When Trump called Haiti and African countries “s***holes,” he was also calling the people who come from there “s***” and included all African-Americans

There have been four justifications made by GOP and FOX apologists for Donald Trump’s outrageous characterization of Haiti and the countries of Africa as “s***holes.” The excuses range from the duplicitous to the cynical:

1. He didn’t really say it: Only the true believer believes this obvious lie. No one has denied that Trump used that word and several witnesses have confirmed it.
2. These countries really are “s***holes,” or hellholes as many journalists are now using in its place. So what? We’re talking about people, not the countries they come from. We investigate every refugee and immigrant for terrorist tendencies or a
criminal past. Why should the economic condition of the country matter? If anything, one could rationalize a preference for people fleeing hellholes over those from cushy countries. If you’re unhappy in the utopia that is Norway, what kind of malcontent or socially maladjusted person are you anyway? Whereas, if you have the gumption to leave a “hellhole” and better yourself, you’re the type of person we want and need.
3. That’s the language average Joes use in bars. That doesn’t make it right. The President is supposed to uplift the level of discourse, not debase it to the lowest
common denominator.
4. It appeals to his base. Which is why the base and Trump are so dangerous. We
can’t forgive or justify a racist comment by saying it’s okay because some people
like it.

These attempts to forgive, explain or contextualize Trump’s remark avoid the uglier truth behind the ugly statement: that the only countries the Donald labels as “s***holes” have primarily black populations. While his comment denigrated African countries and Haiti, it also communicated that Trumpty-Dumpty believes that the people from those countries are inferior. The not so hidden subtext was a slam at African-Americans, a group that Trump has long abused both verbally and with his actions. We thus cannot regard his remarks as solely anti-immigration, or anti-immigration from certain countries. The remarks also manifest an explicitly anti-African American mentality. When Trump called Haiti and African countries “s***holes,” he was also calling the people who come from there “s***” and he meant every African-American.

The last person as racist as Donald Trump to be afforded the majority of votes by the Electoral College was Woodrow Wilson, who as president re-segregated washrooms, cafeterias and work areas throughout the federal government, in the process terminating or downgrading the employment of thousands of African-Americans. His many actions and comments disparaging blacks and elevating whites gave permission to the growing racist sentiments of the progressive era. It’s no surprise that it was during Wilson’s presidency and afterwards that the KKK got its second wind, becoming an important social and political force not only in the South, but also in the Midwest and West. About the KKK, Wilson said, “The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservationuntil at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.” He sympathized with white supremacists who hated the Reconstruction periodbecause the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded.” Wilson also feared and hated East Asians, as witnessed by this choice nugget: “Oriental Coolieism will give us another race problem to solve and surely we have had our lesson.”

In his new biography of Ulysses Grant (who may have done more than any other white person to advance the cause of blacks in America), popular historian Ron Chernow builds the case that no American president has held as openly racist views as Andrew Johnson, who ascended to office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. One quote from Johnson should suffice: “This is a country for white men and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” Johnson actually told Congress that “negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people.” In private remarks, Johnson often used the n-word, which may be next on the list of taboo words and phrases that Trumpty-Dumpty rehabilitates now that we can say “s***hole” in public discourse without too much embarrassment. As president, Johnson tried to slow down the Reconstruction process of integrating freed slaves into Southern economies and governments, for which he was impeached and almost convicted.

Both Johnson and Wilson managed to whip up hope among the significant minority of Americans who believed that whites were superior to blacks and that blacks posed a threat to white America’s way of life. During both their administrations, violence against African-Americans, especially in the South, while the federal government pulled back on their protection of the civil rights of minorities. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing the same thing happen under the current administration. The head of government sets the public conversation and is one of the main forces in determining what is appropriate and inappropriate in the marketplace of ideas. There may be several points of view on any given issue, but one of them is always the president’s.

While racism has played a quietly growing role in Republican ideology since Goldwater, no recent national candidate before Trump had the gall and lacked the good taste to play up racist ideas in an explicit manner. Trump makes himself absolutely clear even to those not attuned to the subtle degradations of racial coding. When he says, “Make America great again,” no one has any doubt that his true message is “Make America white.”

It won’t happen, because within three years, he’ll be impeached, resign or lose the next presidential election. But while in power Trump and his minions will do a lot of damage to our minority and immigrant populations that will last years after he is gone. Moreover, he has opened the same Pandora’s box of racism that Andrew Johnson refused to shut after the Civil War and Wilson helped to pry open again in the Progressive Era.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Another attempt at privatization of a government function fails. This time it’s collection of back taxes

Once again, privatization of a basic government function has failed. As the New York Times reports, the Internal Revenue Service paid $20 million last year to private collection companies to collect unpaid back taxes. The companies were able to dun people for a mere $6.7 million in back taxes. Sometimes they were paid a 25% commission on back taxes collected solely through the efforts of the IRS. But there’s much worse, 45% of the take was from taxpayers they weren’t supposed to go after: hardship cases for whom paying back taxes would prevent paying basic living expenses.

As Gomer Pyle, the rube played by Jim Nabors for years on two situation comedies, would put it, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

If Congress had studied history, it would have known that privatization of tax collecting—which used to be called tax farming—doesn’t work as efficiently as the government doing its own collection. (To be accurate, private companies are trying to collect back taxes for the IRS; historical tax farming collected all taxes.) Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece all had third-party for-profit enterprises collecting taxes, as did the early kings of Europe. Historians now consider having the government bureaucracy collect its own taxes as one of the earliest signs of a modern government. The advantage of the government doing its own collections is twofold: It gets more of the revenues and the taxpayers are happier, since tax farming generally led to abusive practices by the tax farmers, who sought to maximize profits by squeezing taxpayers. Of course, even if Congress had known what a failure privatized tax collection is, it might have still passed the 2015 bill requiring the IRS to use private contractors.

When will politicians, both Republican and Democratic, learn that the private sector doesn’t always work as well as government does in providing services, especially when those services involve most if not all of the population?

Let’s tally the performance of the private sector when it takes over functions previously performed successfully by government.

We’ll start with private schools. Advanced research now demonstrates without a doubt that when you correct for poverty and disabilities public school students do better on standardized tests and improve their performance more over time than do private schools. And no wonder. Compared to private schools, public schools are more innovative, have more experienced teachers and provide those teachers with more continuing education.

Private prisons have proven to be a complete disaster virtually everywhere they have been tried in the United States. A few years back, the Wall Street Journal detailed the woes that the state of Idaho had after it privatized its state prisons in 2000; its private prison contractor walked away from a new contract, leaving Idaho with several lawsuits alleging that understaffing led to gangs rampaging violently through Idaho’s private prisons. The Journal reported that Michigan recently dropped plans to house 968 cons in a privately run prison after the bids by private companies exceeded by millions how much it would cost the state to do it. A few years back, a study showed that private prisons cost the state of Arizona more than a public system would have. When the State of Ohio gave its first inspection to one prison, it found that since a private company had taken over the facility compliance with regulations fell from 97.3% to 66.7%, a stunning decline in quality. As long ago as 2010, The Lexington Herald-Ledger called the privatized prison system in Kentucky a failure and cited the many abuses at one notorious private-run correctional facility.

How about private armies? People seem to forget that since Bush II, we have farmed out a large part of our military functions to private companies like Blackwater (formerly run by the brother of our current pro-privatization Secretary of Education) and Haliburton (the former company of Bush II’s VP, Dick Cheney). At a certain point, we had well over 100,000 military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, hired mercenaries loyal to their company not to the United States and not indoctrinated with the values and ethics of the American military. Using contractors drove up the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and led to a number of scandals of abuse of local civilians. And perhaps most significantly, we have failed to win either of these wars. And why would anyone think we’d have a better chance to win with hired guns, not well-trained U.S. soldiers? The United States has recognized the inferiority of privatized armies since we beat one in the Revolutionary War.

Then there’s our privatized health insurance system, which costs much more than other nations and yet delivers inferior health care, if judged by outcomes. In 2015, the United States spent almost three times on healthcare as the average of other countries with comparable incomes. Despite these outsized U.S. expenditures, people live longer in 29 of the 34 other countries surveyed. When compared to nationalized health insurance systems, we have fewer hospital beds per capita, higher rates of infant mortality and fewer people covered by health insurance. If you don’t think government does a better job of providing healthcare, ask anyone who has just switched from a commercial plan to Medicare what they think. I immediately noticed the improvement in benefits and access to care that Medicare provides.

For one more example, let’s go back in time to the early days of data processing. Many states and the federal government would outsource data processing to private companies such as Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS). Back in the 1980’s, it would cost Perot’s company about 6-8 cents a transaction, including labor costs. EDS charged governments 72 cents a transaction, a pretty fat profit margin. It doesn’t take much of a business head to figure out that the governments would have saved their constituents a lot of money if they had bought the computers and done the work themselves.

Of course, evidence means nothing to Trumpty-Dumpty and Republicans. Just this week, we learned that the Trump administration has abruptly halted work on the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, which analyzes substance abuse and behavioral health problems and recommends which work and which don’t, based on actual evidence. The program has been around about 20 years and features a website listing 453 programs in behavioral health that have been shown, by rigorous outcomes measures, to be effective. Like all Republicans, Trump and his advisors would prefer that the public be free to select from any number of treatments, even those that evidence has shown are little better than quackery. The freedom to select something that doesn’t work because you don’t have enough information and/or have been fooled by an unethical charlatan is more important than cutting the cost of health care and getting people the best treatment.

The contemporary Republican Party seems to run from science, which disproves virtually all of its fundamental ideas regarding the economy, free markets, the environment and public health. Their religious faith in the power of privatization is greater than the evidence that shows it doesn’t work.

The danger of an Oprah presidency: Instead of being chief of state, POTUS becomes a celebrity figurehead

No one can really answer the question, “Would you vote for Oprah for president?” out of the context of who the other choices are. In a primary against almost any other Democrat, I would vote for the opponent—maybe I’d vote for Oprah over Corey Booker or Heidi Heitkamp, because they’re so conservative. Maybe. But I would certainly vote for Oprah over just about any Republican Maybe I’d vote for John Kasich, Jon Huntsman or Nikki Haley instead of Oprah. Maybe.

Do I think Oprah is qualified to serve as Commander in Chief?

Hell, no.

Sure, she’s a personable entertainer and a shrewd businesswoman, truly a self-made billionaire. Her politics seem to fit in with Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s: a centrist looking left who will repair the damage of almost 35 years of Reaganism and move us along towards a socialist democracy, but at a snail’s pace and while ignoring the needs of labor unions. She seems to believe in science and respect expertise. She is as sincerely compassionate as the current generation of Republicans are mean-spirited. I am certain that if elected Oprah would surround herself with left-leaning centrists distinguished in their respective fields or bright political minds. She would be a feel-good president, much like all our presidents were between Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office. With a solid Democratic majority in both houses she could have a historic presidency, on par with the accomplishments of Roosevelt and Johnson. But that’s what I predicted about the impending Hillary Clinton presidency, back before anyone knew that the Russians were attempting to fix the results.

But that doesn’t mean that Oprah should run. She’s just not qualified. She’s never run a government bureaucracy. She’s never shepherded legislation to passage. She’s never juggled electoral concerns with governmental realities. She’s never voted for or against something that affects the lives—and sometimes deaths—of thousands, or millions.

Moreover, what the United States doesn’t need right now is to solidify the idea that a celebrity is qualified to be president, or that to be president of the United States, you must be a celebrity. The mainstream news media would like nothing better than to continue a reality TV approach to covering politics. It’s much easier than getting knowledgeable and asking intelligent questions about real issues. But if we keep electing people with no government experience who have primarily been entertainers or athletes, we’ll end up with a titular presidency, a front person who spouts off the words of others, with the real power up for grabs in the back rooms of the White House. Okay, we’ve sometimes had that situation before, but a celebrity presidency institutionalizes the ceremonial approach to the office, with the real power lying elsewhere, hidden away from public scrutiny.

I’m not saying Oprah will act like a reality show participant as president. She’ll certainly know how to comport herself with dignitaries, foreign leaders, the news media, Congress and the public. There will be no displays of ignorant rudeness, like riding in a golf cart while everyone else walks or pushing past the head of another country to get into the center of a photo. I’m quite certain that while she will tweet and give Facebook updates with great frequency, a President Oprah would not resort to feuding, insulting, exaggerating, bullying, bragging and the other reality TV techniques that Trumpty-Dumpty employs.

But hers would still be another celebrity presidency. And that has to be bad for the country, no matter what her administration might accomplish.

At various times, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were labeled rock stars, a derogatory phrase meant to imply that they were no better than celebrities. Opponents denigrated Ronald Reagan as an actor. But all these individuals had been involved in government before running for president. All had won elections before. That’s what Oprah needs to do, maybe even serve in a cabinet post. At the age of 63, it’s a little late to get started, but even if she served one term as a senator or governor, it would transform her from celebrity to elected official. It worked for Nelson Rockefeller and Jack Kennedy. It worked for George Murphy, Al Franken and Ronald Reagan. It worked for Sonny Bono. Okay, maybe not for Sonny.

Now that we’ve had our fantasy about possibly electing one of the most likeable people in American to follow one of the most despised, the Democratic Party has to get back to sifting through likely candidates who have electoral and governmental experience. There are any number of qualified Democrats out there: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill DeBlasio, Sherrod Brown, Chris Murphy, Amy Klobuchar, Gavin Newsom, Tammy Baldwin, Chuck Schumer, even (holding my nose and frowning) Andrew Cuomo. But not Oprah, please. (also not Bernie, Joe Biden or Hillary.)

What connects deporting dreamers and refugees & the new war on pot? The need to fill the private prisons owned & operated by Trump/Session supporters

The body count is getting higher: Add 200,000 Salvadorans to 780,000 dreamers and 45,000 Haitians. That’s well over a million people now, mostly productive and hard-working, ripped out of our economy and communities. These are many of the people who make our hotel beds, fix our pipes, take care of our elderly, slaughter our chickens, pick our crops, deliver our groceries and build our roads and housing. We can expect labor shortages in all these and other industries.

Don’t expect people postponing retirement to fill the gap—the ones who work past 62 are mostly professionals in desk jobs. You might see a senior staffing a cash register at Walmart or flipping burgers at MacDonald’s, but Baby Boomers’ expansive waists, bad knees, sore rotator cuffs, aching hips and general arthritis will rule out plucking oranges from trees, walking patients around hospital wards, making deliveries or operating a jack hammer. As with most of their policies, the Trump GOP’s deportation of more than a million productive Americans goes counter to the best interest of the country. We need to address global warming; he walks away from the Paris Accord. We need to raise taxes on the wealthy; they lower them. We need more workers or face a labor shortage; he kicks out millions.

Add to the more than a million refugees and other immigrants Trump intends to kick out of the country by 2020 a yet unknown number—the additional number of people who will be thrown in jail as a result of the Justice Department’s new crackdown on marijuana. Will it be 10,000? 20,000? 50,000? However many, they won’t be leading productive lives contributing to the economy.

On the surface, what unites deporting dreamers and refugees with ratcheting up arrests for something that should be legal—and is in many states—are the sheer stupidity of the actions, the mean-spirited cruelty underlying both policies and the deleterious effect each will likely have on the American economy and on many individuals.

A follow-the-money analysis uncovers another connection between these two deplorable stupidities: Both will line the pockets of the operators of for-profit prisons. The way back to wherever someone or their parents started usually runs through a detention center, so virtually every dreamer or refugee kicked out of the country will spend some time under lock and key for long periods of time. And every stoner or pot entrepreneur busted will end up detained, sometimes for years.

What a boon to for-profit prisons, which the Obama Administration had begun to phase out. The incarceration industry and its investors have been riding high since Trump announced that he was rescinding the Obama decision and relying even more heavily on private prisons. Now instead of facing a contraction of business, private prisons are looking at boom times.

As usual, Trump gets it wrong. By almost every measure private prisons have been a disaster: prisoners are more likely to be mistreated and often don’t get enough to eat or adequate medical care; drug use and violence are greater in private prisons. Often the private solution ends up being more expensive. It has never produced a greater rate of rehabilitation.

Besides being a disaster, private prisons also have a distorting effect on our politics and criminal justice system. Private prisons make money only if they are filled with prisoners, and so their operators have long lobbied for three-strikes-you’re-out and other harsh sentencing laws. They have contributed to the campaigns of many law-and-order candidates, primarily Republicans and including Jeff Sessions and now Trumpty-Dumpty.

“Crony capitalism” means giving large government contracts to your friends and financial supporters. It’s been around since the Revolutionary War and served as one of the primary sources of ultra-wealth during the Civil War and the Gilded Age. Private prisons are the quintessential “crony capitalists,” an industry that emerged only from a desire to privatize and thereby create more opportunity to use government revenues to create profit for private individuals at the expense of taxpayers. Government is the sole market for their services. It is in their best interest to increase their market by increasing the number of people detained and incarcerated. In an era of rapidly falling crime, that means increasing what is considered a crime and expanding the jail time demanded of the perpetrators. Criminalizing both immigrants and pot smokers fill the bill quite nicely.

The Trump Administration operates primarily on hate, fear and crony capitalism. We can see all three motives coming together in granting the wishes of another large industry dependent on government largess.

Upside of downsizing the American dream: It may slow down use of fossil fuels and global warming

In discussing climate change, the very broadest view we can take is the unfolding of evolution. Recent findings uncover a strong connection between the composition of gases in the atmosphere and the development of life on Earth. Factors such as earthquakes, volcanoes, the activity of the sun, the warming and cooling of the globe, Earth’s slightly irregular rotation in orbit and the impact of asteroids have affected the amount of methane, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere and water. Some species thrive and others falter when this mix of gases changes, either suddenly or over large expanses of time.

Most relevant to this discussion is the percentage of oxygen in the air. Paleontologist Peter Ward (University of Washington) and geologist Joe Kirschvink (California Institute of Technology) explain in A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth that in Triassic times, just before the extinction event that ushered in the Jurassic period, the precursors of mammals called the therapsids dominated the earth. Compared to reptiles, these ur-mammals had less efficient lungs (as do mammals), but it didn’t matter since the earth was relatively rich in oxygen.

But something happened during the extinction event that separates the Triassic and the Jurassic periods to reduce the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere, enabling reptiles, including dinosaurs, to thrive and impeding the development of mammals. The rise of the dinosaurs may result directly from a reduction of oxygen and increase in nitrogen in the atmosphere. While science now confirms that the crash of a large asteroid is implicated in the death of all land dinosaurs and most avian dinosaurs (the surviving flyers becoming birds), evolutionary scientists now believe that the central factor in the rise of mammals, and thus primates and humans, was the increase in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere from 14-16% to about 21% about 65 million years ago.

Humanity’s current spewing of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year is already changing the mix of gases dissolved in our oceans. Once the waters become supersaturated with carbon dioxide, if we are still in the midst of our fossil fuel burning spree, we can be reasonably certain that the overall percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase and, more significantly for the survival of humanity, the percentage of oxygen will decrease.

That’s the long-term threat of failing to limit severely the amount of carbon we release into the environment. But before the composition of atmospheric gases radically could change, humanity would already have suffered—and perhaps gone extinct—from pandemics, famines, extreme weather events and resource wars: The four horses of the apocalypse known as global warming.

I recently did the latest version of the individual footprint test, which estimates the number of earths it would take to have the resources to support every human being in my style. Now I’m a voluntary simplicity warrior: I walk or ride the subway as much as possible, only occasionally taking the bus. I was in a car for less than 200 miles last year and took one airplane trip. We eat primarily locally grown food and I eat energy-intensive red meat but once a week. We compost. We live in a 1,200 square-foot apartment in a 17-story building that recently switched to gas heating. We buy only wind-powered electricity and recycle everything allowed. But despite these best efforts, my footprint computes to 1.5 earths for everyone. What else can I do without government intervention, besides maybe to get my building to go solar? The subway has to start using less energy and the buses have to eventually run on wind- or solar power, probably on rails. My food, clothes, computers—everything will have to be made and delivered more cheaply.

And that’s in energy efficient New York City! What about the rest of the country, where automobile travel dominates, mass transit has been allowed to wither and people live in and therefore heat larger spaces, and do so less efficiently, in free-standing houses? If everyone in the world lived as the average American does, it would take the resources of five earths.

The upside of the downsizing of the American dream that the growing inequality of wealth and income has produced is that it will soon shrink the footprint of many Americans. But we have to change what we do with the vast excess capital produced by squeezing the middle and lower classes. Currently, we give it to a small group of very lucky, if typically well-connected, individuals and families, AKA the super wealthy. Instead, we should use taxes to confiscate this excess capital and fund mass transit, wind and solar power, alternative technology development and adaptation, local sourcing projects throughout the United States.

We should also invest heavily in promoting negative population growth. Imagine, if everyone in the world limited themselves to having one child, the population would naturally shrink to a more manageable size. With fewer people, we could sustain a higher average quality of life.

Make no doubt about it—for humanity to survive, Americans will have to start using less energy and other resources and there will have to be a lot fewer of not only us, but of all the peoples of all the nations.

News flash to Donald Trump: There is only one size to every nuclear button—the length and breadth of the globe

Donald Trump is using twitter again to twit and goad Kim Jong Un, the autocratic leader of North Korea. This time, he’s warning Kim that Trump’s “nuclear button is much bigger & more powerful than his, and my Button works.”

You know that old Russian saying: “Big button, small hands.”

But seriously folks, this comment demonstrates that the man for whom a slim majority of the Electoral College voted in 2016 has no understanding whatsoever of the potential threat of dropping even one nuclear weapon anywhere in the world. Radiation from the fallout will poison the air immediately and show up in milk and other food within months. Additional cancers and birth defects will plague distant populations for decades.

And that’s from one bomb.

Remember that when the U.S. dropped the only two atomic bombs ever used against human populations, no other country had the capability to respond in kind. That has changed. It’s likely that before even one atomic bomb hit the atmosphere of a country with weapons, that country would have already unleashed all the firepower it possessed in retaliation, wreaking horrible destruction on the enemy that attacked it first, but also poisoning noncombatants throughout the Earth. It’s called the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction,” or MAD, the primary justification countries use for having nuclear weapons: If you use it, we’ll use it and the results will be we’re both destroyed. (and the rest of humankind.)

Mutually assured destruction was based on game theory, which is a discipline of mathematics that assesses the probability of intelligent, rational decision-makers taking certain actions in given situations. The frightening words are “intelligent, rational decision-makers” because we suspect Kim and know Trump is neither intelligent nor rational. MAD doesn’t work if one of the decision-makers is mad or ignorant.

A rational person understands that in a world in which ten nations have nuclear capabilities, that every nuclear button is of the same size. Each covers the entire width and breadth of the globe, potentially with a thick nuclear winter of soot and other particles that the firestorms of thermonuclear war would release into the atmosphere.

The world is depending on the common assumption that both Trump and Kim are bombastic blowhards who use words to bloviate, bully and bluff. These insecure and ignorant tyrants would never actually push that big button, whatever its size. Besides, if they did, others argue, someone with a greater understanding of the probabilities would intervene, U.S. generals or the Chinese government.

Of course, when Trump says something stupid, it’s rarely out of the context of botching up the best efforts of others. Instead of praising the recent peace overtures between North and South Korea, Trump has decided to use the taunting language of an insecure middle school bully.

Donald, you fool, when it comes to nuclear weapons, size does not matter. You’re just too small a man to know it.

From Al Bundy to Trumpty-Dumpty: The spiritual part of the war on Christmas was lost in the days Trump was failing as a casino owner

I started feeling under the weather at around Noon the day before Christmas, so I spent much of the late afternoon and early evening drifting in and out of sleep while the television blared Christmas-themed episodes of “Married with Children,” the 1990s dystopic situation comedy about a lower middle class family of selfish, self-seeking, uneducated, ignorant individuals who think only of material possessions.

All the Christmas episodes revolved around the father of the house, Al Bundy, trying to get his hands on money to buy Christmas presents, and each time coming up short. His various part-time jobs and schemes all backfire, or he fails to get to the bank in time or he gets drunk and buys drinks for the house at the bar where he ends up after a stint as a Santa, with all the other poor blokes playing Santa in Chicago. That one has a bizarre ending, as Al uses his one positive trait—his athleticism which combines strength, agility and speed—to take possession of items from the bar, all labeled “Ray,” and give them as presents to his family. Best gift: A gold necklace with the name Ray on the gold medallion to Peggy, the wife Al loves to hate and hates to make love to.

Along the way, the Bundys, and most other characters, display vile and venial behavior and say many cruel things, all of which is hilariously funny, because they form a harmless exaggeration of the real world. In none of the episodes do any of the characters consider anything about Christmas other than the tradition of buying, giving and receiving presents. Virtually all the action not in the Bundys’ seedy home occurs in the marketplace: Al’s shoe store, next-door neighbor Marcy’s bank, the department store and other mall fixtures. No spirituality. No finding the true spirit of Christmas. No affirmation of traditional values. Even the parody—no, travesty—of “It’s a Beautiful Life” in a misogynistic, misanthropic vision in which his wife and two children are all better off in every way if the miserable Al had not been born. We laugh because we recognize in the extreme meanness and venality of the Bundys a parallel to our own lives and the people we know.

In Al Bundy’s world, love, friendship and every other emotion can only be found in money and material possessions, the values of American consumerism.

Also in the world of Donald Trump. All his talk about a war on Christmas involves the public market of commerce and has no spiritual element. It’s as if anything having to do with the religious aspects of Christmas—the story and its meaning, going to a mass or other church service, volunteering to feed the homeless, even caroling—has been consumed in a miasma of commercial values.

From Bill O’Reilly in 2012 through Donald Trump this year, the war on Christmas has always reduced to the secular marketplace. Do clerks and cashiers say “Merry Christmas” and thereby manifest their religiosity or do they utter the blasphemous “Seasons Greetings” and risk eternal damnation? Do the decorations have images of the Christ child and the legend “Merry Christmas” or do they rip all Christian doctrine to shreds by interspersing “Happy Hanukkah” and menorahs among “Seasons Greetings” placards and sundry Santa Clauses, sleighs, decorated trees and colorful wrapped-and-bowed packages? Instead of letting the marketplace operate without constraints, like conservatives are supposed to, those who believe that Christians must fight back in some religious war propose to regulate the market by stressing their one holiday. The authoritarian plea is meant to intimidate other cultures by stressing the primacy of one religion as a means to establish it as a de facto, and (they hope) someday de jure, national faith. This intimidation is a kind of softening up of all minorities for other assertions of Christian dominance such as refusing to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings, making abortion as hard as possible if not illegal, buying into a global war on Islam, and tampering with science and history text books.

Many pundits have already detailed the many reasons why conceiving of a war on Christmas as a Trojan horse for a war on secular values is wrong. Briefly, we are a secular society founded by fairly unreligious rich folk. Furthermore, Christmas iconography already dominates most celebration, even if has ceased to have or never had religious significance. Moreover, making potential customers feel uncomfortable is never good marketing. As a Jewish atheist, I won’t shop in any store, online or brick-and-mortar, once someone has said “Merry Christmas” to me. I imagine many other Jews, Muslims, Hindi and Buddhists have similar feelings. The idea of secularizing Christmas in the marketplace makes good business sense, and it doesn‘t disturb the private celebrations of Christians. Let’s also consider that making “Merry Christmas” the standard greeting debases its religious connotation, because it turns the phrase into a secular greeting that everyone gives everyone.

The rightwing media has taken up the battle cry against the war on Christmas for five years, but most mainstream media has recognized it is a false issue, a fake war.

So who else but a charlatan to declare victory in a fake war? It makes perfect sense that Donald Trump would claim that he had won the war on Christmas by re-instilling Christian values in the marketplace, from which secularists (read: liberal, feminist, gay, immigrant and minority) had vanquished it. At his rallies over the past few weeks, The Donald has been patting himself on the back for bringing Christmas back. Now, a nonprofit started by former Trump aides is going to run a Christmas day commercial in which a series of everyday Americans thank Trump for what he has done since his administration took over. Among the many faces of casually dressed people in various locations, mostly white but a token number of people of color —all manifesting traits associated with working class people—is a beautiful young white girl who says, “Thank you for letting us say “Merry Christmas” again.” Someone should tell that little girl that it was never against the law to say “Merry Christmas”; it’s merely thought in polite company to be poor manners to assume someone you don’t know is Christian. Unless, that is, if she’s an actress playing the role of grateful little girl.

Of course, they don’t really care about Christmas as a religious holiday, not Trump, not Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, not Meghan Kelley (who insisted both that Santa Claus was a real historical figure and that he had to be white), nor any of the other rightwing shills who said secular forces were destroying Christmas by their continuance of the decades-long American practice of marketplace recognition of other religions. They have all proved themselves many time to be committed to the values of conspicuous consumption and consumerism. But as elitists and authoritarians, they like the idea of giving the ignorant something they can be angry at other than the greed and acquisitiveness of their corporate masters, and in Trump’s case, fellow rich folk. All of them supported the mean-spirited tax overhaul, which Trump is publically calling a “Christmas gift” to the American people, knowing full well that it only the gift to the wealthy He has admitted as much to his rich friends at Mar-a-Lago.

Here in New York, we see very little evidence of more people saying “Merry Christmas” and fewer people saying “Seasons Greetings,” no stripping signs of Hanukkah from decorations, no increased religiosity in the sentiments people express in public interactions. Beggars in the subways make sure to include everyone in their solicitations. I did see one group of young men, mostly Hispanic, in seminary garb roaming together in the East Village saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone and being greeted with typical New Yorker’s scorn by the people with whom they tried to engage. I have also seen collections of Orthodox Jews publicly celebrating their version of Hanukkah in the streets to the same reaction.

But it may be different in the hinterlands.

In any case, let Trump have his victory, a hollow one because the more that people focus their celebration of Christmas in the marketplace, the more the true spirit of Christmas suffers. That was the lesson of “Married with Children” two decades ago, and nothing has changed since then. The marketplace long ago Bundyized the celebration of Christmas.

New tax bill tries something that’s already failed many times: lowering taxes on wealthy to spur economic growth. But it’s typical of GOP to propose programs that have proven not to work

Much of science and engineering involves trial and error: You try something and it doesn’t work, or doesn’t work perfectly, so you modify it or try something else. You learn from experience and apply what you learn to future activities. Trial and error is a necessary part of the scientific method.

Perhaps it’s because learning from experience is part of the scientific method, and thus part of science, that the Republicans refuse to do it.

It’s clear that the GOP didn’t look at real-world experience in the passage of the tax overhaul which over time will transfer more than a trillion dollars of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the very wealthiest Americans. They say the new tax system will supercharge the economy, which will result in more tax revenues than before the cuts. But past efforts to cut taxes on the wealthy have never led to increased prosperity, nor to increased tax revenues, whereas raising taxes on the wealthy always does. The Reagan tax cuts didn’t lead to prosperity, which came only when taxes were raised again under Bush I and Bill Clinton. The Bush II tax cut led to the 2008 recession by giving rich folk additional money to create a real estate bubble which, upon bursting, sent the economy into a tailspin. Only after the tax increases under Obama did the economy start to purr again.

And what about Kansas? The Sam Brownback-led experiment in cutting-and-gutting has led to an economic disaster. The Kansas example is particularly on point: Under Brownback, the legislature entirely eliminated taxes on what are known as pass-through businesses, which account for about half of all business profits. Brownback made the same glowing predictions that Trumpty-Dumpty and Paul Ryan are now making for lowering the income tax on pass-throughs and the other benefits of the tax bill that only the rich will enjoy. But instead of an economic boom, Kansas has seen seven years of little if any economic growth and massive budget deficits. The tax base shriveled, forcing lawmakers to cut spending on public schools, colleges, Medicaid and other programs. Courts had to order the state to spend more on public schools. This year, after years of suffering, the Kansas legislature finally reversed the tax cuts, overriding Brownback’s veto in a refreshing if desperate bipartisan effort.

Anyone who follows the scientific method would conclude from the wealth of experience that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a bad idea. But Trump and the GOP live in a weird faith-based universe in which wishful thinking can somehow defeat reality.

Unfortunately, tax policy is not the only area in which the GOP—and sometimes many Democrats—ignore experience:

War on drugs

The premise of the war on drugs was to limit supply by punishing everyone involved in the illegal drug trade—suppliers, dealers and possessors, especially those whose skin was not white. Launched by the Nixon administration and pursued for decades by Nixon’s successors, but especially under Republican presidents, the war on drugs proved to be an abject failure that ended up filling our prisons with people who committed low level, victimless crimes. So what does the Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis propose? Program after program to limit supply and little to work on reducing demand. While not as Draconian in its proposals to punish users as the original war on drugs was—after all, opioid addicts are primarily white and heavily centered in white rural areas—the commission proposes only two programs to limit demand out of a total of 56 recommendations. Most of the rest of the commission’s report details various ways to limit supply. Trump and Sessions would add more criminalization and jail time to the mix.


The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and it was a quagmire that drained the Soviet treasury and sowed discontent on the home front. Ten years later, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, tail between their legs, unable to achieve any of their objectives, but leaving behind a wide and bloody trail of death and destruction. Many believe that the experience in Afghanistan contributed to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Did the Soviet disaster—and those of the Russians and British in the 19th century—stop the Bush II Administration from invading in 2001 after Afghanistan refused to relinquish Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks? Not a chance. After more than 10 years of futile fighting that cost the lives of more than 2,000 American soldiers and about 100,000 Afghanis, drained the U.S. and accomplished nothing, Obama began to draw down the American troop totals in Afghanistan. Lesson learned—that is until the Republicans took control of the White House again and the Trump Administration announced its intention to ratchet up the U.S. military presence in the war-torn country—more drone attacks and more troops.

 Private prisons

Private prisons have led to widespread abuse of prisoners and greater violence behind bars and they often cost more than public prisons. President Obama’s response to the pile of evidence against private prisons was to announce that the federal government would gradually end their use. Yet there is so much experience that shows that private prisons don’t work that of course the GOP under Trump are supporting them. One of the first things Attorney General Jeff Sessions did was to scrap the Obama order to phase out the federal government’s use of private prisons.


Encouraged by big business and electric power generators, those Republicans who admit that we have to address climate change propose cap-and-trade as the way to lower carbon emissions. In this case, they’re joined by many Democrats. With cap-and-trade, a market is created for trading what are called “pollution credits,” which essentially means that companies that pollute buy the right to do so from companies that don’t pollute or pollute less. The original cap-and-trade scheme to address acid rain lowered emissions of SO2 by 42% in the United States. Europe, by contrast, used regulations to fight acid rain and was able to remove 71% of all emissions. Yet the U.S. (under Clinton but Republican support) insisted that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol focus on cap-and-trade as the main way to reduce carbon emissions. I really shouldn’t blame the GOP for their preoccupation with this failed concept, since the rest of the world, including Democrats, have also been enamored of cap-and-trade. For example, despite the fact that every single cap-and-trade program in the U.S. and Europe has failed to lower emissions, China recently announced it is establishing what it says will be the largest cap-and-trade market in the world.

In all of these cases, the reason the GOP prefers to follow failed policies instead of learning from experience is that big contributors benefit from continuing to pursue the fallacies, even if most people suffer. Sometimes it’s defense contractors. Sometimes it’s slick GOP cronies who want to make a quick buck through privatization. Sometimes it’s large industry and electric power generators who seek to exploit a badly formed and loophole-filled policy to avoid their responsibility to clean up their industrial processes. But whenever the GOP ignores the lessons of experience, someone makes a lot of money.

When contemplating the inability for the GOP to apply the lessons of the past to solve today’s challenges, I can’t help but think of the refrain of the old Pete Seeger song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It keeps playing in my mind: “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

The answer for the GOP and Trump seems to be “Never.”

Final tax bill not as mean-spirited as earlier versions, but still gives virtually all benefits to rich folk, while screwing everyone else. And it will still lead to another great recession or worse

In the days before Congress passed the so-called tax overhaul, better termed the “Reverse Robin Hood Plan,” some televisions news programs showed images of the protests, but for the most part the news media accepted as a fait accompli the passage and signing of one of the greatest transfers of wealth up the socioeconomic ladder in world history. Usually I would complain that the mainstream media is once again manifesting its bias towards covering conservative protests, ideas, intellectuals, primaries and candidates while ignoring the left, but in this case, it’s hard to blame the media. After all, if Republicans in Congress were ignoring all the experts saying the bill is a disaster for the economy and all the polls which show anywhere from 59% to 70% of all Americans opposed, why would they be moved by pickets and chants outside their door?

The final tax package is not as mean-spirited as the original House and Senate versions, but it’s still a bad bill that reflects the underlying greedy philosophy that has animated the Republican Party for years: government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich. True enough, gone are some of the more obnoxious aspects of the bill like making graduate students pay taxes on free tuition and ending the deduction for adoption programs and teachers’ classroom expenses. The cap (doubled!) on assets not subject to the estate tax remains.


The tax overhaul still gives an enormous permanent tax reduction to the wealthy, while giving smaller temporary tax breaks to everyone else.

It still favors investors over workers and business owners over employees.

It still gives a major shaft to taxpayers in the high-tax states that pay more to the federal government than they receive already and still have enough money to provide more social programs and healthcare to their citizens.

It still increases the deficit by more than a trillion dollars over the next ten years, and that’s using optimistic estimates of future economic growth and revenue collection.

It still requires the federal government to cut non-military spending, and the Republicans still intend to use the new deficits it creates to justify cutting social welfare and insurance programs even more.

And it still is a recipe for economic disaster. It will increase both income and wealth equality. The gutting of the individual mandate will throw 13 million people off healthcare insurance rolls and jack up costs 10% for everyone else. Because it makes less money available to government, it will hamstring federal and local efforts to improve our infrastructure, conduct essential research and development in basic science, educate children, address climate change and tend to the needs of the elderly and disadvantaged. It will still take money out of active circulation because rich folk already have enough money to buy what they want and will therefore put their money into dead assets like stocks that aren’t initial public offerings, bitcoins, artwork and other collectibles, bloating the value of these assets until some asset group forms a bubble.

A lot of the Republicans are brainwashed dumb asses or unthinking greed machines, but many must know of the economic disaster that the tax bill will likely engender. At the very least, they understand that their money grab for the wealthy will end up pissing off a lot of people who will lose their job or their healthcare insurance, immediately or eventually pay more in taxes, find college, healthcare and housing costs going up, drive on pothole-infested roads and drink dirty water.

The hope of Trump and the Republicans must be that those who will temporarily receive a fatter pay check starting January will be delighted and that the asset bubble won’t burst into another full-blown recession until after the 2018 election. The optimists among them may be predicting the crash won’t come until after the 2020 election, enabling the Electoral College again to give a majority of its votes to a dangerously unqualified, ignorant buffoon and giving the Republicans the right to gerrymander voting districts into victories for another 10 years. But the crash will come, and when it does, Democrats will sweep back into office and have to deal with all the messes the Republicans have created. They will have to reinstitute regulations, restock the talent of many departments, restart oversight programs, revise language on websites, return the voting rolls to full democracy, reverse short-sighted decisions based on nonsense that went against the best interests of our citizens, renew relationships with many other countries and rededicate the country to the ideals of an open, secular, democratic society. And yes, the Dems will have to raise taxes on the wealthy, but just as the tax increases after the Reagan and Bush II tax giveaways to rich folk, probably not to the current level. Thus the trend since the 1960’s of society expecting less of the wealthy and more of everyone else will continue.

By the time the Democrats get back in control (or reason returns to the Republican Party), a lot of damage will have been done to millions of people in the United States and in the countries where we have military operations, our economy, the environment and global stability. Our reputation in the world will be in tatters and its possible our allies and adversaries may have moved on without us in trade, peace, arms, development and environmental agreements.

Also by that time, however, the current stock of Republican congressional representatives and senators will have secured cozy and lucrative sinecures with lobbyists, law firms, businesses or rightwing think tanks. Of course, the possibility exists that large numbers of white people will continue to channel their rage and frustration at their personal hard times into racial tribalism and thus continue to vote for right-wing candidates who speak in code and pander to their worst instincts. As the Alabama special Senate election proved, the call of racism is still strong.

But Doug Jones’s upset of Roy Moore also proved the power of getting out the vote, which nowadays depends to a large extend on organized efforts to overcome the many barriers that Republican-controlled states have erected to voting since 2010. The Alabama turnout, while only 32%, was considered heavy for a special election, which is shameful but also points out how many potential voters are out there. Surveys almost always demonstrate that Americans are much more liberal on economic, foreign policy and social issues than our politicians are. We like to blame big money for the current gang of deplorables running Congress and the White House, but big money does not elect people. It only funds their campaigns. Voters elect, and for far too long, too few of them have made their voices known. The result is the abomination of a tax bill which will end up crippling the U.S. economy.

Those doing a victory dance at the election of Doug Jones to U.S. Senate from Alabama should remember that 650,000 voted for a child molester

While anyone who believes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS, food stamps, public schools, cheap public universities, abortion rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should rejoice in the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over the truly deplorable Roy Moore for the U.S. Senator from Alabama, we should only do so with caution.

Trump and the Republicans are still in charge. The GOP is still upsetting decades of Congressional protocols pushing through a tax bill that represents the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy in U.S. history, a tax bill opposed by more than 70% of all Americans. The current administration is still overturning regulations that address climate change and protect Americans on the job site and in the marketplace. The appointment of a young generation of ultra-right, pro-corporate judges continues.

Moreover, democracy in America is still threatened, not just by the Republicans in Congress and the White House, but by the voters themselves. Only 32% of registered voters participated in the Alabama special election, a total that all the news media is labelling as high or heavy. A majority of voters stayed home and that’s a good turnout? No wonder Congress so often thwarts the will of the people and acts against the best interests of most Americans to favor a wealthy few. The people often don’t speak loudly enough.

More dangerous to American democracy than the lack of voter participation is the fact that more than 650,000 voted for a child molester. Even if every one of the Alabama voters who stayed home had voted against Moore on the principle that a child molester should not represent a state in the U.S. Senate, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that more than 15% of the total electorate either didn’t care or took the word of a man over a large number of very credible women and supporting witnesses. Either these voters are morally bankrupt or irredeemably misogynist. The low turnout magnifies the power of this 15%, just as it did in the 2016 Republican primary races in which Donald Trump never exceeded 25% of the total of eligible Republican voters. When voters stay home, a motivated minority can turn the country in an ugly direction—in this case, almost electing a child molester.

Which brings us to Senator Al Franken, a good guy and leading liberal light. On the scale of sexual offenses that men can perpetrate against women, Franken’s is much less offensive than Roy Moore’s. But still not acceptable. And they occurred multiple times. He made at least eight women feel uncomfortable with his frat boy antics. Why didn’t he learn from his mistakes?

I’m fairly certain that someone said something to him about the inappropriateness of his behavior at least once over the years. Back in 1973 when I was teaching my first university-level French course at the University of Washington—Introduction to French Literature—I was prone to making salacious puns and sexual innuendos in my lectures. I was just a 22-year-old doofus trying to be funny and clever—I was and am an incorrigible punster with a vivid imagination and a love of jokes about sex. After about three weeks, one of my female students took me out for a coffee and told me the jokes made the women feel uncomfortable. I was as embarrassed as I have ever been, completely humiliated. I stopped the sexual joking immediately. I never had another complaint. I am still grateful that my student sent me in the right direction so early in my career and adulthood.

That was 45 frigging years ago!!! Don’t you think that along the way some outspoken woman would have done the same favor for Franken, who as a liberal must have hung out with a number of sensitive, sensible and assertive women? Keep in mind, too, that some of Franken’s antics took place in public “on the job,” typically working for large organizations. Every large organization has had a sexual harassment policy in effect and given training to supervisors on identifying and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace since about the mid-1990s. Many seem routinely to ignore the policy especially as it applies to powerful men, but that doesn’t let the liberal feminist Franken off the hook.

It therefore shocks me to see so many comments on Facebook asking Franken to remain a Senator, petitions pleading he reconsider and nasty notes to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, leader of those demanding Franken resign. These well-meaning liberals and progressives risk giving up their ideals for political expediency—exactly what we accuse the other side of doing. If being accused of molesting a 14-year-old, assaulting a 16-year-old and pestering a bunch of young girls when he was in his thirties disqualifies Roy Moore from elected office, how can we exempt Al Franken for his overly aggressive and sexual touching and feeling? The case of Trump is even more apt. If we disqualify Trump for his 18 instances of harassment, we must qualify Franken for his eight. When it comes to the discomfort it could cause a woman or the assertion of a prerogative of power over a woman, I can’t see much difference between touching a woman’s breast and slipping fingers underneath her panties. Both equally heinous.

Franken has to go. Otherwise there is no moral ground on which to accuse Trump, Moore and other Republicans. Otherwise, we send a message that in certain cases it is alright to harass women, and even perpetrate a mild, good-natured, we’re all-just-having-a-good-time sexual assault.