often after their guilt has been well established. In most cases, the president runs into the most trouble for his continued backing of a crony or subordinate under investigation. 6) Often, as with the case of Grant, Harding and Truman, the dastardly deeds turned out to be legal, but didn’t pass the common sense “smell test.” In these cases, Congress passed new laws and /or the department in question changed its standard practices.

Most important, every president except Madison, Polk and Ford has faced a number of major scandals in his administration, and at the end of the day, virtually none were blamed for it. Either the officer, department or crony was exonerated, or the president was found completely innocent of knowing anything about the crimes. Besides Nixon’s administration, among the most corrupt were those of Tyler, Buchanan, Grant Harding, Truman, Reagan and Bush II. The Reagan administration provides an interesting case: The administration involved itself in as much law-breaking as Nixon’s did, but Reagan never personally benefited from any of the corruption and no one could find evidence that he knew about the political scandals like Iran-Contra. In a sense, he was a modern Ulysses Grant, personally incorruptible and idealistic, but surrounded by a den of thieves. With investigations exonerating presidents for everything except bad judgment and rigid loyalty, impeachment was hardly ever mentioned and almost never attempted.

Kevin M. Kruse said it best in summarizing the Carter administrations on page 402: “In the end, the three main scandals of the Carter Administration followed the general pattern, in which sloppy financial practices and suspect business dealings invited close inspection but ultimately proved to have fallen short of outright criminal misdeeds.

The first exception to this pattern of presidential exoneration was Andrew Johnson, whose “high crimes and misdemeanors” involved orders he gave and did not give, specifically concerning the Secretary of War and the treatment of the renegade southern states returned to the union only after a long, bloody war. In a sense, Johnson’s impeachment and near conviction was the last skirmish of the Civil War.

The second exception was Nixon, who unlike all other presidents, knew all about all the corruption in his administration, serving as the source and center for most of it. The Watergate break-in and other dirty tricks. The illegal pay-offs to silence the guilty and protect the administration. The enemies list. The illegal campaign contributions. It was Nixon who authorized the illegal bombing of Cambodia and directed his representatives to convince the South Vietnamese to refuse to come to the negotiating table until after the 1968 election. Nixon was as dirty as dirty can be.

And that’s why I think Trump is going down. 

Trumpty-Dumpty, like Tricky Dicky, is at the center of every controversy as instigator, motivator and bad actor. His already debunked fantasies of the Bidens corruptly profiting from Papa Joe’s influence as vice president and of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election served as the motivating factor in the illegal and unethical actions of Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Pompeo and others in Ukraine. Trump is leading the cover-up by refusing to hand over documents or let officials testify. Like Nixon and Cambodia, Trump is solely responsible for the scandals that are not part of the impeachment proceedings but are causes for additional disgruntlement, such as the betrayal of the Kurds, the separation of children at the border, the exit from the Iranian nuclear deal and the Paris Accord, and Trump’s record of sexual assault and harassment.

Like Nixon, all the evidence points to Trump being dirty. 

Those despairing that like Andrew Johnson and Clinton, Trump will be impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate should consider that we’re still early in the process, still at the point at which all opinion has a highly partisan tinge to it. 

What the Republican Senators are waiting for is a smoking gun. And if Nixon serves as a precedent, the court will supply the requisite still-hot firearm by forcing Trump to turn over material including his taxes. I’m guessing that the requirement to turn over the taxes will compel Trump to resign from office rather than let it out that he is owned by Russian interests and that he is worth far less than a billion smackers. But whatever it is, something in what we find in the taxes or in the records that the administration wants to keep hidden will hang Trump with his own party. He will most likely resign in a deal that spares him indictment on any federal or state charges rather than face conviction. If in his crazy grandiosity, the Donald refuses to follow the Nixon model, he will not have a big enough Praetorian guard, loyal only to him, to attempt to stay in office by force after his conviction. While we can spin apocalyptic fantasies about the end of our democracy, I think we can realistically depend on the loyalty to the United States and our Constitution by the military, the Secret Service, the FBI and local police. 

History suggests that because the investigation centers on Trump and not his subordinates, the likely result will be that he leaves office before his term is up. That is, assuming the smoking gun produces enough smoke.

Meanwhile, although we may consider the Republicans sticking to Trump like white to rice to be despicable, they are in fact engaged in nothing more than business as usual, the same business that has surrounded presidential misconduct since the time of George Washington.

On healthcare, Warren gives a semi-BS answer to a BS question

Elizabeth Warren’s statements and answers in debates, interviews and speeches have consistently been impeccable—on point, accurate, and with the right balance of emotion, theory and facts. That is, except for one very sore point: her answer to the bullshit question whether taxes will go up for the middle classes under a single payer program.

The question is BS because healthcare costs consist of four parts: taxes + premiums + copays + out-of-pocket expenses. Isolating the one cost stream that may go up in a single payer system from the other cost streams, which will all go down, is a devious way to get the electorate to focus on the wrong number. The question builds on and continues the anti-tax rhetoric long employed by right-wingers, as if paying taxes were inherently bad because the money goes to the government, while paying premiums and co-pays is okay because someone is making a profit.  

The question tries to conceal the fact, that almost by definition, total costs must go down in a single payer system, because no corporate entity is skimming off profit, which amounted to $23.4 billion in 2018, which by my calculations reduces to $95.50 for every person covered by private plans. Costs will go down per person for other reasons: 1) A single payer can negotiate better rates, especially from drug companies; 2) A single payer will reduce marketing and other administrative costs; 3) A single payer can more readily implement best practice standards, which in healthcare always seems to reduce costs; 4) With everyone covered, many more people will go to doctors for preventive and routine care, lowering the cost of providing more expensive care when treatable conditions deteriorate; 5) The system will be more progressive, meaning rich folk will pay more and poor and middle class folk will pay less.

The Democrats who have joined the GOP and certain news media is posing the question, “Will taxes go up for the middle class,” should be ashamed of themselves. Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar both know their question is deceptive, yet they persist. Buttigieg and Klobuchar are in the wrong party if think that taxes are inherently so bad that it’s better to pay more in total if it means you avoid paying taxes.

Unlike Bernie, who bluntly states that taxes will go up but total costs for everyone will go down, Warren refuses to utter the full phrase, “taxes will go up for the middle class, but your total costs will go down.” She wants to avoid the deceptive headlines and chopped-up soundbites that will just focus on the first part of the statement. I get it. In fact, just about everyone gets it except for uninformed voters. The problem is that her adversaries keep posing the question, and her semi-weasely answer both makes her seem devious and keeps the question top of mind. Frankly, I don’t see the harm in turning the question around and saying, “You know the answer to the question is that total costs will go down for the middle class because premiums, co-pays and out-of-pockets will go down or disappear, but the one cost factor will go up.” She might ask why the questioner insists on looking at one cost factor and not all of them. 

In other words, instead of answering in a wishy-washy way, Warren should be putting the focus on the deviousness of the question.

In general, Warren, Bernie and the rest of the Democrats have not done well in addressing the issue of taxation, i.e., who is going to pay for all the great programs they propose while closing the horrific deficit that the Republicans have created by lowering taxes and force-feeding the military as if it were a goose getting ready to be slaughtered for its artificially enlarged liver.

Other than Bernie and Liz, no other candidate has proposed any new taxes. Both their plans to tax wealth start with the very wealthy, which seems appropriate. Implicit but unstated in their healthcare plans is the idea that the rich will pay more. But it’s easy to propose a 2% wealth tax on the ultra-rich. You can do that without questioning the false notion that taxes are bad and that taxes on the wealthy are the worst because the wealthy create jobs. 

Every Democratic candidate on the stage for the October debate (except the right-wingers Steyer, Klobuchar and Buttigieg) should be reminding Americans frequently that forty years ago when higher education was cheap, roads and bridges were in good repair, we spent more per capita on basic and applied scientific research, and the social safety net was stronger, the top 1% paid more than 50% of all income above about $500,000 a year. 

In point of fact, the decades that saw inequality increase tremendously were the very period in which taxes were cut on the wealthy and corporations (whose shareholders and executives are primarily wealthy). 

For a full discussion on how lowering taxes on the wealthy again and again has created the most unequal society in the industrialized world, everyone should read The Triumph of Injustice, by economists Emmanual Saez and Gabriel Zucman.  Professors Saez and Zucman explain in very easy-to-understand language a lot of complex issues related to taxation and wealth, and back it up with simple charts and a slew of references to research. They break taxes into its constituent parts—income, payroll, corporate and sales/use—and demonstrate that all have become more regressive over the past four decades, meaning that the poor and middle class have paid more, while the rich have paid less.

The most telling chart in The Triumph of Injustice shows that since 1978, the share of the national income earned by the top 1% has doubled from about 10% of the total U.S. pre-tax income to 20%, while the share of the bottom 50% has fallen from 20% to about 12% today. When you cut out all the middlemen, it looks like a direct transfer of income from the pockets of poor to the bank accounts of the wealthy. By the way, the good professors point out that in the rest of the world, the wealthy have only increased their share of national wealth and income by 2% in the same four decades. 

To make matters worse, the more income people make, the less of it is subject to income taxes, which are still mildly progressive, and the more of it is subject to the lower-rate corporate, capital gains and other taxes. The result is that for the first time ever, billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries and the wait staff that serves them at their chichi restaurants.

Rather than shy away from having the “tax talk” as if they were befuddled parents who are reluctant to tell their children about sex, the Dems should all be clearly stating that they will pay for new programs and reduce the deficit by returning the tax system to what it was before Reagan took office. They should make it clear that the main reason wealth inequality has grown is that rich folk no longer pay their fair share. 

What’s preventing Dems from being more honest about taxes are their wealthy donors, who don’t mind other people doing better as long as they don’t have to pay for it. But both Liz and Bernie are showing that at least in the primaries, the Dems don’t need the big donors. As long as Trump is the candidate in 2020, whoever the Dems run is going to get the support of their traditional donors because they know that four more years of the Trump regime may destroy the country and our democratic traditions.

If Bernie Sanders cares about the country, he will withdraw from the race as soon as possible and throw his support to Liz Warren

When discussing policy, we can divide the 10 credible candidates who participated in all three Democratic debates into three categories: The unabashed progressives are Warren and Sanders. The centrists who look left for solutions are Castro, Harris and Booker (and maybe O’Rourke). The centrists, all of whom seem to cozy up to corporate interested more than the other candidates, include Biden, Buttigieg, Klobochar and Yang (and maybe O’Rourke). If we want to include the 11th candidate to qualify for the fourth debate, Tom Steyer, we can place him with Biden and Buttigieg, only more enamored of the right.

Since I’m a progressive (actually a socialist), at this point in the campaign my main concern is who I and other progressives should support: Bernie or Liz. While their programs are very similar, they come from vastly different ideological starting points. Sanders is a democratic socialist, which means he wants a democratically elected government to control most of the means of production. Warren is a capitalist reformer, who essentially believes in capitalism, but wants government to reign in free market abuses and achieve an equitable distribution of wealth. In a real sense, Warren stands in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Barack Obama (the most conservative of this group) and Hillary Clinton. Like LBJ and unlike Obama and Clinton, Warren has absolutely no interest in using the free market to solve problems that the free market has created, which brings her much closer to Sanders than Obama or Hillary were on a variety of issues, including the environment and education.

I have put together the scorecard I used for evaluating the two most leftwing candidates running for the Democratic nomination.  The variables include electability, competence, ability to bring the party together for the fall campaign, debate skills, relative immunity from Trump’s smears, and possibility of getting something done once president. Their stand on issues is not one of the variables, because their programs are so similar. 

Electability

Rather than discuss the various elements that go into being more or less electable or rehashing the unproven speculation of the many mainstream media pundits, let’s head straight for the numbers. The most recent polls show both Sanders and Warren beating Trump way beyond the margin of error. As I wrote a few weeks ago, barring voter suppression and manipulation, Trump is probably doomed no matter which Democrat runs, mainly because the electoral stars are not likely to align perfectly for his election a second time around—no FBI investigation of his opponent’s email, no ignoring of three key states by his opponent, no long-standing, deep-seated hatred for the other candidate by large segments of the electorate, a more general knowledge of Trump’s history of incompetence, corruption and racism. Warren and Sanders, plus Biden, do better against Trump than other Democratic candidates do, so let’s call it a tie between Bernie and Liz, based on the polling numbers alone. 

Competence

Bernie Sanders is a very competent individual who has achieved a lot in his life, primarily by running as an outsider. But while he can excite crowds and win votes, no bill for which he was a primary sponsor has ever been passed into law. By contrast, Warren has always excelled working within the system to make the system fairer and provide more to the average person. For f—‘s sake, she virtually single-handedly created one of the departments of government! Both are among the most competent candidates to run for president in recent years, certainly with more on the ball than Trump, Bush II or Gore. I am reluctant to declare a winner in this category since both are highly intelligent, experienced and skilled. But then I think that one of the first jobs of whomever we elect to replace the Trumpster Fire will be to undo all the harm that Trump has inflicted on the government—restaff departments and reinstate regulations—all the small bore stuff that Warren knows so well. Let’s give Bernie one point and Warren a point and a half.

Likelihood to bring the party together

Once the candidate, which of the two will be able bring together the party after the fight for the nomination? Warren has always been a party animal. She enthusiastically supported Clinton and worked her butt off to help Democrats up and down the ticket in 2016 and 2018. By contrast, Bernie did the bare minimum to help the Democrats in 2016 and is known as an outsider. Warren’s demeanor is one of an empathetic cheerleader-school teacher, someone who encourages and guides. Bernie’s personality has been a veritable motherlode of jokes for Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and others, who have established Bernie’s image as a crotchety, if somewhat loveable, old eccentric, a variation on Larry David’s television persona. Clearly, Warren seems to possess more conciliation skills and can call on a deeper reserve of good feeling among those who didn’t support her. Moreover, because of her party allegiance, her personality and her disavowal of socialism, most of the many subsegments that compose the Democratic Party are likely to support her enthusiastically against Trump, except for the “Bernie Bros,” by which I mean those white men of the left who will never vote for a woman. Warren wins this category hands down.

Debate skills

Both have good debate skills. They both can turn a memorable phrase and both have command of the facts. Neither is going to back down to either Trump or a pro-Trump moderator such as Matt Lauer. My sense, though, is that with all that aging, if in Trump’s case probably enhanced, testosterone flying around, Sanders-Trump debates might devolve into a shouting match between two grump grandpas. Warren’s coolly passionate style may contrast more positively with the bombastic Trump than Bernie’s would. I give the point to Warren

Ability to withstand Trump’s smears

No matter who is nominated by the Democrats, Trump is going to spend a lot of time insulting the candidate, distorting their record and accusing them of all sorts of unsavory, stupid or unpatriotic nonsense. The big questions are whether the fact that Warren is a woman will make her more of a target, as it did Hillary Clinton, and whether the misogynistic segment of the electorate will be as big this time as it was in 2016. Apart from her sex, all Trump can do to smear Warren, or to make her look small and ridiculous, is to call her “Pocahontas,” which has the dual effect of issuing a racial invective while reminding us of the one small scandal on Warren’s record—the fact that her family always thought they had native American ancestry. On the other hand, Trump has three enormous cudgels with which constantly to beat Bernie: 1) He’s Jewish; 2) He’s a socialist; and 3) He’s old. Right or wrong, these are large wedges between Bernie and different parts of the electorate. Trump will lie to smear any candidate, but he doesn’t have to lie to call Bernie Jewish and connect with anti-Semites. He doesn’t have to lie to call Bernie a socialist and frighten the millions of people who have been fed negative propaganda about socialism for decades. He doesn’t have to lie to call Bernie old and thereby deflect attention from his own age-related mental enfeeblement and the fact that his heart is a ticking time bomb. That I find these potential smears against Bernie to be repugnant doesn’t prevent me from giving this point to Warren as well.  

More likely to get something done in office

Warren and Bernie present similar programs, especially when compared with other, more business-friendly Democrats. 

But if the question is which of the two would get further, faster in implementing their program, the answer is a no-brainer—It’s the candidate who has worked within the party and knows her way around both the federal bureaucracy and Congress. It’s the candidate who is owed big time by elected officials for whom she campaigned. It’s the candidate whose sunny disposition and friendly demeanor will make it easier for her to bring opposing sides together to work out compromises. 

Like most Democratic socialists, I love what Bernie Sanders stands for. But it’s time for him to yield the field to another leader of the progressives, one more likely to be elected and far more likely to implement key portions of the progressive program than Sanders ever could.

If Bernie Sanders really cares about the country more than he cares about his own power and self-aggrandizement, he will quit the race and throw both his support and his treasury to Elizabeth Warren.   

Leading expert documents the 7 reasons we shouldn’t use nuclear generated electricity to replace fossil fuels, but will many people ever read about his work?

The way I ran across the very important article discussed in this column exemplifies how ideas disseminate in the age of social media. The article is a technical think piece by the very reputable Mark Z. Jacobson, the director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, on the website of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which supports projects that address climate change and clean up the environment. The admirable and usually bullseye-accurate feminist writer Rebecca Solnit put it on her Facebook page, which my wife views on a regular basis. My wife downloaded a hard copy and gave it to me.

At first blush, the amazing thing is the series of interchanges that got the article from the author to me. In the past, one media outlet typically served as a conduit, although sometimes two or three were involved; for example, an article would first appear in a scholarly or industry journal, where a reporter for a major media outlet like the Washington Post, Economist, Week or New York Times would see it and decide to conduct an interview of the author, which then appeared in your local newspaper. Instead, Jacobson’s article went straight from the think tank to an influential consumer to the consumers she influences, all via social media, with no participation of traditional news media.

We should also note that celebrity culture is implicated in many of the steps that brought the article to me. The DiCaprio Foundation deserves many kudos for its work, but it wouldn’t exist without the celebrity status of Leonardo. Solnit is not exactly a celebrity, which I define as someone who is known for one of the following reasons: being rich, spending garish sums of money on conspicuous consumption, being an entertainer, athlete or aristocrat, or just for being famous. Solnit has done something of substance that doesn’t involve vamping for the camera. On the other hand, her role in getting the article to me follows a process built primarily by interactions between celebrities and their fans. I hold nothing against either DiCaprio, a good guy, or Solnit, a seminal thinker in American culture. They are playing by the current rules as best they can and they work on the side of the angels.

But what does alarm me is the elephant not in the room: the mass media. Even in today’s shrunken pages, national media outlets should have found room for Jacobson’s ideas. For decades, the news media have been ignoring research that disproves their cherished myths. Research that proves unionized work forces leads to higher wages for all workers. Research showing that wind energy could generate all the world’s electrical needs. Research substantiating that lowering taxes on the wealthy does not stimulate the economy or create jobs. Research demonstrating that students in public schools learn more and perform better than their peers in private schools. Or sometimes the news media pulls out the wrong findings from research. One example: a few years ago the major media ignored that a study showed most women live in a romantic relationship outside of marriage sometime in their life, instead blasting out headlines that couples who live together first are slightly more likely to be apart 10 years after marriage than those who just get married.

When the media publishes a bogus study, it’s likely to support right-wing notions, as when they went gaga over a George Mason University finding a few years back that 50% of TV weather personalities don’t believe in global warming. The deception in the survey hinges on the fact that only about half of those who deliver the weather forecast are meteorologists and none are climatologists. In other words, they have no standing or expertise, except to the unknowing consumer or those addled by celebrity culture, since Weather personalities are often local celebrities, available to appear at 10K runs and charity auctions.

Technology optimists will celebrate that this article might never have reached me before the age of the internet and social media. The more cynical, however, will realize that the information is staying within the relatively small left-wing, pro-government intervention, pro-diversity, internationalist silo that comprises the social media networks of Jacobson, Solnit, myself and whoever else links or clicks to it. The centrists and social conservatives need to hear what Jacobson is saying, and unless his article somehow goes viral, they never will. Moreover, as little as the news media has traditionally covered scientific research that contradicts public myths, they do so less today than ever before, primarily because there are fewer media doing original reporting than in the day before the internet and social media. So while social media has given thinkers and analysts like Jacobson and Solnit (and myself) a new conduit to preach to the choir, it has severely obstructed the traditional channel to a larger audience.

The article, ”The 7 reasons why nuclear energy is not the answer to solve climate change,” is straight-forward and very easy for the non-engineer to read. In it, Professor Jacobson refutes the growing number of scientists and environmentalists who believe that nuclear power represents our best short-term substitute for the fossil fuels with which we are rapidly destroying the Earth’s biosphere.

For each of the seven reasons why nuclear-powered energy will not solve our environmental problems, Jacobson does the math and cites important research or pertinent facts. Each of the seven is a good reason not to pursue nuclear but to go to wind and solar immediately. Cumulatively, they demonstrate what a disaster ubiquitous nuclear power would be:

1. There is a long lead time between planning and operations, from 10-19 years, which seems like a dawdling waste of time considering how critical the global warming crisis is and the continued rapid rate of development of solar and wind energy.

2. The cost is prohibitive, especially when you consider that after the plant closes, as all electrical generating plants eventually must, the owners will have to spend money for waste storage for hundreds of thousands of years after the plant’s revenue stream has ended.

3. The risk of weapons proliferation, which has happened in several countries that started first with nuclear generation of electricity.

4. The risk of meltdown. To date, 1.5% of all nuclear power plants have melted down to some degree. That disaster rate would be unacceptable for automobiles, airplanes, ovens, lawn mowers, assembly lines or any other product or production process.

5. The risk of lung cancer from uranium mining.

6. The carbon and other noxious emissions caused by mining and refining uranium and yes, operating power plants. Whereas nuclear power increases heat vapor flues into the air, solar panels and wind turbines reduce heat. Jacobson estimates that pursuing nuclear instead of straight wind and solar resulted in an additional 69,000 deaths from air pollution in China in 2016 alone!

7. The risk of pernicious levels of radioactivity escaping from waste storage, which to my mind is a deal-breaker all by itself. We need to develop storage for hazardous wastes that will outlast the danger of the radioactivity, or at least 200,000 years, roughly 20 times the span of recorded history. Only a handful of people alive today can read the first surviving handwriting of our ancestors. How can we expect to be able to warn people 180,000 years from now not to open a thick steel vault buried in a mountain cavern—that is if earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and other changes to the earth haven’t ripped it apart first.

In sum, nuclear energy costs from 2.3 to 7.4 times as much as onshore wind power, depending on the location and other factors. A nuclear plant takes 5 to 17 years longer to build than a wind farm. On average, nuclear powered electricity will generate from 9 to 37 times more carbon and emissions as renewables. All this bad stuff, and we don’t know how to safely store the waste!

The public needs to know this information, but paradoxically, while it is easier than ever to get it if you are seeking it or are part of the right social network, the likelihood of it distributing it into the more general public marketplace of ideas is lower than ever.

New book on demographics seeks to explain why population growth in the industrial age always leads to a stagnant or falling population

A human tide hit Earth’s beaches, prairies, desserts and mountains like a tsunami at about the turn of the 19th century and will subside only at the turn of the 22nd. That human wave is the population explosion that started in English-speaking countries at the beginning of the industrial revolution, but quickly spread to Europe, Asia, Latin America, and now finally to Africa.

But as British demographer Paul Morland details in The Human Tide, the expression “human tide” not only describes 300 years of unprecedented growth in the population of humans, but also the mechanism by which that growth was achieved. 

Morland begins by listing the limited number of variables that determine if a country’s population will rise or fall:

  • Average number of children born to each woman
  • Mortality rate of infants
  • Average life span of individuals
  • Immigration and emigration.

For centuries before the industrial revolution, human populations tended to grow extremely slowly, sometimes shrinking or stagnating. The population had hit its Malthusian limits, named after Thomas Malthus, an English theologian who postulated that population growth would always run into the limits imposed by Nature. Scarcity of resources would always lead to the misery of famine and poverty and thus place a natural limit on human population.

Of course Nature’s limits expanded tremendously when humans started to transition to the use of carbon power (coal, oil, natural gas and the electricity created burning these hydrocarbons) instead of human, animal or rudimentary forms of wind and water power. At about the same time, the increase and spread of scientific knowledge reached a critical mass leading to improvements in sanitation, medical care, transportation, tools, agriculture, engineering, safety standards and dozens of other aspects of human existence that gave people more material possessions while increasing their lifespans and decreasing the number of babies dying before one and five years of age.

Greater abundance leads to the human tide, first in Great Britain and the United States: the average life span increases and infant mortality declines while women begin having more children—in some countries, many more children, spurred on by society’s greater wealth. This rising tidal wave causes both the population and its rate of growth to soar, sometimes aided as in the case of the United States and Canada by large numbers of new arrivals from countries experiencing rampant population growth. The average age at death increases, usually by decades, but the average age of individuals declines. The population becomes better educated and the standard of living rises, sometimes marginally and sometimes in spectacular fashion. The country is more able to find soldiers for war and industrial workers for factories, and thus often sees its ability to project power regionally or globally expand. People begin to depopulate rural areas in favor of cities.

But then something funny happens. Educated women tend to have fewer babies, so the average number of births per woman falls, often under the level at which the population starts to shrink. Infant mortality and life expectancy rates stabilize. Population growth stops and even turns negative. Meanwhile, because generations of an expanding population are followed by generations of a declining population, the overall population ages. The result: the population no longer expands and in many cases starts to contract. Only nations that continue to have large numbers of immigrants continue to grow after native-born women start having fewer than the replacement number of children, e.g., the United States from the 1970’s until the installation of the Trump anti-immigration project. 

The human tide thus consists of precipitous population growth which creates a much younger nation followed by stabilization and decline of the population, now much older. The later in history a population experiences the tide, the faster it plays out: it took much longer in the United States and England than it did in Russia and Germany, which likewise underwent a chronologically longer wave than China and Latin America have.

BTW, Morland reports good and bad news about an aging population. The good news is that an aging population is less likely to go to war and will usually experience lower rates of crime. The bad news is that older populations tend to produce fewer innovations. Morland, among others, also worries needlessly that taking care of a very old population is a major challenge to society; these so-called experts don’t seem to realize how easy it is to reroute working adults from taking care of children to taking care of seniors. Almost as easy as rerouting people from oil fields and coal minds to solar panel and wind turbine manufacture, installation and maintenance. All it takes are the funds and the collective will to educate and reeducate—something the United States had after World War II and China seems to have now. 

According to Morland, the human wave—a large increase in population followed by stabilization and some decline—explains much of the history of the past 200 years, for example, the global rise and fall of Germany, the Soviet Union and Japan, the current tensions in the middle East and the looming rise of China, Brazil and Africa, the last continent to experience the wave.

In The Human Tide, Morland labors to make sure his history doesn’t come across as supporting the view that Europeans and Americans are superior to other people because of their technologies and values. Anyone who takes the long view of human history knows that Europeans have dominated politically and economically only over the past 200 or so years and that the rest of the world has almost caught up, and done it faster than it took ancient Rome to catch up with Greece, or Europe to catch up with the Arab world and China in medieval and early modern times. It’s a bit of a challenge, however, to argue against European superiority if you limit your history to 1800-2016. Morland succeeds, and that’s to his credit.

Unfortunately, Morland falls victim to that other great irrationality proffered by right-wing pretending to present well-researched truth: he believes in the invisible hand of the marketplace, which he extends to population growth. Morland reveals his bias inadvertently when discussing China’s decades’ long efforts, now apparently ending, to limit its population by mandating a one-child policy. 

Morland berates China both for the one-child policy and it harsh implementation, which evidently included jail time, taking children from parents and forced abortions. His argument is that the invisible hand of the human tide would have lowered the population without China’s draconian policy.

Two enormous logical errors. The first is easy to explain—if China had not enforced a one-child policy, its human tide would have lasted longer and crested higher. The policy did work, although it has resulted in the same problems faced by all rapidly aging nations. 

The second error has to do with the very idea of the “invisible hand,” whether in economics or in the natural growth of human populations. Let’s first remember that if we postulate, as right-wingers always have, that the invisible hand emanates from the natural order of things, then we have to conclude, based on the evidence of paleontology and the laws of physics, that the invisible hand’s goal is the extinction of humanity. After all, upwards of 95% of all species ever to exist are now extinct, thanks to the invisible hand of evolution. Moreover, the laws of thermodynamics predict a state of complete entropy in which it would be impossible for life to exist. So instead of accepting any invisible hand, humans should intervene to protect and extend our species, for example through population control or laws that offset the unequal distribution of wealth that all unimpeded markets quickly produce.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the human tide has washed across the shores of different nations in different ways precisely because of dozens of interventions made by societies and their leaders: Build up an army or not? Support rising fertility or support population control? Outlaw or encourage abortion and birth control? Educate women or not? Welcome immigrants or shut the borders? Negotiate trade agreements or invade other countries? Make masses of people move or engage in ethnic cleansing? The invisible hand consists of many conscious efforts, which is why the human tide has not played out the same way everywhere, the way in which an experiment involving the release of a heavy and a light object from a tower would always yield the same results.

China had the right idea. We should promote one-child policies everywhere, although I am opposed to any kind of physical coercion like jailing or forced abortions. Rather, societies can encourage lower birth rates as follows:

  • An active campaign using all media and public education advocating a one-child policy
  • Continued education of women and their integration into all levels of the economy and government.
  • Free birth control and abortion and the removal of most restrictions on abortions.
  • Financial penalties for ignoring the one-child policy. I would propose that when a woman gives birth to more than one child, both the woman and the father of the baby should be assessed an additional 5% on their gross income and an additional 5% on their net assets from the birth of each additional child until it turns 30. 

If every woman had one child only, the population would be cut in half in one generation, which would go a long way towards solving many of the world’s problems, including the global environmental disaster we face. I know I’m an extremist, but we are seriously taxing the carrying capacity of the Earth and if we fail to reduce the human footprint, the four horses of the Apocalypse—natural disasters, famine, epidemics and war—will surely do it for us.

The problem with any kind of population control strategy, be it extreme or mild, is that most economists have refused to consider how to structure a growing or stable economy delivering a high quality of a life to all when the population is shrinking. Economists have also refused to consider how to make sure that the hidden costs of economic actions are assumed by the producer, the seller or the buyer; think of the medical cost to treat people suffering from diseases caused by air pollution as an example of a hidden cost unpaid by manufacturers or car owners.

Morland fails to take a stand on whether the enormous growth in the population of humans over the past 200 years represents a threat to the continued existence of the human species. Maybe he hopes that by the time the world stabilizes its population at nine or ten billion people we will have developed the technologies needed to sustain such a heavy load of wide-screen TVs, private motorized vehicles, plastic straws and air conditioning. Of course to think otherwise would require him to admit that the invisible hand of the human tidal wave has to be controlled and directed, as does the invisible hand of the marketplace.

Mainstream news media created the conditions in which a bottom-feeder like Trump could thrive by focusing on celebrity culture to encourage conspicuous consumption

Those seeking to put the Trump phenomenon in a broader context will usually point out that his rhetoric and actions typically stay within the margins of 21st century Republican thought, especially as it concerns taxes, regulation, healthcare insurance, women’s health issues and white supremacy. Sometimes Trump has extended those margins with more outrageous versions of standard Republican fare. Others label Trumpism as the American version of the movement throughout the West to embrace ultranationalist, anti-immigration autocrats.

As insightful as these analyses are, they miss Trump’s cultural significance. Not only does Trump represent the bitterly racist and classist endgame of Ronald Reagan’s “politics of selfishness,” he also is the apotheosis of our cultural decline into celebrity-fueled consumerism. Remember that in the real world, Trump was a terrible and unethical businessperson who drove companies into bankruptcy six times; had at least a dozen failed business ventures based on his most valuable asset, his brand name; lost money for virtually all his investors; often lied to banks and governmental agencies; and has been sued by literally thousands of people for nonpayment or breach of contract. 

But while Trumpty-Dumpty was engaging in a one-man business wrecking crew he managed to get his name in the newspaper for his conspicuous consumption, his attendance at celebrity parties and his various marriage and romances. His television show was a hit, which reaped him even more publicity. But make no mistake about it, before he started his run for political office by promoting the vicious, racially tinged lie that Obama hails from Kenya, the public recognized Trump primarily for the attributes he shared with the British royal family, the Kardashians, Gosselins, Robertsons, the housewives of New Jersey, Atlanta, South Beach and elsewhere, Duane Chapman, Betheny Frankel, Paris Hilton and the rest of the self-centered lot of rich and famous folk known only for being rich and famous and spending obnoxious sums of money.

Trump’s celebrity status always hinted at his master-of-the-universe skills in business and “The Apprentice” never missed an opportunity to reinforce that false myth. Thus, whereas the business world recognized Donald Trump as the ultimate loser, celebrity culture glorified him as one of the greatest business geniuses in human history. It was this public perception of Trump—completely opposite of reality—that gave him the street cred he needed to attract unsophisticated voters. Trump is completely a creation of celebrity culture.

When we consider the general intellectual, moral and cultural climate of an era—the Zeitgeist, which in German means the “spirit of the age”—we often focus on defining events such as presidential assassinations, Woodstock, the moon landing, 9/11, the election of the first non-white president. But a Zeitgeist comprises thousands upon thousands of specific events, trends and personal choices. 

Which brings us—finally—to the subject of this article, AARP the Magazine, the semi-monthly slick magazine of the American Association of Retired People (AARP). The magazine usually uses celebrities and celebrity culture to give tips on personal finances, health, careers, relationships, retirement and lifestyle to its members, people over the age of 50. Because AARP membership rolls is so enormous, I have no doubt that AARP is one of the four or five most well-read periodicals in the United States.

Now AARP the organization must have many qualms about Trump and Trumpism. Trump has already rolled back consumer protections that prevent seniors from being taken advantage of by both big businesses and small-time con artists. Trump is vowing to dedicate his second term to cutting Social Security and Medicare, two programs of utmost importance to the well-being of AARP’s members. The leadership of AARP certainly understands that Trump’s cruelly aggressive effort to end immigration from non-European countries is the main cause for the growing shortages of the home care workers so vital to many if not most people in their final years. They must also realize that a tariff war affects people on fixed incomes the most.

What AARP leaders—of the organization and magazine—show no signs of understanding is that they played a role in creating the monster. The focus of AARP the Magazine and the other AARP member publication on promoting celebrity culture helped to create the playing field that Trump dominates—that shadow land of aspirations for attention and materialism in which all emotional values reduce to buying and consumption and our heroes have either done nothing to deserve their renown or have worked in the mass entertainment industries of TV, movies, sports and pop music.  

As an example of how celebrity culture permeates and controls the aspirational messages of AARP the Magazine, let’s turn to the feature on the last page of every issue, something called “Big5-Oh”: Big5-Oh always has a paragraph story with photos of a famous person who is turning 50 sometime during the two months covered by the issue. The bottom third of the page consists of one-sentence vignettes with head-and-shoulder photos of famous people turning 50, 60, 70 and 80. The copy typically describes something the famous person is doing that demonstrates she or he is continuing to thrive and do great things despite advancing age.

I’ve seen Big5-Oh in every issue of AARP I have ever read, and I have perused each issue for about 18 years. And in every issue, the famous people mentioned are virtually all celebrities, by which I mean actors, pop musicians, sports stars and those known only for being known like the Kardashians and Snooki. Only quite rarely a film director, popular writer or scientist sneaks in.

The latest issue, covering August and September 2019 exemplifies the celebrity-driven approach that hammers home the idea that only celebrities matter (since it’s only their birthdays and ages that are seemed worth memorializing). The featured person turning 50 is Tyler Perry, an actor and writer-director. The smaller features include four actor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jason Alexander, Richard Gere and Lilly Tomlin, plus the athlete Magic Johnson and the rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Not one scientist, not one historian or sociologist. Not one civic leader, politician, physician, novelist, poet or classical or jazz musician. No astronaut, architect or engineer. I did a little cursory research to come up with a reconceived Big5-Oh for August and September 2019: The big feature, always about someone turning 50, could be the chess player Ben Finegold, the best-selling but much scandalized popular writer James Frey or the filmmaker Noah Baumbach. That’s pretty much a wash with Tyler Perry. If I were editor of this feature, I would probably still pick Tyler Perry over this competition. 

But when we get to people who turned 60 and 70 during these months, you realize how much celebrity culture guided the editor’s choice of subjects: ignored are the designer Michael Kors, the current governor of Virginia Ralph Northam, the distinguished Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, the even more distinguished journalist James Fallows, the important literary novelists Jane Smiley, Martin Amis and Jonathan Franzen, the leader of the Irish Green Party, astronaut Scott Altman and Beverly Barnes, the first woman to captain a Boeing 747. All these people are non-celebrities and all have made more significant and lasting contributions to America than the people the column’s editor selected, with the possible exception of Magic Johnson and Bruce Springsteen. 

What’s more significant, though, is including some of these people instead of all celebrities would make an important message about what we value in our society. It would say that we honor the intellectual contributions of our writers, scientists, knowledge professionals and civic leaders. The fact that AARP always selects celebrities for Big5-Oh and tends to build other stories and features around celebrities makes the opposite message about value—that all that matters is the gossip surrounding celebrities and the promotion of celebrity culture.  

Now AARP shares the blame for our culture’s emphasis on shallow consumerism and superficial celebrities with many of our cultural organizations and educational institutions. For example, the political reporting of the mainstream media reduces all political discourse to celebrity terms—name-calling, who is feuding with whom, who’s winning in the polls, the skeleton-closet scandals of the candidates’ families, which celebrities love and hate them, zingers and misstatements, the candidates’ theme songs and other main themes of celebrity culture. Notice that Trump is as much a master in these endeavors as he is an inexperienced and ignorant buffoon in matters related to governance such as policy, history, the inner workings of the government and the scientific research informing governmental decisions. Note, too, that based on how much ink and space is given to endorsements by the media, in the hierarchy of value, celebrities rate above elected officials who rate above unions, business and scientific organizations and luminaries in fields other than entertainment. 

AARP the Magazine is thus a small part of the giant propaganda machine that created the celebrity culture that created Donald Trump. It took from the first stirrings of consumer culture in the 1890’s until the 21st century for the focus on celebrity to pollute our marketplace of ideas enough for a toxic algae boom like Donald Trump to emerge (with apologies to algae blooms worldwide!). But unlike cleaning up the environment, saving our political discourse is conceptually easy—all the news media has to do is dedicate more of its feature coverage to those whose accomplishments can’t be measured by money made or spent, and cease to cover every issue like a reality show featuring celebrities. Not one big action, but a bunch of little actions are needed to stem the tide of celebrity culture. AARP could do its part by working into the mix a healthy share of scientists, historians, civic leaders, activists and literary figures into Big5-Oh and other parts of the magazine.