Trump decision to cancel refugee children’s soccer & school follows the centuries-old American tradition of cruelty to non-Europeans in the frontier & at the border

Under the leadership of Donald Trump, the Republican Party has graduated from pursuing Ronald Reagan’s politics of selfishness to pursuing the politics of cruelty.

How else to explain this week’s decision by the administration to cancel English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters?

The excuse for not educating or providing recreation to these innocent victims of violence and environmental upheaval—to which the United States had made a major contribution—is that the influx of immigrants at our southern border has created critical budget pressures. According to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) PR flack Mark Weber, to save money the Office of Refugee Resettlement has stopped funding programs “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation.” Sounds as if Trump is using these innocent victims as a bargaining chip with Congress. I wonder if he ever thought of torturing his own children as part of a negotiation?

So what are these kids going to do all day except hang around being hungry and bored? A recipe for getting into trouble, to be sure. And how can they ever hope to navigate our complicated immigration laws and system and reunite with their parents without any legal help?

Nothing short of an audit by Bernie Sanders supporters would convince me that the HHS is so broke that it has to deprive children of recreation, education and hope.  I think it’s not a bargaining chip, just an excuse for ratcheting up the meanness. Those of us who have followed the revelation about Trump’s personal finances understand that he and his cronies are masters of changing what budget numbers say. Remember Trump’s the guy who told the IRS that his assets were worth little to avoid paying taxes at the same time he was pumping up their value to get bank loans.

There are no doubt other places in the border budget that Trump could save money; for example, spending no more than the amount that most experts recommend is appropriate for walls or wall prototypes. That number, BTW, happens to be zero, since most immigration and security professionals have concluded the wall is a stupid idea.

Based on an analysis of other moves that the Trump Administration and the GOP have made recently, I think we can safely assume that the prime motivating factor in ending soccer and school for refugee children is cruelty. It is purposely cruel, as if Trump and his crew want not just to win, but to make it hurt the “enemy” so badly that everyone knows who is boss. They haven’t stopped to think that 12- and 15-year olds are never the enemy and never deserve purposely cruel treatment.

Separating children from their families is an act of cruelty. Criminalizing abortion and making a woman carry a rapist’s baby to full term is cruel. Putting the “Dreamers” into a legal limbo is cruel. Ending special programs to protect refugees from Haiti and El Salvador is cruel. Cutting humanitarian aid to Central American countries is cruel. Proposing cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is cruel. Then there’s the especially twisted notion of assessing tariffs on Mexican and Chinese products, which will end up hurting the poor and middle class, as prices for virtually everything will go up when companies pass the cost of the tariffs to consumers. The twist of course is that the tariff money collected will make up some of the enormous deficit the GOP created by giving the ultra-wealthy one of the largest tax breaks in history at a time when their taxes were already historically low.

It’s easy to say that when Trump is frustrated, the first thing he does is look for someone to take it out on, and that the more pain he manages to cause, the happier this sick pup becomes.

But blaming the character of Trump alone would ignore the long U.S. history of cruel treatment of people whom white males considered to be inferior to Europeans and of those they encountered at their ever west-moving frontier. British army commander Jeffrey Amherst knowingly gave smallpox-infected blankets to Native American tribes during the Seven Years War, hoping an epidemic of the disease would wipe out whole communities. Cruelty to blacks characterizes the entire history of slavery and post-Reconstruction in the United States. Whether dealing with Native Americans or with supporters of democracy in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, American soldiers (and pioneers) employed rape, pillage, mass murder and displacement as their main tactics. It was if Europeans could only demonstrate their inherent superiority to other ethnic groups by treating these lesser beings as animals.

Historian Greg Grandin’s The End of the Myth provides an easy-to-read if hard-to-stomach spectacle of U.S. official and unofficial cruelty to non-Europeans at America’s borders over the past 250 years. Grandin’s two premises are shaky: He avers that the U.S. is the only nation defined by its relationship to its frontier, which ignores the histories of China and Russia (and if one studies the medieval Ottonian dynasty, Germany, too). He also asserts that Trump was able to emerge because of societal anxiety now that the frontier is gone and our borders are closed, which fails to take into account Grandin’s own discussion of Andrew Johnson, the prototype of Trumpism; the strain of Jacksonian racism that still infects U.S. foreign policy; or Grandin’s mini-history of border vigilantism. No matter, the book’s detail makes it worth reading. Two other great books on American frontier cruelty—but  heavy reading slogs—are Richard Slotkin’s seminal Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier (1973) and The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization (1985).

The important takeaway from these books for this conversation is the detailed accounts of how, when faced with both humanistic and cruel ways to deal with the peoples encountered on its frontiers, the American way was virtually always to select cruelty. Blaming victims, of course, is always easier and less expensive than trying to help them. For example, the contemporary GOP program—from Reagan onwards—uses victim blaming as a justification for cutting programs that help our poor, elderly and disadvantaged. A supposed inferiority justified the cruel treatment of slaves. It justified Bush II’s creation of our torture program. And it’s instrumental in justifying the inhumane and illegal treatment of refugees and other immigrants at our borders.

Trump’s views resonate with the 20-25% of the population that is white and feels threatened by the demographic shifts in this country that favor groups they deem inferior. We don’t know, but we can assume that many ICE employees and government officials agree with Trump’s cruel approach, something that Grandin suggests. Trump’s administration is not the first time America has pursued an overtly racist program—Andrew Jackson and most of the presidents between him and Lincoln pursued racist domestic and foreign policies; Woodrow Wilson re-segregated the federal government and let the Klu Klux Klan run wild.

No, Trump does not represent an inflection point. Yes, Trump is a monster, but not an especially original one. He continues a long American tradition of racism and racial cruelty, especially to non-European immigrants, refugees and combatants.

Mathematical models for everything from marketing to perusing resumes are making inequality & discrimination against the poor & minorities worse

Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction doesn’t break new ground in its discussion of how computer algorithms discriminate against the poor, minorities and women, making them pay more for loans, shutting them out of jobs, and disrupting their work schedules. Just about everything she writes about we’ve seen in the pages of major newspapers and serious magazines.  

But O’Neil puts it all together in language we can understand and with the rigor of a mathematician who has actually delved into the various assumptions and computations hidden within the digital black boxes that companies use to sort resumes, banks use to give loans, employers use to schedule employees and virtually every consumer company uses to target customers with products and services.

O’Neil does not advocate doing away with all the mathematical models that permeate contemporary American society, only those that threaten our social fabric because of hidden prejudices built into the algorithm or those that purposely exploit or deceive people.

Take the development of U.S. News Report’s top college rankings, which over the past thirty years has engendered a “keep up with the Joneses” competition among status seeking parents, while dramatically changing how universities approach their own development and improvement, pandering to the rating instead of the educational mission of the institution. It has also created a new industry of college selection advisors to help rich and middle class parents get their children into the highest-ranking schools. O’Neil reports that the original mathematical model used as its measures of success those variables in which the schools thought to be traditionally the best had excelled, such as contributions by alumni. Their selection of what to measure not only favored Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and the other universities already entrenched at the top of the pecking order, it also led to such obvious distortions as small liberal arts colleges for the wealthy achieving a higher rating than state universities with far-ranging research capabilities and an economically diverse student base such as Washington, Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and the University of California Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses.

It’s amazing that one misshapen computer model could do so much damage. But O’Neil analyses a number of such monstrosities, such as the biased models by which school districts evaluate teachers, banks decide which financial services to offer and how to price them, employers analyze resumes without looking at them to decide whom to hire and political campaigns select which messages to send to individual voters. O’Neil calls these models “Weapons of Math Destruction,” or WMD, both clever and accurate.

Many of the problems caused by WMD stem from substituting a simple measurement for a complicated situation, for example when teacher evaluation models substitute test scores for in-class performance to measure teachers’ competence or employment models use credit scores to determine a potential employee’s stability. Another major problem is that many of the models have as their sole purpose the maximizing of profit, regardless of what that means to customers or employees, such as job scheduling models that make employees work split shifts, add or cancel their work hours before the shift begins, and prevent their total hours from exceeding the minimums for receiving benefits. The employer makes more money, while financially strapped employees have to deal with juggling childcare, medical appointments and other aspects of daily life. Then there are the models that instantaneously analyze your Internet browsing history as soon as you get on the website of a financial institution, telling the institution whether to offer you a high or low rate on loans and insurance, based on your “risk.” High risk in this case serves as a euphemism for poor and often, minority.

An anecdote O’Neil tells near the end of the book is particularly scary because it reflects the anti-science, anti-fact bias shared by many corporations and politicians. Despite years of work as a successful mathematician in the private sector, in 2013 O’Neil took an unpaid internship in New York City’s Departments of Housing and Human Service. She was interested in building mathematical models that help, not hurt society. The issue was homelessness. Her team looked over masses of data to figure out what factors led people into homeless shelters and what factors led them to leave and stay out for good.  One of her colleagues discovered that one group of homeless families left shelters never to return—those who obtained vouchers for housing under a federal housing program called Section 8.

Ooopsy! As it turns out, then NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the data king who had made billions of dollars supplying the financial industry with information, didn’t like Section 8 vouchers and had instituted a highly publicized new program called Advantage, which limited Section 8 subsidies to three years. As O’Neil writes, “The ideas was that the looming expiration of benefits would push poor people to make more money and pay their own way.” Yeah, right—they’d finally stop working as a fast food cashier and take a job as a Wall Street lawyer! Of course with rents booming in the Big Apple, the opposite was happening: people lost their vouchers after three years and ended up in homeless shelters.

The Bloomberg administration did not welcome the researcher’s finding and evidently ignored it in future planning. What the Bloomberg Administration wanted to believe literally trumped (pun intended!) what the facts were suggesting: that the cure for homelessness was not unfettered capitalism but providing a helping hand. Ignoring what the research proved corrupted Bloomberg’s approach to reducing homelessness as much as the current Trump administration’s approach to the environment, government regulation, taxation and education is corrupted by its failure to follow the facts.  Corruption and manipulation lie at the heart of what caused institutions to create and apply WMDs.

I vividly remember an example of the corruption of ignoring facts I experienced when I worked for a large public relations agency in 1987. I returned from a Conference Board seminar with a study about the way corporations would employ agencies in the 1990s. The new approach to agency use would make it harder for agencies to make money and force them to engage in more competitions with not just other large agencies, but small boutique firms that specialized in one kind of PR. As soon as I completed my presentation to the staff of our office, our general manager got up and said I was wrong and outlined a rosy view based on no research whatsoever. Of course, the predictions presented at the Conference Board seminar turned out to be right on the money.

Thus, while we must beware weapons of math destruction and devise industry standards for both developing mathematical models and regulating their use, the greater problem is the age-old one best expressed in a quote often attributed to Mark Twain that Figures never lie, but liars figure.

Lowering voting age to 16 is a bad idea. Better to raise it—and age at which one can join the military—to 21

Many major media outlets, including USA Today and New York Times have been floating the idea of lowering the voting age to 16.

Bad idea. If anything, we should raise the voting age to 21.

The simple fact of the matter is that the brains of virtually all 16-year-olds are still forming. Their reasoning capacity and their ability to comprehend complex material will keep improving for several years. The brains of many boys continue to develop until well into their twenties.

While there are exceptions, the average 16-year-old is still as much child as adult. A 16-year-old still looks heavily to both parents and peers for approval. Those in the middle and upper classes have not had to work for a living and probably have led sheltered lives. Rich kids and poor kids alike have had a minimum of experience in the real world. Many have irrational crushes on celebrities. Others are in poor control of their emotions. We can’t expect a 16-year-old to make an informed decision about issues or candidates.

The one advantage of giving 16-year-olds the right to vote is that we could register kids in high schools, which would hopefully lead to an increase in the percentage of Americans who vote. But we could also use a mass outreach approach to register young voters at other life stations—as part of registration for college or vocational training. Or better yet, we could extend selective service registration to women (and non-binaries!) and make voter registration part of the process.

I believe that a majority of my dear readers will agree with me that 16 is too young to vote. But my second assertion—that we should raise the voting age to 21—will likely meet with two thumbs down from most. If, however, you put credence in medical science, you should see little difference between voting at 16 and 18. The human mind is still developing at age 18. Although 18 year olds are for the most part much more mature than 16 year olds, they don’t have their acts together as much as they will at age 21. Far from it. Every parent will readily be able to cite examples.

The reason that we allow people to vote at 18 is business. The business of war, which since World War II may be the biggest and most important business that Americans pursue. After all, we have been at constant warfare somewhere around the globe almost continually over the past 70 years. Our annual military budget is about equal to that of all the other countries on Earth combined. We are the primary arms merchant throughout the world; our bombs and guns participate in virtually all of the almost 40 current armed conflicts worldwide.

We gave the vote to 18-year-olds in 1971 in the middle of the Viet Nam War after many Americans—young and old— rightfully pointed out that anyone old enough to die for his or her country should be old enough to vote. At the time I was overjoyed, because I had turned 18 about three months before the 1968 election and was frustrated that I did not have a chance to write in for Eugene McCarthy.

It was about the time that I realized that my hypothetical vote in 1968 should have gone to Hubert Humphrey that I also figured out that in bringing fairness to army enrollments, the United States should have moved the age of combat up and not the voting age down.

The cynical would argue that many young people need the discipline and structure that life in the armed forces provides. Especially for those who go don’t go to college and for the poor, rather than be set adrift in an uncaring economy, 18- and 19-year-olds can “grow up” in the army. This argument supposes that crime and social unrest would increase if we didn’t let young adults, and especially young men with proclivities towards violence, join the army. Once you establish the indispensable social and socialization role of the army for 18-21-year-olds, you have to allow 18-year-olds to vote. Once again, if they’re putting their lives on the line, you have to let them have a say.

But then there’s the ultra-cynical view, the one to which I subscribe. Without the pool of 18-21-year-olds, the armed forces could not fill its ranks. The army grabs kids at the very age when most are still adrift, still sorting out their path in life. They don’t own houses yet, haven’t started families, haven’t had their first full-time job. They have the fewest community ties and the least to lose by serving for a few years in the armed forces. Our armed forces recruitment centers grab them when they are most vulnerable to nonsense about pride and belonging. Primed for the plucking. Just enroll ‘em, train ‘em and send ‘em to a war zone.

Like every military since the rise of organized armies millennia ago, the Armed Forces of the United States of America depends on the 18-21 age group to provide cannon fodder for our military death machine. If raising the voting age to 21 makes us raise the minimum age to join the armed forces to 21, it might cripple out ability to wage wars.

And that would be a very good thing.

No one can prove when life begins, which makes it a matter of faith, which means government can’t interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion

The current wave of anti-choice legislation passed in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere fills me with a deep sadness for the many victims whom these benighted laws will create. Women who will die or be severely injured in back alley abortions. Men and women whose lives will be made infinitely more difficult or unhappy because they have to raise children they don’t want, can’t afford or are unprepared for. Most of all, my heart breaks for the children of unwanted pregnancies, often born in poverty or with disabilities or raised by parents who didn’t really want them.

The unholy irony of these new laws is that they are passed by elected officials who typically also campaign for cutting food stamps, aid to education, health care for the poor and other programs that help children once they are born.

Like many conservative positions, the extreme anti-choice line is faith based. But there’s a big difference between the rightwing view on abortion and its position on other issues such as immigration and government regulation: we can explode the myths that underlie most of contemporary conservatism with facts, but pro-choicers base their position as much on faith as anti-choicers do.

Facts and analysis disprove virtually all of the rightwing’s assertions. Experts—by which I mean scientists, engineers, economists, sociologists and other researchers not paid by industry—have demonstrated that virtually all the premises supporting the GOP platform run counter to reality.

Some examples: Global warming is occurring and much of it is manmade; its effects will do more harm than good.

Lowering taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs, whereas raising them usually does.

Immigrants lower the unemployment rate and raise the salaries of native-born Americans. Crime rates are lower among immigrants—legal or undocumented—than among native born Americans.

Universal medical insurance would lower the overall cost that Americans pay for healthcare.

Increased government regulations do not decrease jobs or economic activity in the overall economy.

Public schools do a better job of educating students than either private schools or privatized charter schools.

Raising the minimum wage has a meager if any impact on employment rates and tends to lead to higher wages up the employment ladder.

The more guns there are in any society, the more gun deaths and injuries occur.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point, dear readers.  Research exists that in short order destroys virtually all of 21st century conservatism.

The exception is abortion, for one simple reason: No one really knows when life begins. All we can determine is the point in fetal development when life is viable—able to sustain itself outside the womb. Even that premise is open to some question, as an infant can’t live without the help of adults to feed, shelter and protect it. Common sense would conclude that a newborn is not truly viable. In the 18th and 19th centuries, infanticide was a primary means of birth control in many cultures, including our own.  

I personally believe that a woman should control her own body and therefore should have the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. But I am also painfully aware that this argument doesn’t really hold muster under close scrutiny. Society often interferes with an individual’s control of its own body. We consider people who mutilate themselves to be emotionally unstable and in need of psychological treatment (unless society approves the mutilation, as with tattoos and or non-corrective cosmetic surgery). We have laws against assisted suicide. Drug laws interfere with the right of women and men to control their own body. We force children to attend school until a certain age. We throw in jail people who sell their bodies or use them as lethal weapons. Society therefore often constrains the bodies of people and could theoretically prevent women from having abortions.

The problem is that no one can say for certain when life begins. At conception?  At a mother’s recognition of the pregnancy? At heartbeat? At viability? No one really knows. Of course, we as a society could agree to a definition of the beginning of life, or, to put it in the center of the controversy, the point at which the rights of the fetus are as strong as or stronger than the rights of the mother.

But wherever we set the beginning of life is completely arbitrary—a first premise, an axiom in mathematics, a principle from which you argue from and never to.

In other words, a matter of faith.

Setting the point after which an abortion should not be performed for any reason is always a matter of faith, belonging to the realm of religion and not science.

Which is the very reason why American governments on all levels must as a matter of constitutional law allow abortions in virtually all cases. The United States has an absolute separation of state and religion. The titleless aristocracy that founded the country adamantly opposed having a state religion or letting the state interfere with the private practice of religion. The judiciary has reconfirmed the principle of the separation of church and state innumerable times.

Those who oppose all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, practice one faith. Those who want to abort all fetuses that will develop Down’s syndrome or other terrible ailments practice another faith. I’ll leave it to each reader to decide whose religion is more humane, more caring, and more attuned to the needs of society.

But all must agree that it is never the function of government to get involved in ontological disputes between different faiths. Constitutionally, the government cannot and should not have any position on abortion.

That leaves opponents of a woman’s right to control her own body with the traditional options that religions have in the United States. Advertise and proselytize. Convince pregnant women not to have abortions. Go ahead and tell them that all pregnancies are a blessing, even if the baby is never going to be close to normal. (Just don’t do it with lies such as the false myth that women who have abortions are more likely to get cancer.)

The marketplace of ideas is the proper place to discuss abortion, not the legislative halls or the bureaucracies of the administrative branch of government. Whether these new anti-abortion laws are moral depends on one’s religion, but there can be no disputing that they go against the principles upon which we have built our country.   

Ever worry that U.S. is becoming a nation of rich & poor, with so much going to so few? Just read Tyler Cowen. He’ll tell you it’s a good thing

Pangloss is a fictional character in Voltaire’s 18th century masterpiece of satire, Candide. When describing the current state of affairs, Pangloss always refers to the status quo as “the best of all possible worlds.” His smug optimism in the face of injustice and tragedy produces much of the mordant humor of Voltaire’s novella. From the start, the reader understands that Pangloss is a suck-up to the establishment—the aristocracy and various churches, whose control over a society of a very few rich and mostly poor was weakening in 18th century Europe as ideas about science and freedom began to disseminate despite a high level of censorship.

While 21st century America enjoys a representational democracy, the economic policies of the past 40 years have re-established an aristocracy-free version of the inequitable society of 18th century Europe, one in which a very few people take an unfairly large percentage of income and wealth. The major reasons for the enormous increase in economic inequality since Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency include the destruction of labor unions, privatization of government functions, enormous tax breaks for the wealthy, large deficits financed by bond purchases by the wealthy, the erosion of the purchasing power of the minimum wage, and the shrinking of government support of education, infrastructure and the social safety net.

As the new regime of economic inequality has stabilized over the past 18 or so years—essentially since the Bush II tax cuts for the wealthy—it has had its share of Panglosses, ready to determine after so-called rigorous analysis that we are living in the best of all possible worlds, that is, as long as the world is based on an unfettered and lightly regulated free market. I think these contemporary Panglosses are okay with uniform weights and measures, but not much else in the way of government interference in the marketplace.

The University of Pangloss is George Mason University, often called Koch University, because of the millions of dollars the ultra-right wing Koch Brothers have given the institution (I hesitate to call it a “school”), virtually all of it earmarked to support development and dissemination of pamphlets and papers (notice I avoid using the word “research”) that advocate lower taxes, less regulation, a fossil-fuel economy and other positions that entrench the current elite as permanent economic and political overlords. In 2018, a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the Koch Bros and their pals have direct influence over faculty hiring decisions at the university’s law and economics schools. No wonder the faculty employees of George Mason (note my refusal to use the word “professors”) always put on the Panglossian happy-face for the current state of affairs and bemoan the possibility of a better way—be it a Green New Deal or an increase in the minimum wage.

If George Mason U is the University of Pangloss, then the ultimate Panglossian—the Poohbah of Pangloss, as it were—must be Tyler Cowen, Herbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason and author of a number of apologies for Reaganomics, including his recent Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero. Over the years I have chided Cowen for saying that growing inequality of wealth is not a problem,   and that the gig economy is good for workers,  Typically, Cowen’s argument reduces to looking at individual trees that are thriving while ignoring the destruction of whole forests.

The mainstream news media keeps giving Cowen a chance to embarrass himself with effusions of enthusiasm for a very grim and unfair status quo. In the past, he has had articles in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Foreign Affairs and elsewhere. This time, it’s Time, now a wan specter of its former self, which finds room for an opinion piece by Cowen titled “CEOs Are Not Overpaid.” He asserts that a competitive market determines the current high value of the CEO and that’s a good thing. For Cowen, CEOs of large American corporations averaging $18.9 million in salary a year is the best of all possible worlds.

First the facts. Before the Reagan revolution, American CEOs made 20 to 40 times what their average employee took home. Now, it’s 361 times what the average worker makes, which Cowen conveniently rounds down to 300 for us in the article. Like most Panglossians, Cowen always uses the happiest numbers. In comparison, CEOS in the United Kingdom currently average 22 times what their workers make. It’s 12 times for German CEOs and 15 times for the French. As it turns out, CEO salaries in the United States began to expand obscenely as Congress and corporations instituted the Reagan plan. Lower taxes gave CEOS more incentive to keep more. An inflation-eroded minimum wage and the decline of unions made the corporate pie from which to plunder an unfair piece even larger.

Cowen proclaims that contemporary CEOs must wield many more skills than their predecessors. They can’t just be good at running the business, they also need to have financial, public relations and technology expertise. But Cowen forgets that nowadays CEOs haves many more experts to guide them in their decision-making. Only the very largest corporations had full-time PR departments in the 1950s and virtually none had chief information officers. Plus, it’s hard to understand why the job of American CEOs is so much harder than that of their European counterparts.

The Pangloss Poohbah spends a lot of ink fighting the “common idea that high CEO pay is mainly ripping people off.” His reasoning is so weak as to be laughable. First he says that corporate governance has toughened, implying the new standards make it harder for the CEO to extract unfair salary and bonuses. Huh? All the tougher post-Enron standards mean is that it’s harder for corporations to commit illegal actions; it has nothing to do with how the pie is divided by executives, shareholders and employees. Cowen then states that the fact that CEOs hired from outside the company make more money than insiders proves that the CEOs deserve the extravagant pay they get. Run that by me again? Or how about this polished turd: the fact that only the salaries of CEOs have risen and not of high-tier (middle management) professionals proves CEOs are not overpaid. No, it merely shows that CEOs are screwing workers at all levels. Cowen makes so many of these dubious statements with such assurance—one after another—that the unsuspecting careless reader may buy Cowen’s hooey.

Just as Voltaire’s Pangloss obsequiously drooled out praise for whatever duke or prince was footing the bill, so Tyler Cowen elevates contemporary CEOs to a kind of rare Űbermensch, aristocrats of meritocracy so much more skilled than everyone else that they deserves everything they get, even if it means that most of their workers scrape by or lose ground.

Underneath Cowen’s specious arguments lies the fundamental assumption that the people who have more deserve more. He never contemplates why those who got bucks deserve more now than they did in the 1940’s-1970’s, or why they deserve more than they would get in Europe. Cowen never wonders why an hour running a meeting is worth so much more than an hour sweeping the floor or an hour teaching our children. He never imagines the great good luck a CEO has to be born with the exact skills desired by contemporary society and to get to go to the right schools and meet the right people, usually introduced through a family connection. Cowen never asks these questions, because like Pangloss, he is happy in “this the best of all possible worlds.”

One big reason for Dems to overcome their fears & pursue impeachment of Trump: it’s their constitutional responsibility & the right thing to do

The Democrats who don’t want to impeach Donald Trump at this point are afraid of their own shadows. Or maybe the shadows of their big funders.

They say they fear that the move would backfire—as it seems to have done when the House impeached Bill Clinton in 1999 and Slick Willie’s popularity soared.

But the Clinton case is much different from the current situation. Most of the country didn’t really care one way or another about what Clinton had done in his private life. People at the time understood that Clinton was not a corrupt individual, nor was he running a corrupt enterprise. Many people thought it was nobody’s business what two people did with each other behind closed doors. It had no bearing on U.S. security or the ability of Clinton to serve as president. Many people even forgave Clinton his one instance of law-breaking: lying under oath about having had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. They thought as I did at the time—and still do—that lying was inherent in adultery. It’s virtually as impossible to have an affair without lying as it is to get a homerun and not touch first base. Besides, a consensual relationship with an adult is a far cry from Trump’s history of illegality and unethical behavior. Lying about an affair is definitely not the same as breaking campaign finance laws; trying to impede an investigation; manipulating the value of assets up to get a bigger loan  and down to avoid taxes; or not reporting it to the FBI when a foreign adversary offers you help to get elected.

Instead of the Clinton case, Democrats should look at the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the almost-impeachment of Richard Nixon for historical precedents. Like Trump, they were both truly guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Johnson endangered American law by impeding reconstruction of the south as a bastion of democracy for all. While there were no political polls in the 1860s, everything we read of the period suggests highly that Johnson’s popularity went down after his impeachment and near-conviction by the Senate. Besides the Watergate burglary and cover-up, Nixon had bombed Cambodia illegally and gone way too far in investigating his perceived domestic enemies. We know Nixon lost the country, because that’s why the GOP finally ended its resistance to impeachment and conviction, and ultimately why Tricky Dick short-circuited the constitutional process for removing a president and resigned. Thus the two times presidents deserved impeachment, the impeachment process did not help their popularity.

Let’s also keep in mind—only a little facetiously—that no president who has faced impeachment was ever elected to the office again. Facetiously because in both Nixon and Clinton’s case, the impeachment proceedings began during his second term, a fact that goes to the heart of the Democrat’s cravenness in not immediately initiating impeachment proceedings. They figure that the people will vote Trump out of office in 2020, and if they don’t then they’ll think about taking care of business.

Others suggest that until the Republicans are on board with convicting in the Senate, impeachment is a waste of time. That argument assumes falsely that impeachment is in of itself a little less than a hand slap.

But as the always perceptive Charles Blow points out in the New York Times, “an impeachment vote in the House has to this point been the strongest rebuke America is willing to give a president.” Blow and others argue—and I agree—that impeachment without conviction is nonetheless a severe punishment.

Blow also reminds us that Trump’s approval rating has never vacillated widely the way other modern presidents have. He has stayed in a narrow channel of around 40% no matter what he says or does or others say or do about him. There is therefore not much of a chance that his popularity will soar after an impeachment and non-conviction.

It is true that the several investigations of Trump recently opened by the House will likely reveal more and remind us of many Trump’s wrong doings—illegal or merely despicable. The idea of waiting until the evidence builds up seems prudent until you peruse the Mueller Report and realize that there is already enough to impeach Trump multiple times. The impeachment hearings will allow the House, and maybe the entire country, to see most of the documents being requested in these various committee hearings. One way or another, Trump’s taxes are coming out! So why wait? No need for them to appear before impeachment hearings begin, since they can emerge as part of those hearings.

There is one overarching reason for the House to pursue impeachment. It’s their job and the right thing to do.

As usual, Elizabeth Warren expressed it best, in her tweet advocating the House begin impeachment proceedings: The Mueller Report lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help. Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack. Mueller put the next step in the hands of Congress: “Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” The correct process for exercising that authority is impeachment.

The Democrats seem to risk little by starting the ball rolling on impeachment. And the reward will be that they did their jobs under the Constitution of the United States.

Biden controversy has clarified touching rules between people who are not related or involved. But should Joe get a free pass?

Many people are giving Joe Biden a free pass for his past touchiness because his intentions were never sexual. That’s absurd. He invaded the personal space of a lot of women and it made them feel very uncomfortable. Plus, even in the benighted days of Joe Biden’s youth, when grabbing someone’s shoulders from behind and rubbing them was perceived as a sign of encouragement, it was never okay for a man to kiss a woman’s hair unless she was a close relative or a paramour.

And just like Al Franken, he should have known better. In all of his years of hanging around well-educated, liberated, articulate and outspoken women, you’d think Joe Biden would have encountered at least one person who told him his touchiness creeped out a lot of people, and that the younger the person, the more likely she would find his little lip musses to the hair repulsive. Let’s remember that the #Metoo movement is now two years old. A politician more attune to the times than Citizen Joe would not have waited until an accusation to change his hugging ways.

The Joe Biden controversy has gone a long way to clarifying what the rules should be regarding public interactions between people who are not related or involved. Touching and hugging should never be allowed unless preapproved by both parties, but we’ll forgive everyone older than 75 for all past public non-sexual touching without prior permission. I’m happy to give Joe Biden a free pass for past actions because his intentions were always noble, which essentially means that I’m happy to welcome Al Franken back into the fold, too.

But then there’s the little matter of the Anita Hill hearings. I saw about 80% of the hearings live and at the time was disgusted by Joe Biden’s behavior towards Hill. He treated her with a great deal of disrespect and suspicion, which made no sense since Clarence Thomas represented judicial values far to the right of the centrist Democratic Party of the early 1990’s. You would think Biden would have wanted to sink the confirmation, not run interference for a pervert. But Biden took it upon himself to serve as prosecutor trying a case of false accusation and perjury.

Biden, like Bernie, is of the generation directly before the Baby Boomers—a generation that used to be called the “Silent Generation”—and thus out of step in many ways, not just with Gen Xers and Millennials, but with Boomers, too. His touchiness symbolizes the generation gap that leaves people on either side of the age divide with different attitudes about race, women, LGBTQ, mass media and music. The Biden controversy has demonstrated how inappropriate it is for Citizen Joe and Bernie Sanders to run for president because they are out of touch to some degree with what will attract young people to the Democratic Party in a way that Baby Boomers Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee and Kamala Harris are not. Biden was already in his thirties when feminism became a political and cultural force, whereas Warren and Kamala Harris (the oldest and youngest Boomers running) were among the first women to take advantage of the doors feminism opened. Inslee is young enough to have had to confront women’s issues from the very beginning of his career.  

The Democrats have a number of qualified candidates from which to choose this election cycle and the differences between them are narrow compared to the vast gap between their views and the Trumpublicans. There is no rational reason for Biden to siphon off resources from younger, more dynamic, and frankly more qualified candidates.

On the other hand, if Biden runs and wins the nomination, we should be ready to support him with enthusiasm. No matter who heads the Democratic ticket, we must send her-him money, talk her-him up to our acquaintances and vote for her-him on Election Day.

If instead of waging wars, we spent money on education, alternative fuels & infrastructure, we would create millions more jobs

The first week after the announcement of the arrests of dozens of selfish and unethical rich folk who committed fraud to get their kids into college, the New York Times must have had 25 articles analyzing various aspects of this disgraceful scandal. All of these articles repeated a limited number of basic facts, with each article providing a different frame—the kids, the parents, the corrupt coaches, the investigation. After a while, it was just so much blah, blah, blah…

I wonder whether that’s why there has been no room in the Times to cover “War Spending and Lost Opportunities,” a truly startling piece of research by Heidi Garrett-Peltier, a research fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Garrett-Peltier studies the impact of war-related spending compared to other ways the federal government could spend the money. The paper demonstrates that if instead of going to war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the federal government had spent the money on other government programs, the economy would have created approximately 1.4 million more jobs since 2001.   

In 2017, her first paper on the subject, published by the Watson Institute of International Affairs at Brown University, Dr. Garrett-Peltier took a look at how many jobs various government activities produce, including waging war, investing in education, support of wind and solar energy, maintaining our infrastructure of mass transit, sewers systems, highways and bridges and healthcare. Her analysis consisted of three parts:

  1. Distinguishing between wartime spending and the base Pentagon budget.
  2. Comparing the number of jobs created by waging war to the numbers created by other federal spending.
  3. Creating a reasonable mix of other ways to spend and comparing the number of potential jobs created with the number of jobs actually created by our war economy.

As it turns out, virtually every other kind of federal expenditure creates more jobs than bombing and invasion. Check out some of these numbers: Healthcare sending creates 107.2% more jobs, which means that if war money created 100 jobs, the same amount spent on healthcare would have created more than 207 jobs. Elementary and secondary school education spending creates 178.3% more jobs, infrastructure spending creates 42% more jobs, retrofitting existing manufacturing and energy systems creates 53.6% more jobs.

While other researchers could disagree about how much alternative spending should go to education versus renewable resources, whatever mix you pick will create significantly more jobs than spending it on war.

Her initial study was ignored by the mainstream media at the time, and the same fate has met her 2019 update so far. Her latest numbers estimate warfare spending from FY 2001 through FY2019 (FY = fiscal year) and fine tune some details of her analysis.

Perhaps the most shocking number Dr. Garrett-Peltier provides is the average annual amount we have spent on war-related activities over the past 19 years. The number is in addition to the base Pentagon budget, which already puts us way ahead of what any two other nations combined spend on the military. Get ready for this number. Sit down. Relax. Maybe ready a glass or pipe of your favorite anti-anxiety home remedy. Or an Ativan or two.

Here goes…

On average, every year since 2001, the United States has spent $290 billion fighting wars. Again that’s not the total, but the annual average. Using Dr. Garrett-Peletier’s model, it works out 1.8 million defense-related jobs, instead of 3.7 million jobs that spending that money on a realistic mix of education, infrastructure, retrofitting, healthcare and renewable energy would have created.

And what did we get? Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and our bloody little adventures throughout Africa.  

Dr. Garrett-Peltier doesn’t measure the toll our wars have taken on American soldiers, their families and the soldiers and civilians of our adversaries. She hasn’t measured the monetary value of the wrecked cities, roads and bridges. She hasn’t taken into account the millions of refugees created by our wars. On a more Kissingerian “Realpolitik” note, Dr. Garrett-Peltier’s research doesn’t measure the loss of status we have suffered throughout Western Europe and the Muslim world for our stupid, goalless bullying wars. She doesn’t compute the value of the loss in global leadership to China and other countries in the areas of alternative fuels and infrastructure development. Or the value of the loss of status as a leader in the future by spending trillions of dollars on bombing and shooting instead of investing in meeting the Paris Accords on climate change.

None of these wars made the United States any safer. None of them advanced our expressed interests. None of these wars created greater democracy, freedom of speech, equality for women or economic growth. All they did was to kill people, destroy economies and enlarge the bank accounts of military contractors and weapons manufacturers.

It’s time to bring home all our troops, reign in development of new weapons of mass and pinpoint destruction, and start investing our tax dollars in life, not death.

Feel-good story of homeless 8-year-old chess champ should make us feel ashamed that other homeless children won’t get the opportunities now open to him

A homeless eight-year-old refugee from Nigeria wins the New York State Chess Championship in the K-3 division. Within weeks, the publicity that Tanitoluwa Adewumi receives, primarily through the New York Time’s Nicholas Kristof, leads to the boy getting a home, a six-figure bank account, scholarship offers from three private schools and an invitation to meet with former President Bill Clinton.

What a wonderful story of deserving talent being rewarded! How heart-warming to see this very smart young man get some breaks in what has been until now a perilous life! Only in America, land of opportunity. All you need is hard work and perseverance.

At least that’s all you need if you’re Tani, as he is mostly called. But for most other homeless children, eight years of age is not when things start getting easier. Tani left behind thousands of school-aged children without homes, many of whom have one or both parents who work but don’t make enough money to afford permanent lodging.

Right-wingers can point to Tani and say that those with extraordinary talent have the best chance to do something with it in the United States. These knee-jerk flag-saluters and liars ignore statistics showing there is less economic and social mobility in the United States today than in virtually every other western country, and far less than we had 40, 50, 60 and 70 years ago. More to the point, virtually every society in all ages has found ways to identify and reward the very talented. From ancient China’s system of examinations to the rise of meritocracy-based civil service bureaucracies in European nation states to academic scholarships in the 20th and 21st centuries, ruling elites have never had a problem locating the geniuses and the great athletes, and then helping them get to a point that they can contribute to society.

But what about everyone else?

While Tani is to be praised and honored, we should also examine how lucky he has been. Lucky to be born with great mathematical talent and an inborn competitive edge, as both are needed to win at chess at any level.

Lucky to go to a school that had a chess program in a city and state that care about the game.  

Lucky not to be born in the first half of the 19th century, when he would arrive in the United States not as a homeless refuge required to attend school, but as a slave.

Lucky to excel at an endeavor in which an eight-year-old can have the success of an adult. In a few years, he’ll have competition from a lot of kids whose families can afford chess lessons with grand masters, chess camps and other kinds of enrichments like foreign travel that help children learn to think. By the age of 12, there may be 25 children across the country with the same kind of talent Tani has who come from wealthy families and practice three hours a day or more. With more kids playing and more kids serious in the future, Tani might have already had his best chance to win a major tournament. Or maybe he’ll become a chess professional. Hikaru Nakamura, one of the 10 highest rated chess players in the world had about the same rating as Tani at about the same age. Of course, Hikaru was studying chess three hours a day by the time he was ten.

But even if Tani never wins another chess tournament, his early achievement has identified him as a very special talent, and American society will now help him.

But kids like Tani are really few and far between. True talent, of the Tani or LeBron level, while distributed evenly among large populations (be they defined nationally, racially, by sex or by economic class), is nevertheless rare.  It’s not the Tani’s of the world who get screwed when wealthy parents put their kids through test prep after test prep, hire consultants and use their money to cheat or bully their children into highly rated colleges. It’s the average kids, and especially the above average but not brilliant kids of limited means who get screwed. And the screwing starts early, as wealthier parents are able to give their children the type of enrichment that most other parents can’t afford, unless they live in a large city with lots of free cultural opportunities. You know, the kind of stuff for which Republicans have spent the last 40 years slashing budgets, like libraries, music and drama programs, free lessons after school

Let’s face it. We love our little darlings and think they are all little geniuses. But most people are pretty average in ability and potential. Luckily, our economy produces a wide range of jobs that require every possible talent at every level. What we don’t do is value everyone or value every job. Our current society produces CEOs who make hundreds of millions of dollars no matter how the company performs, while millions of people have to live on a minimum wage that has remained stagnant for so many years that it’s buying power has been eroded to the point that in not one state in the country can someone afford a home on minimum wages. Meanwhile, many million more have seen no raise or even a shrinking of income when you adjust for inflation.

Imagine a world in which the range of salaries and wealth was much less than today, a world in which the cost of tuition at state universities was in the hundreds of dollars, a world in which a relatively high level of unionization insured that both union and non-union jobs paid middle class wages, a world in which high rates of marginal income tax (marginal meaning you only pay the rate for income above a certain amount, not your entire income) financed the building of roads and bridges, cheap public education, robust research and development and other government programs that create a level playing field and equalize the rewards of the winners and losers.

That world existed for the most part from 1940-1975 or so. It was not a perfect world, as minorities, women and the disabled did not have the opportunities that white males had in the workplace. Some would call it ironic that the era in which American society created a more level playing field for minorities and women was the very period in which the playing field became tilted in favor of the rich and the rewards became to be distributed in a less fair manner. Of course, many, including myself, wouldn’t call the simultaneous emergence of these two trends a coincidence.  Those interested in returning society to the Gilded Age of extremes in rich and poor in which selfishness reigned used the real plague of racism and the phony threat of job and status loss to the “other” to convince large numbers of both poorly and well educated voters to support candidates who created the conditions for today’s growing inequality by lowering taxes on the wealthy and cutting government programs.

The story of Tanitoluwa Adewumi makes us feel good, but it should make us feel ashamed and guilty, because it reminds us by virtue of being human everyone deserves the basics of an affordable home, a quality education, lifelong healthcare and a secure retirement. We shouldn’t judge a society on how well its talented do, but on how well the average and under-average do. We’re all people, whether we can figure out checkmates or have trouble adding two-digit numbers.

Trump supporters and the GOP are building a house of cards on Attorney General William Barr’s four-page interpretation of the Mueller report

Trump supporters and the GOP are building a house of cards on Attorney General William Barr’s four-page interpretation of the Mueller report

We don’t have the Mueller report yet, but we do have the quick-and-dirty analysis of it by an attorney general who got the job because of his previous strong public statement against the idea of a special counsel and a long-held disposition to declare all presidential actions as legal.

Trump supporters and other Republicans seem delighted in Barr’s version of the conclusions, but they have built themselves a house of cards which tumbles as soon as we look at the recent history of special counsel investigations.

First to the house of cards: Barr declares that there is insufficient evidence that the Trump campaign explicitly asked Russian to swing the election to Trump. It’s true that the events that have been made public such as the infamous Trump Tower meeting and Trump’s public request that the Russians help find Hilary’s so-called missing emails suggest that there’s a lot of smoke. But the standard for finding fire when it comes to Republicans colluding with foreign entities to swing presidential elections is extremely high. We know that South Vietnam’s reluctance to come to the negotiating table in 1968 helped Nixon win. We know that Iran not freeing the hostages in 1980 helped Reagan win. And we know that Russian interference in the 2016 election helped Trump win. In all cases, there is strong documentation that the representatives of the Republican campaign in each case met with foreign entities. But in all cases, Congress and the American people found that the idea of a major party colluding with a foreign power was so horrific that the proof had to be absolutely incontrovertible—some would say a standard too high ever to be met in the real world.

Trump actually gets off easier than Nixon or Reagan when it comes to considering a possible collusion, because the idea that Trump was an unwitting stooge or a useful idiot is just as believable as that he knowingly colluded. Russia may have conducted their nefarious assault on U.S. elections because Putin and his advisors felt strongly that a Trump presidency would weaken the United States. His history overflows with examples of not only his stupidity and his willingness to break laws, but also of a vanity that makes him brag about things that didn’t really happen. Then there’s his obvious ignorance of law dictating how governments and political parties operate that may excuse him. It’s thus believable that Trump did not collude/conspire.

However one wishes to interpret the smoke of collusion and conspiracy, Mueller found no smoking gun. But reducing a 22-month investigation to that one sentence is a weak foundation for what Trump supporters and other Republicans, including Barr, are saying now. Their argument goes like this:

  1. Mueller found no proof of collusion or conspiracy.
  2. Collusion/conspiracy was the underlying crime.
  3. Since there was no underlying crime, it was impossible for Trump to have obstructed justice, even if there are strong indications that he obstructed the investigation.

Over the past few days, I have heard some version of this argument delivered by both avid Trump supporters and other Republicans. The logical conclusion to this line of thought, of course, is that all the emerging investigations of Trump should stop, or at least those investigations related to collusion/conspiracy and obstruction.

But if we look back at the history of impeachment we have to conclude two important if usually unspoken principles of American justice as applied to presidents:

  1. Obstruction of an investigation equals obstruction of justice.
  2. Obstruction of an investigation is not only an impeachable offense, it may be the only offense for which a president can end up being impeached in the real world.

Let’s look at history: The articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson had nothing to do with obstruction of an investigation and Johnson was not impeached. The articles of impeachment against Nixon focused exclusively on the Watergate cover-up (i.e., obstruction). Does anyone doubt that Nixon resigned because he knew he was certain to be impeached by the Senate, and then convicted by the House of Representatives? Not for green-lighting a third-rate burglary, but for leading the cover-up, i.e., for obstruction. The articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton only mention obstruction of justice, for a simple reason. Kenneth Starr and his crew had spent years going through Clinton’s past looking for both high crimes and misdemeanors and found nothing. Zilch. A clean record. All Clinton did was lie about having a consensual affair with an adult woman. Messing around on your wife is not illegal, meaning that Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and not for any underlying crime.

The history of impeachment proceedings and politics therefore suggest that Trump supporters and other Republicans are dead wrong to suggest that Trump can’t be charged with a cover-up because there was no underlying crime proven, or that the cover-up isn’t impeachable because there was no crime. They have built a house of cards that tumbles as soon as we remove the false foundation that a cover-up exists only when we have proof of an underlying crime. The cover-up is in and of itself impeachable, and as history has shown, perhaps the only crime that a president can commit that will lead to impeachment.

Thus it comes down to how we interpret Mueller’s evidence, which Mueller himself refused to do. So far, only William Barr and his staff have attempted to cull through the hundreds of pages of Mueller’s analysis. Barr admits that there are signs of a cover-up, but he has decided to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. Would Kenneth Starr have made the same decision regarding Bill Clinton with the same basis of facts? What about Leon Jaworski about Nixon? Or Jeff Sessions about Trump?

With all due respect to Barr, there is plenty of public evidence of obstruction. His conclusions represent the efforts of one man, one with a known predilection to having an extremely high bar of proof when it comes to presidential actions. Before we let Trump off the hook, we need others—many others—to look at the Mueller report and perhaps the raw data behind it, too. At this point, that’s the job of the House of Representatives. We can assume, thankfully, that its investigators take longer than 48 hours to do their analysis, and that they will take into account the history of impeachment proceedings in deciding whether to drop the obstruction issue.