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.

Janis Brenner’s Inheritance: A Litany

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janis Brenner (Photographer: Judith Stuart Boroson)

Inheritance: A Litany is a frankly autobiographical and viscerally touching solo work conceived and performed by the multi-talented Janis Brenner.  Not only has she had a career as a brilliant solo dancer, she’s also a highly accomplished vocalist and choreographer with a unique sensibility for the language of the stage.  The piece is an intimate gift offered in the intimate off-Broadway space at Theatre Row in NYC. Having won several prizes last year, it was selected this year to open the United Solo Theatre Festival 2019 on September 19th.  

Ms. Brenner holds forth for close to an hour unpacking her own biography and its influence on her present.  When one initially thinks of inheritance, the word suggests assets received or acquired such as money or an estate.  But Brenner has a whole lot more to say about inheritance. She makes use of dance, text and vocalization to communicate an exploration of heredity, heritage, legacy and familial traits, both physical and emotional.  Who hasn’t at some point felt or in some cases feared “becoming one’s parents”? Brenner avows it: from her mother she’s inherited her wavy hair, her singing voice, her sarcasm and the diamond ring she sports. From her father: his nose, his impatience, his sense of humor, his righteous indignation, his wallet.  And as for her “lack of height”, she charmingly blames them both. Brenner continues her analysis of this journey in articulated detail.

The word litany also appears in the title and Brenner mines all aspects of this word too.  In its context as a series of repetitions in the framework of devotion or ritual, she relays snippets of conversation with her parents as recalled from differing periods of her life.  The combination of movement with storytelling affords a rich visual and sensory stimulation to experience these clearly defined moments stored within her body memory. Whether full-bodied or gestural, her choreography serves to highlight the meaning of key talking points.  For example, an instantaneous facial expression etched in stage light suggests that universal parental last word, “I told you so!” A diagonal body reach or dart can embody a teenage yearning or youthful effort while a physical release of body tension portrays vulnerability.  Her body performs sweepingly and seamlessly in tandem with the driving narrative she delivers. But as the danced story continues we are treated to the repetition of the movements with fewer words. Presenting her familiar discourse primarily visually provides a concentrated version that satisfyingly solidifies its meaning.  And thus she has found a way for movement to sustain meaning beyond the need for words.   

I have only briefly mentioned that Brenner has a rich, trained singing voice (as noted, for which she thanks her mother) that she uses evocatively with song, vocal sound and breath. This similarly adds corporeal and emotional depth to her tales.  For example, in recapitulating a particular memory, a verbal stutter may eventually become a haunted, stuttered breath.  

But lest we forget the other meaning of the word litany, there is its more qualitative side, as in a prolonged tedium or a litany of complaints.  This lends itself nearly perfectly to recounting the effects of parenting through the eyes of a youngster making her way to adulthood. Here Brenner provides her most fast-paced whirlwind of memories ranging from funny, to sarcastic, to playful, conjuring parental expectations, awkward life lessons, and didactic non-symbiotic parenting approaches.  This is accomplished through verbal and physical crispness and clarity. And just as we, the audience, are in the midst of enjoying some combination of rollicking and déja-vu, (we’ve all been there in some sense or another in our own pasts), the litany changes dramatically with the single question, “Hello? Mom? Are you still in there?” From this point, we must face the fact that we will all grow up and have to deal with the aging side of life.  Many of us first learn that, in fact, by watching this trajectory in our own parents. Theatrically, there was some foreshadowing of this moment whether we chose to take it in or not. “Dig a hole in the cold ground” was the single line voiceover from the Weavers’ song, “Darling Corey” that had opened the piece. As the piece continues to proceed, it now unfolds with the gravitas and existentialism that tends to attach itself to maturing and maturity.  The answer to that question, “Mom? Are you still in there?” informs us that Brenner’s mother, Sandra, suffered a slow loss of mental facility. Her father Melvin passed away first, despite his rebuttal, “Not me”, when his daughter happened to mention that, we are all going to die. When Brenner chooses to sing the full Weaver song sitting with her back to the audience, this is not meant to be a “musical number”, but a song of private nostalgia. She had preset the original family album on the stage along with others from her childhood.  

Most tragic is the list of questions she should have asked when her parents were still alive to answer, but didn’t.  Each specific question ranging from curious to essential is prefaced with a reminder to self that she should have asked this, and is followed promptly by her own realization that alas, she did not.  This is the performance of a devout personal litany. Never an over-arching moment of drama, the questions are read with a quiet reflection that underscores each by acknowledging sadly that it can now no longer be answered.  This is gripping.   

The more elegiac moments place the piece in its specific time and place: Long Island, mid-1960’s and onward.  Hearing the voices of Sandy and Mel guiding their young daughters in the lighting of the menorah at Chanukah on an audio tape that has stood the test of time could not be more poignant.  And experiencing all the kibitzing and foot-wetting necessary to retrieve the ritualistic steps to re-master this now rusty, yet annual ritual was heartwarming and familiar. Bittersweet too was the music that followed us into the theater as we first entered.  The music of our parents, in this case by the likes of Louis Armstrong and Rogers & Hammerstein, filled with their dreams and memories wash over us at home until we find our own songs.  

Inheritance: A Litany in all its ramifications is explored through this performer’s life’s training.  It’s a daughter’s parable thanks to the family that formed her. Brenner’s chosen stories are at once particular to her and yet, also, emblematic.  I left the theater knowing much more about the artist and more about myself.

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.

To win Electoral College in 2020, Dems would do well to follow Trump’s lead and play to their base of progressive, young, minority and college educated voters

The argument of former vice president Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill that he is the most electable Democrat running puts the emphasis on what is an increasingly trivial concern. Recent polls show all of the front-running candidates beating Trumpty-Dumpty. 

Trump has energized minorities, women, sexual minorities and those offended by racism by his statements and actions to campaign and vote against him no matter what. The threat of an imminent and deep recession caused primarily by his tariff actions will hurt Trump’s chances for reelection. Now that they have their tax cut and the gutting of thousands of environmental, safety, labor and other regulations, the moneyed classes have nothing more to extract from Trump and may no longer be willing to hold their noses and vote for their useful, and cunning, fool. The tar from the Epstein scandal won’t wash off as easily as that from the “Access Hollywood” tape and the accusations by 19 different women of harassment or assault by Trump. When it’s children under the age of 18, people are not so forgiving of the powerful male perpetrator.

Moreover, while Trump and his factotums will try to sling personal and political mud at whomever the Dems select, none of the current candidates carries the long-time baggage that Hillary Clinton had to tote around.  

But beyond these secular concerns is the simple fact that the Electoral College has suddenly tilted against the Trumpster. In 2016, Trump always had a narrow path to victory, based on a number of unlikely occurrences such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan all voting red by miniscule margins. Everything broke right for Trump in 2016. As the results of the 2018 mid-term elections demonstrated, political and social changes have made it much less likely, if not impossible, for Trump to follow the same path to victory in the Electoral College. 

Trump’s losing hand in 2020 plays out in six states. Three consist of the former blue wall of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. They are all now in the hands of Democratic governors, meaning that it will be much harder for minority voter suppression activity to occur in those states, all won by very narrow margins by Trump in 2016. The Democrats completely ignored Wisconsin in 2016, and that won’t happen again. The various trade wars are having a particularly adverse effect on the manufacturing sectors so important to workers in these three states. Trump should lose at least one and maybe all three of these states.

A battleground state that the Republicans usually seem to win is Florida. In 2018 Florida voters voted by an overwhelming margin to restore voting rights to ex-convicts, adding more than a million potential voters to the Florida voting rolls, most of whom are expected to lean Democratic. The Republican-controlled state legislature passed a de facto poll tax law mandating that, before getting voting rights back, ex-cons had to repay all court fees owed to the government. People are now assuming that the ex-con effect won’t tip Florida to the Democrats. This analysis, however, ignores the fact that 200,000 ex-cons have already paid off these fees and are eligible to vote. If every Floridian votes as she or he did in 2016, only 57% of these new voters will have to vote Democratic to place Florida’s 29 electoral votes in the blue column in 2020. 

The final two states spelling doom for Trump are Georgia and Texas. An influx of minorities and educated young people is inexorably turning both states purple. And in 2020 the voter turnout efforts by Democrats in both states figure to be aggressive. Latinx, women, sexual minorities, African-Americans and environmentalists all have strong reasons to vote for any Democrat over Trump and most of those populations are growing rapidly in Texas and Georgia. The Dems don’t need Texas or Georgia: if the Democratic nominee takes Florida and only one of the old “blue wall,” she or he wins the Electoral College. But the fact that Dems now have excellent chances in these two former bastions of the Confederacy will cause the GOP to dissipate resources there and increase the Dems odds of winning the Electoral College.

In short, Trump needs another series of miracles to win reelection. Virtually any Democrat should beat Trump. Biden’s electability—based more on his name recognition than on his policies—doesn’t really matter, since in the vast scheme of things, Warren, Bernie, Harris and Buttigieg are all equally as electable, and perhaps Booker and several others as well.

Instead of focusing on electability, the Dems should focus on these criteria:

  1. Who has the best vision and the most realistic plans?
  2. Who is the best campaigner?
  3. Who is most likely to stand up to Trump and any hostile moderators (such as Matt Lauer was in 2016) in debates?
  4. Who is willing to devote the most resources to registering Democrats and getting out the vote?
  5. Who is most willing to campaign everywhere to help all the downcard candidates so that Dems can keep the House, take back the Senate and make inroads in many state legislatures?

On at least two of these criteria, campaigning and debating, Biden rates among the worst of all the Democrats currently in the race. His positions are about as rightwing as a Democrat gets, which may prove to dampen support among millennial progressives. I really don’t think Dems need to pander to any-one-but-Trump centrists-who-lean-right, which Biden appears to be doing. These voters will have nowhere to go but blue in 2020 and will likely only be scared off by the self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders. Trump showed everyone the importance of strengthening your base (a principle he probably did not pick up from the chess genius Nimzowitsch, for whom strengthening your strength was a key strategy). Virtually every Democratic candidate speaks more to the Democratic base of minorities, millennials and the educated than Biden, except Delaney and perhaps Mayor Pete.  My own choice is Elizabeth Warren, who to my mind rates first or tied for first in all five criteria I listed. But really, any Democrat. Which I believe is the mood of the country. Anyone but Trump, which in the United States means any Democrat!

Let’s close with what I predict will be the enormous irony of the 2020 elections. If my analysis is correct, the only way that Trump can win in the Electoral College in 2020 is if he cheats—if someone like the Russians hack into the voting machines in closely-fought swing states, as many conspiracy theorists think happened in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2016. But let’s assume that Russian interference does not unfairly give the election to Trump and the Democrats triumph. In that case, Trump has given every indication that he will call into question the legitimacy of the election. Thus, while the only way for the cheater-in-chief to win is to cheat (again), if the cheater loses, he will call the winners cheaters. And that could lead to a constitutional crisis.

New York Times disseminates false assumption that there will be assault weapons in the streets for at least a century even after a ban

A signed New York Times editorial by Alex Kingsbury over the weekend presented the false assumption that even after outlawing automatic weapons, these weapons of mass destruction will be on the streets for at least another century.  

The piece, presented as the lead editorial in the print edition of the Times only several days after it appear online, is titled “It’s Too Late to Ban Assault Weapons.” It makes the false assumption that there is nothing we can do to get existing guns off the streets, so we will have to live in a gun-clogged nation for generations to come, even if we ban assault weapons and pass other gun control laws. 

Kingsbury’s harrowing factual beginning sets us up for his false premise: “With proper care and maintenance, an AR-15 rifle manufactured today will fire just as effectively in the year 2119 and probably for decades after that. There are currently around 15 million military-style rifles in civilian hands in the United States.”

So what. 

If we can pass a law outlawing the sale of military style (assault) weapons, we can also pass a law making possession of one a federal crime, with penalties including a steep fine and jail time. 

Don’t scoff at the power of such a law: if it were in place, when local police investigated a case of domestic violence and found an assault rifle, they could take custody of the weapon and the owner. We could create a computer program that goes through the rolls of every gun seller who does background checks to identify everyone to whom they ever sold an assault weapon and contact that individual to arrange the surrender of their now illegal weapons. A gun call-back program would represent no invasion of privacy, since at the time of sale the gun owner voluntarily surrendered his information for the purpose of registering the purchase. 

The federal government could also provide funds for local task forces to stop illegal sales of the weapons that have been outlawed. 

On the softer side, a law banning assault weapons could mandate and subsidize gun buyback programs. I am fairly certain that many large corporations would fund the buyback, either in hard cash or in gift certificates. About twenty years ago, deep in the heart of rural upstate New York, my public relations firm developed and coordinated a gun buyback program in Syracuse that was a joint effort of the Syracuse Mayor’s office, the police department and my client, the largest supermarket company in upstate New York at that time, P& C Foods, and its parent company Penn Traffic. P&C provided the buyback premium–$100 gift certificates, good in any P&C store. The results blew away our goals for the program, and also the P&C’s budget. The company didn’t mind, though, as the good will with both the public and municipal officials was very important to the company. In total, people handed in 316 weapons, a lot considering the small size of Syracuse and the fact that there was no legal mandate to surrender the weapons. 

Imagine an assault weapons buyback with a premium of $250-$500 versus the authorities discovering you have illegally kept possession of your AR-15 and fining you $5,000 and throwing you six months in jail for six months.

There can be no doubt that no matter how many of these “fixes” we establish to make sure that outlawing assault rifles actually gets these horrible weapons off the streets, we will never collect all of the weapons out there. We can also assume that those already prone to commit crimes will be more likely to break the new law and keep their AR-15s.

Again, so what?

We should never make the impossible-to-achieve perfect the enemy of the achievable good. A combination of public relations, education and aggressive law enforcement will harvest virtually all of assault weapons out there. All research tells us that the more guns in a society the more people die or are injured by gun violence, and conversely, removing guns from society reduces those killed and injured. Thus, if a law outlawing the possession of assault weapons is passed and aggressively enforced leading to the collection of 12 or 13 million assault rifles it would assuredly reduce deaths and injuries.

Kingsbury ends his signed editorial with another typical Times effort to blame the “left” for pushing too hard and not understanding the mentality and needs of the rest of the country. He uses a classic club-the-reformer formulation: “Perhaps if gun control advocates frankly acknowledge that military-style rifles are going to be present in American society for many generations to come, it will help assuage fears of mass confiscation and give gun owners the space they need to support sensible safeguards that will save lives.

Note the conflation of “gun” owners” with assault weapons owners; and the corresponding conflation of confiscation of assault weapons with “mass confiscation.” A mere one-third of the adult population owns guns—and not all of them own assault weapons. When surveyed, most gun owners are in favor of banning military style weapons. They are also in favor of increased background checks and other gun control and safety legislation. Once AR-15 are outlawed, the next step of getting them off the streets shouldn’t be that hard for responsible gun owners and the rest of the population to stomach. Keep in mind that after winning the battle to prevent the sale and possession of AR-15 and their ilk, the momentum will be on the side of gun control advocates. As long as hunters, shooting range enthusiasts and rural inhabitants who feel they need a firearm to protect their homes have other options, I don’t they are going to care that much about others having to surrender their illegal firearms. 

Instead of giving space to hand-wringing and pessimism in way that is tantamount to saying “we might as well do nothing,” the Times should publish more information on the implementation of gun safety laws. Once gun owners see how convenient and easy it will be for responsible gun owners to register their legal weapons and once they understand how universal gun checks, a robust national no-gun list, the banning of AR-15 and the end of open carry and stand-your-ground laws protect everyone, including their families, most will “have the space they need to support sensible safeguards.” The National Rifle Association gains its power because of lies and loosey-goosey rhetoric. Instead of taking that rhetoric for granted, the Times should join in the battle to correct NRA mendacity. It should be helping to prepare the country for a program to confiscate assault weapons instead of assuming it’s impossible to implement.

Real reason for new Trump policy not to admit poor immigrants is to “make America white again.” Won’t work since no non-poor European would want to come here

The proposed Trump Administration rule to deny entry into the United States to immigrants who would likely need public assistance—the so-called means test—is an incredibly dunce-headed policy change for the simple reason that it will not accomplish its objective. 

The objective—unstated, but understood by everyone—is to keep non-Europeans AKA non-whites out of the United States. But this mean-spirited attempt to make America white(r) again will never work. Why would anyone from Europe want to come to the United States? Sure, taxes are a little lower in the United States, but most “white” countries offer cradle-to-grave healthcare; inexpensive and sometimes free college and vocational training schools; great unemployment and employee benefits; and decent pensions. In the 21st century, there is more socio-economic mobility in virtually all other “white countries,” meaning someone from the middle class has a better chance of getting rich in Europe than in the United States. Only the very rich in European countries could possible find the United States an attractive place to live. For everyone else already in the middle class, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Odds are that the effect of the new rule may thus be to increase the number of middle class coming from autocratic countries in Africa and the Middle East, plus the overspill of educated workers in India and the Far East. In other words, more non-whites, albeit with more financial means than refugees from Central America and Syria.

The meanness and small-mindedness of the new policy are closely intertwined with the racism of Trump, Steven Miller and others supporting it. Racism creates a lesser class of humans. Because they are “lesser,” we don’t have to apply the same rules of jurisprudence or civility to them. We can treat them with cruelty, because they are no longer “poor people,” whom the Jewish and Hebrew bibles tell us to cherish and protect. No, they aren’t poor people, because they aren’t people at all, but something other and inferior. The difference between the goodness of a “poor person” and the badness of a “poor other” was underscored when Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, made the contrast between the poor Italians—his ancestors—who once came to the United States with nothing and our current stock of immigrants. 

Like establishing the tariffs against China, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Accord and publicly hammering the Federal Reserve Board, adding a means test to the requirements for immigration to the United States strikes a heavy blow to the American economy. The economy depends on a supply of workers at every level, and for a long time—certainly since the end of slavery—immigrants have supplied large numbers of our lowest paid employees. Many farmers are already complaining about not having enough workers to pick crops. Recent reports also highlight a growing shortage of home health workers in many metropolitan areas. Impoverished immigrants are a major part of the workforce serving the construction, home care, home cleaning, agricultural and hospitality industries. That’s a pretty large chunk of the economy that will suffer from worker shortages and increased labor costs. Note that many of these jobs consist of doing things that most people don’t want to do—hauling debris away from construction sites; changing great grandma’s catheter; picking grapes and lettuce in hot fields; cleaning the vomit off the walls and floors of hotel rooms left by binge-drinking guests.   

As usual for the Trump Administration, this new policy not only is not based on facts, it goes against what we know to be true. Studies show that immigrants end up contributing more to the American economy than the cost to process and care for them. What they pay in taxes far outweighs what the country spends on social welfare spending for immigrants. To be sure, every year, a group of recently arrived immigrants cost their local and the federal government money. And there must be some number of immigrants who never successfully integrate into our economy and remain a burden on American society all their lives. But overall, immigrants—rich ones and poor, both legal and undocumented—are essential to the American economy.

One common theme underlies many Trump economic actions such as trade policies, support of dying industries like coal instead growth industries like solar and wind power, cutting the flow of immigrants, and giving the wealthy a tax break paid for by cutting programs and deficits. That theme is shrinkage. All will tend to shrink the base of the economy. Our current economic leadership is the most ill-informed since at least the Hoover Administration. Their headlong rush to lead us into a severe recession is mind-bogglingly dim-witted.

They are, in short, stupid people blinded by their prejudices.

That is, unless Trump, Mnuchin, Ross, Kushner, et. al. are secretly buying up puts, selling stocks short and loading up on cash to take advantage of a crash of financial markets. 

Idiots or traitors? Doesn’t that always seem to be the final two choices when considering what Trump and his entourage do? 

One thing that we can be sure of though: whatever the goal, the motive and driving principle behind Trump is usually racism.

To paraphrase GOP, now is not the time to blame Trump for racially-inspired mass murders. No, now is the time to blame the real culprit—GUNS!

It’s inaccurate to blame Donald Trump’s racist spewing for the latest mass murders in El Paso and Dayton. As incendiary as Trump’s words have been, it’s not his fault.

Nor is the white supremacist ideology professed by both Trump and the El Paso killer to blame. 

Nor can we blame racism in general.

As for those—mostly rightwingers—who want to put the blame on the mental illness of the perpetrators of the 255 mass murders that have occurred in the United States so far this year, they’re barking up the wrong tree and they know it.

Quite obviously, the culprits identified by cultural wingnuts such as violent video games, homosexuality and a decline in church attendance are not to blame.

No, it’s none of these things that is the primary cause for El Paso, Dayton, et. al. 

Only one place to point the finger for virtually all mass murders: guns. Or should I say, the large number of guns in our society and the ease at which people—including religious fanatics, crazies and racists—can get them.

Every other country has mental illness. Many other countries have seen an uptick in racism over the past few years. Many other countries have leaders who make divisive remarks that are de facto calls for violence. 

What’s so different about the United States? Only that it has loose gun control laws and is already awash in weapons, many of them military grade.

Those who respond that when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns have it wrong on two levels. In theory it would seem as if outlaws would go to great lengths to get weapons, but that doesn’t explain the small number of mass murders—and all gun injuries and gun deaths, for that matter—in France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, Canada, Japan, the Philippines and just about the rest of the world. The plague of mass murders has really only stricken the United States. The real world shows that when guns are outlawed, fewer outlaws have guns. When there are fewer guns in society, there are fewer guns for outlaws to steal, buy black market or do what most of them do now, just pick one up on the Internet without a background check.  

The “when guns are outlawed” argument has a second message to it—that non-outlaws can and should use guns for protection. But again, statistics disprove the idea that citizens are safer when they own (and carry) a firearm. Year after year, studies show that the number of lives saved because a citizen was carrying a gun is a miniscule portion of the number of civilians killed or maimed by friendly fire. Whether nonprofessionals can learn how to use a gun well enough to protect themselves remains an open question. What is not open is the undisputable fact that owning or living in a household that contains a gun puts one in more danger of injury or death than not owning one.

Many Republicans are getting behind a “red flag” bill to keep guns out of the hands of people identified as nut jobs. What a convoluted and inefficient way to stem just one of the many reasons people commit mass murder. Looking for mental illness won’t identify the religious fanatic, the racist, the white supremacist or the anti-government activist. 

The single most important piece of legislation for reducing the number of mass murders in the future would be to ban military-style weapons, assault weapons and conversion kits. They are the weapon of choice for the American mass murderer. If, however, we want to reduce gun violence, injury and deaths ubiquitously, we would institute a national licensing system as strict as drivers’ licensing, requiring all gun owners to have an up-to-date license. It goes without saying that 21 would be the minimum age for license eligibility. We should also require gun owners to carry gun insurance and modernize and expand our national registry of those not allowed possess firearms. A 10- or 15-day waiting period for all gun sales seems reasonable, as would banning all Internet sales of guns and ammo.

Surveys have shown that virtually all Americans agree with those proposals. I personally would go further by limiting gun ownership to those with a need, which essentially means people in rural areas for safety reasons. Cities and most suburbs are well enough patrolled and densely enough inhabited so that people are safe without guns. Hunters and target shooters only need weapons when in pursuit of their hobby, and so could rent firearms at gun lodges and shooting ranges. 

By all means, everyone, and especially the 20 Democratic candidates for president—should vociferously call out Trump for his odious racism. But to paraphrase a standard bromide piously proffered by National Rifle Association factotums after every mass murder, Now is too soon to condemn Trump regarding El Paso.

No, now is the time to raise our voices as loudly as possible in favor of stronger gun control laws.