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

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

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

Nor can we blame racism in general.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big takeaway from Dem second round of debates is that we’d be better off if each debate were on a single topic

The second round of debates between the Democratic candidates for president demonstrated how imperfect the presidential debate system is. The candidates basically repeated the talking points that they had mouthed in the first round. Important issues such as taxation of the rich were all but ignored, while issues such as healthcare and immigration tended to focus on distortions that left out important facts, e.g. Medicare coverage is much better than most commercial policies or seeking asylum is not a crime. There was the usual amount of deviousness, most specifically the focus on the cost of Medicare for all—the more rightwing candidates such as Biden and Bennet focused only on the increase of what would be taken out of pocket A without considering that it would cost less money to society overall.   

The inability to drill down to the facts and truth of any issue had nothing to do with the large number of candidates and everything to do with the decision not to have topic-specific debates. Topic specific debates would solve all but one of the structural problems that the debate system currently has. Individual debates could cover immigration, climate change, foreign affairs, the economy, social issues and wealth inequality. By focusing on one topic, the viewers and the American public would get more information about what the candidates will really do. We would also get to see how similar all 20 Democratic candidates are on most issues, with differences only concerning the speed with which each wants to move ahead. Candidates would have time to dismantle the false rhetoric of their opponents on an issue instead of merely trading slogans. 

In a single topic debate, we would also learn which candidates have only talking points and which have an in-depth understanding. Candidates with detailed plans, such as O’Rourke and Booker on immigration, Inslee on the environment, Harris on health care and Warren on everything, would have time to explain them. Other candidates could disagree on specifics, or get on board.

The one problem not solved by going to a one-topic-per-debate format is the desire of the moderators to create arguments and magnify differences. That seems to be the motivation behind Tapper’s insistence on spewing bad math by asking candidates whether they supported raising taxes on the middle class to pay for single-payer healthcare insurance. The question was inflammatory and wrong-headed, since under a single payer system premiums, and maybe even deductibles and copays, would disappear to be replaced by taxation resulting in a lower total cost to society that would translate to lower costs for healthcare than most people currently pay. Tapper knows these facts, but like most of the mainstream news media, he poses questions based on Republican message points. It also was a trivial detail in the grand scheme of things—the main point is that virtually all 20 of the candidates want some form of universal health care.

Talking from the Republican playbook certainly is behind the disdain that the mainstream news media retains for straight-talking, truth-telling Bill De Blasio. New York’s Mayor certainly made the best points of the second night. He reminded everyone of the fairness of and necessity to raise taxes on the wealthy. He also pointed out how inadequate health insurance coverage is for most people, the ready answer to those who are worried that people with commercial insurance won’t want to have Medicare instead. 

If the constant interruption by the moderators when candidates’ time ended seemed especially irritating this round, it was because in an overwhelming majority of the cases, the candidates already knew they were running out of time and were obviously winding down their remarks. While we would never want a Trump-like demagogue to take control of a debate, it seems to disruptive not to give a candidate an extra 5-10 seconds to complete her or his thought.

As to the debates themselves. Warren and Bernie won the first night, with no other candidate really distinguishing her or himself. The second night featured a much stronger set of secondary candidates—I could imagine Castro, Gillibrand, Yang and especially De Blasio being excellent presidents, but can’t say the same for O’Rourke, Delaney, Bullock or Ryan. Forced to declare “winners,” I would give the second night to Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. 

Biden showed himself to be gracious and good-natured, but did not distinguish himself as either an issues wonk or a brilliant speaker. The contrast with the other “Silent Generation” candidate—Bernie Sanders—was stunning. Bernie maintains the energy, sharp wit and enthusiasm of a young person; Biden looks ready to sign whatever order his advisors put in front of his face without reading it to be followed by nine holes of golf. To be sure, a Reagan or Bush II type of disengaged leader managing a Democratic administration would be a lot better than a sociopathic, ignorant, mendacious racist who surrounds himself with yes-white-men. But I like the person in charge to actually be in charge, and I’m not sure that would be the case with Biden anymore.

The biggest losers were O’Rourke and Buttegieg, because the debates tested their superficial appeal and they failed to show anything special under the charisma. Unless Buttegieg can turn a little of his horde of money into support in the polls, what could have been a Big Five or a Big Six rolling into the primaries and caucuses is already down to just a Big Four: Biden, Bernie, Warren and Harris.

For the record, my first choice at this point is Elizabeth Warren, followed in order of preference, by Inslee, De Blasio, Harris, Castro and Bernie. I would like to say that Biden, Beto, Williamson, Delaney, Bennet and Bullock are absolutely unacceptable, but I would vote for any of them over Donald Trump (or most other Republicans). Today, more than perhaps any other time in U.S. history, the party matters more than the candidate. The biggest lesson from these first two rounds of debates is that to save the country and the planet—literally—we must vote straight Democratic for every office from president down through dogcatcher.

Trump making racist statements about the Squad is not a reelection strategy, but a temporary tactic in the southern strategy the GOP has employed since the 1950’s

Now that the initial stench of Donald Trump’s racist comments about four freshman Democratic female Congressional representatives has lifted, most analysts are discussing this series of racist tweets as if they represented an overall election strategy: make these four progressives candidates the “face” of the Democratic Party. This gambit—if it is one—attempts to take the focus away from the inherent and obvious racism of the comments and place it on presenting the Congresswomen’s views as radical and un-American—“socialism” and “communism” are the words being bandied about by Trump, Mark Meadows, Lindsay Graham and the usual gang of idiots (apologies to the soon-to-be-defunct Mad Magazine). 

In my view, calling a series of disgusting tweets the beginning of a strategy of identification is just typical Republican backfill of their leader’s stupidity and virulent racism. It’s a silly idea to base the election strategy on making Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Omar and Tlaib—known as the Squad—the face of the Democratic Party for two big reasons: 1) As soon as the Democrats have a nominee or an unbeatable frontrunner, she or he will be the face of the Democrats, no matter what the GOP wants.  2) The more times that Republicans label as “socialist” positions that most people agree with such as universal healthcare insurance, support of government action to address global warming, cheaper college and making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, the less people are going to care about what you call it. Recent surveys show this process kicking in, especially among millennials and Gen-Zers. Many people are happy to call it socialism, as long as they get healthcare.  

The mainstream media has been happy to go along with the idea that making four minority Congressional representatives the face of the Democratic Party constitutes a strategy because it plays into their current obsession with splitting the Democratic Party into two warring factions—the crazy left-wingers and the centrists. On most issues, all that separates these two groups is the speed with which they want to get to the ultimate goals and their willingness to piss off entrenched interests. The real internal problem for the Democrats, of course, is that the large funders of the Party have a slightly different agenda than do Democratic voters and small donors. The Dem fat cats are happy to clean up the environment, provide good healthcare to all and raise wages—as long as they (the big donors) don’t have to pay for it, or can make money from it, as in the case of union-busting charter schools. 

Even those pundits who have kept their aim zeroed tightly on the obvious racism of Trump’s remarks—another in a long line of crude Trump attempts to create an us-versus-them mentality among his core—have missed the target to a certain degree. The real point of the Trump anti-Squad remarks involves not just racism and economic issues, but misogyny and fundamentalist Christian values as well. As University of Arkansas professors Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields point out in their recent The Long Southern Strategy, from its inception after the Supreme Court declared segregation illegal in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Republican “Southern Strategy” has combined racism, sexism, revivalist-tent religion and right-wing economics in almost equal measures. 

The goal of the Southern Strategy has always been to change voting patterns in the south from straight Democratic to straight Republican. This multi-decade strategy has involved pandering not only to racist views, but also to old-fashioned ideas that women should stay at home cooking and raising children and to an extreme religiosity based on accepting the words of the Bible without interpretation. The GOP infused these long-time core “southern” values with its brand of small-government capitalism by attaching racial code words to discussions of government efforts to help the poor, aged and down-trodden, to make racist voters believe that social welfare programs primarily benefited minorities. As Maxwell and Shields write, “Poor southern whites have long been conditioned to forfeit a personal battle in the service of winning an imagined war from which they do not benefit.” In this historical context, Trump’s anti-Squad tweets, full of venomous lies, e.g., that these women said they hate Jews, is not the beginning of a strategy, but another tactic in the GOP’s long southern strategy.

Maxwell and Shields take a complicated approach to their telling of history. Instead of a straight chronology, each chapter follows a single theme from the 1950’s until today and then presents a series of recent studies that show how different the south is from the rest of the country and how open the south was to receiving the racist, sexist fundamentalist message spouted to a larger or smaller extent by Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, both Bushes, McCain, Dole, Romney and Trump. The themes include southern racism, southern white privilege, the myth of a post-racial country, traditional southern sexism, the southern white patriarchy, the gender gap in voting, the revival-tent roots of contemporary southern religion, southern white fundamentalism and the myth of the social conservative.

The professors analyze literally hundreds of surveys and studies on attitudes and beliefs. The surveys show what we always knew: There are racists, misogynists, Christian fundamentalists and economic right-wingers everywhere, but in all cases, there are more in the south. What is eye-opening, however, is the degree to which these four social characteristics are correlated, among both southerners and northerners. Some examples: The more likely people are to believe that blacks are inferior, the more likely they are to think that women should not hold elective office. The more likely they are to be against the Equal Rights Amendment, the more likely they are to think that whites are currently discriminated against because of affirmative action. Those who believe in fundamentalist religion tend to express greater racial resentment and sexism. These many connections between strands of belief create a tightly woven culture, resistant to change.

The economic aspect of this nexus of beliefs is particularly weird, as it has become a mask for racism even as GOP economic policies have hurt virtually all Americans, especially its large army of southern white voters. As it turns out, the 2016 decision of a majority of Electoral College voters to cast their ballots for Trump in and of itself immediately assuaged the feelings of economic insecurity among Trump voters. Several surveys show white perceptions of competition from minorities and general economic anxiety among whites decreased dramatically just by virtue of Trump assuming office. It’s the perverse mirror image of the emergence of the Tea Party movement almost within days of Obama’s inauguration. As Maxwell and Shields write, “The economic masks the racial so much so that many do not even see it.” The economic positions become a coded substitute for racial ones, which explains why those who manifest racist attitudes so often vote against their own economic best interest.

Trump’s strategy for reelection in 2020 is the same as his strategy was in 2016 and the same as the strategies of every other Republican candidate for president since Goldwater in 1964—summon a large turnout by a core of supporters throughout the country defined by the traditional values of southern society: the inferiority of non-whites, the subservience of women to men throughout society and a fundamentalist religion that enforced both misogyny and racism.  It’s the long southern strategy that has seen the south flip from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican in the course of a lifetime.  

The one thing that Trump has added to the mix is his virulent anti-immigration stand that he has racialized by only going after immigrants and refugees from non-European countries.  Reagan and Bush II in particular had much more humanistic approaches to legal and illegal immigration, and all the former Republican presidents and presidential candidates steered clear of racializing Muslims, although many other Republican office holders and candidates have not refrained from virulent anti-Islamic rhetoric. The anti-Squad tweets and follow-up thus make for a great reinforcement of the long southern strategy. 

The flaw in Trump’s campaign to add people from the Middle East and Central and South American countries to the legion of the despised, inferior, un-American “other” is that it has more than doubled the size of “America’s internal enemies.” That also means more voters in opposition to the Republican program, including not only the Latino and Muslim minorities, but the many industries that depend on immigrant employees with a variety of educational backgrounds, the families into which these minorities marry and the communities where they have established deep roots. It might even convince a number of upper middle class and wealthy voters who supported Trump solely to get tax breaks and regulatory relief to now vote against what has been for them a useful rouge. 

That doesn’t meant that Trump is destined to lose the 2020 election. Voter suppression laws will still keep many Democrats home. Russian interference may include fixing the ballot box, as some believe happened in Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania in 2016.

But by including immigrants in the southern strategy, Trump has hastened the process by which the majority of Americans embrace both diversity and western European social democracy. As immigrants from everywhere and educated young people fill thriving cities and high tech capitals throughout the country, Virginia has already turned from red to blue, while Georgia, North Carolina and Florida are purple with Texas headed in the same direction. The future of an American democracy lies only in a diverse mixed economy with lots of government regulation and programs and a highly progressive tax system. Note that I wrote “the future of an American democracy,” and not “the future of America.” Those who support an economy tilted towards those already wealthy and the 21st century version of the nexus of southern values—AKA Republicans—have shown time and again that they care less about having a democracy than they do about imposing their will on American society.

The new speak of economic name calling: Times reporter calls government ownership “capitalism” & McConnell says granting Puerto Rico statehood is “socialism”

The problem with the news media talking about socialism in the context of the current election cycle is that most people—including most reporters and columnists—have no idea what socialism is and only a fuzzy notion of what capitalism is. What’s worse is that popular but inaccurate or misconceived definitions of the two words confuse the issue. A reporter may use the technical definitions of socialism and capitalism in an article, but her readers understand one of the several non-technical meanings of the two words, and may therefore not get the point of the article. It is more likely, however, that the reporter is misusing the words. Too often these words serve as mirrors—reflecting to the viewer whatever the viewer already thinks.

Two particularly absurd recent examples of people who influence our thinking not understanding or pretending not to understand what socialism is come from the New York Times and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.   

In an article titled “An Austerity Workaround for U.K. Cities: Going Into Business,Times reporter Peter S. Goodman details how a few local governments in the United Kingdom have addressed the devastating crisis in local government services caused by the extreme austerity program of the national government led by the Conservative Party. Towns such as Preston and Ashford are going into business or investing in real estate. In other words, these local governments are owning and managing the means of production, which is the classic definition of socialism. And yet, here is what Goodman writes: “Other communities have doubled down on capitalism…” The bolding and italics are mine, to make sure no one misses the sheer stupidity of saying that a government setting up a business is capitalism. The entire point of capitalism is putting ownership of the means of production into the hands of private citizens.  Take the definition of capitalism supplied by Merriam Webster’s” “An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” 

On the surface, the easiest explanation for Goodman’s ridiculous statement is that he confused the “means of production” with “the free market.” He neglects the primary technical definition of socialism—government ownership of the means of production—and replaces it implicitly with a definition that most conservative thinkers would endorse—“interference of government into the free market.” There are two problems with this explanation. First and more significant for a discussion of socialism versus capitalism in the United States is the fact that no free market has ever existed without a large number of constraints imposed by government. Conservatives call unions, minimum wage laws, environmental and safety regulations and consumer finance standards “socialist,” but do not apply the same label to regulations that support the fossil fuel and banking industries. Moreover, no one ever thinks of labelling as socialist the standardization of weights and measures, engineering standards for buildings and equipment, laws enforcing contracts, the building of free roads and inexpensive sewer systems, the placement of airports and mass transit stops, laws against slavery and indentured servitude, and hundreds of other business customs backed by law. These standards and laws control how the free market operates much more than the issues about which politicians typically fight. So if you include government control of the market as an aspect of defining socialism, then all economies in all epochs have been socialist—the question is how much or how little, and, as the Latins used to say, cui bono: who benefits from the socialist acts? 

This confusion of definitions should still not lead to the conclusion that a government that goes into business is engaged in a capitalist activity. Since it involves government control over production and distribution, what is happening in Preston and Ashford is full-fledged, red-as-blood socialism. 

For illumination on why Goodman would make such a goof and his editor miss it, we need to turn to Mitch McConnell’s appalling misuse of “socialism” in his well-reported statement that granting statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia would be “full bore socialism on the march.” His reasoning in that the two states would likely send four Democratic senators to Washington, which would be bad for the GOP agenda. 

In other words, socialism = bad and capitalism = good. I believe that since World War II, these value judgments serve as the commonly understood definition of the two words when used by politicians of both parties, the mainstream media and the rightwing propaganda media that developed after President Ronald Reagan dropped the Fairness Doctrine. (The Fairness Doctrine forced broadcast outlets to present both sides of any issue and thus prevented the emergence of the one-sided coverage now presented by Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting and others.)

While the demonization of socialism started almost from the day that workers organized the first American labor union in the mid-19th century, it became de rigor for the mainstream news media and all Republicans and Democrats during the fifty odd years that we considered the Soviet Union as our enemy. Practically everyone in the American market of ideas in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s equated communism with socialism. Soviet style communism is an extreme form of ownership of the means of production by an unelected government run by an oligarchy organized into a political party. The Cold War made us ignore the democratic and more attractive socialist and mixed economy models (which McConnell and company would call socialist) that exist throughout Scandinavia and Western Europe. 

The idea that socialism = bad and capitalism = good stands behind McConnell’s wild statement that granting statehood to DC and PR would be an act of socialism. It stands behind Louisiana Republican Representative’s statement that “socialism will be the prevailing theme of the 2020 election” and Iowa Republic Senator Joni Ernst’s assertion that the people of the Hawkeye State should send her back to the Senate to ”stamp out socialism.”

None of them are talking about government ownership of the means of production, except when it comes to their desire to end public schools and the Veterans’ Administration healthcare system. They are talking primarily about government intervention into the economy that constrains businesses from doing whatever they damn please or about government efforts to redistribute the added value produced from the economy. Currently, an overwhelmingly large share of added value goes to the superrich, with the merely rich and the upper reaches of the middle class getting some scraps off the table. 

Right-wing politicians also use “socialism” as part of their complicated but easy-to-understand racial code language—helping minorities is another act of “socialism.” They don’t care whether something actually is socialist or not. They use the word “socialist” as if it were a bad curse that a little child screams at an adversary on the playground.

Through years of misuse and confusion, the media and politicians—donkeys and elephants—have pretty much established the idea that socialism is always bad. The problem is that a majority of citizens like virtually all of what Republicans call the socialist agenda. Survey after survey shows that Americans want universal healthcare of some sorts. They want to raise the minimum wage. They want the government to act aggressively to address the problems caused by human-made global warming. They would like to raise taxes on the wealthy. They want to reign in the banks and large corporations with regulations that protect consumers. 

According to a recent study, 43% of Americans embrace some form of “socialism.” I’m fairly certain that this large group doesn’t really know what socialism entails, but have heard right-wingers refer to so many government programs they like as socialist that they believe that they themselves have become socialists, or fellow travelers.  

As the election heats up, expect more and more Republicans to employ “socialism” as a curse word. And while it may work with some older and uneducated voters, younger voters, minorities and educated folk living in urban areas are less likely to fall for the name-calling than in former generations. When they hear “socialism” applied to universal healthcare or infrastructure programs, they are not going to care, and may even realize that the term as used by the GOP translates into nothing more or less than “bad,” “dirty,” “un-American” or “evil,” just a cheap invective with no real meaning.

We know Trump is shoveling BS when he tries to justify a war with Iran. As usual, the real reason for the war is to help military contractors

Yes, we know the BS that Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, the Saudis and the Netanyahu government have been slinging in the news media. Accusations of tanker bombings and other acts of terrorism, all backed by as many facts as supported Lyndon Johnson’s version of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin. Backed by as many facts as substantiated why Bush II gave for the U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq—weapons of mass destruction and support of Al Qaida. In other words, nothing but lies and false assumptions.

We now know that LBJ felt himself in a bind—he did not want to be the first American president to “lose” a war, even a war that his experts had already decided was unwinnable.

We may never know why Bush II wanted to go to war in Iraq, but my best guess is that the war was a product of the desire of military contractors to make more money. It’s likely that the past 16 years have given these contractors a taste of the largess of perpetual war and that they are pushing for a conflagration with Iran. A hot war has always lined the pockets of armament makers and suppliers of all kinds of materiel, e.g., blankets, batteries, food rations, boots, backpacks, and other gear. The Iraq War added armed soldiers to the list of goods that private contractors provide. Let me substitute a few words in that last sentence to give the full nuance: The Iraq War added mercenaries to the list of goods political cronies could mark up exorbitantly and sell to the military, despite the lessons of American history that mercenaries lose wars (see the American Revolution).

In Trump, military contractors have a cat’s-paw easy to manipulate. Trump has all the traits a military contractor wants: 1. A lack of empathy with any perceived enemy, which translates to a willingness to inflict pain and suffering on innocent bystanders, especially those not of European background. 2. An emotional need to always project power and never appear wrong, a basic flaw of American foreign policy since the time of Teddy Roosevelt and Elihu Root, only elevated to a psychopathic extreme by Trump.

  1. A losing hand in the next presidential election, which history strongly suggests would quickly change to a popular mandate merely by declaring war and sending troops to fight on foreign lands.

The profit motive behind waging perpetual war makes more sense to me than other explanations, such as the nefarious influence of Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its regional rival. While it is clear that our decision to aggressively support the Saudis in the Middle East has contributed much to our bad relations with Iran, selling out the United States to achieve a Saudi objective would not occur to Trump. He is only interested in selling out his country of residence for his own selfish interests. Thus, unless the Saudi princes have been bolstering the finances of Trump, the Trump organization and the Trump family to the degree that they make all the real decisions, I don’t see Trumpty-Dumpty going to war to help them out.

I also reject the influence of the Netanyahu government as a deciding factor. True enough, Netanyahu pretty much needs perpetual war for very much the same reasons as Trump does: to sidetrack the citizenry from his corruption and incompetence and to satisfy the voracious appetite of Israel’s (and the U.S.’s) military contracting industry. But Israel is more of a client state than even Saudi Arabia is. We funnel billions a year into the Israeli economy and military. If anything, the decision-making flows from the United States to Israel, and not the other way around.

Certainly the idea that war with Iran would be necessary and justified because of Iran’s acts of hostility towards the United States is complete nonsense. It was Trump who walked away from the Iran Nuclear agreement. Since then, Trump has been adding more sanctions on Iran, which has hurt the Iranian economy and its people. No one in their right mind should want Iran to have nuclear weapons, just as no one in their right mind should want the United States, Russia, France, Great Britain or any of the other 195 odd countries of Earth to have a nuclear capability. It is disappointing that Iran has started producing nuclear fuel again, but what do you expect them to do in light of the shredded agreement? Developing weapons is one of the few trump cards Iran can play in negotiations to drop economic sanctions against it.  Iran, however, has pledged not to fight a war, and really why would they want to? They have seen what war did to Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is an inherently rich country with lots of natural resources beyond oil, an educated population and a fairly large middle class. Their leadership has not and is not going to commit any aggressive act of war against the United States or Saudi Arabia.

My conclusion: The most logical reason for instigating a full-scale war with Iran must be to continue to support the business objectives of military contractors.

I fear that we are in the age of perpetual warfare.

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.”