Rightwing columnist Douthat blaming Obama for the rise of Trump is like blaming Pres for Iraq War.

A premise is something we take for granted. Premises are usually at the basis of arguments or theories, and sometimes of substantial bodies of knowledge, such as the premise that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which serves as the foundation of linear geometry.

An inaccurate premise will get a writer or thinker into trouble in a hurry. Hewing to a wrong-headed premise leads to complicated and generally fuzzy arguments, often based on semantics, logical flaws and the distortion of facts.

Take (please) the premise that everything that goes wrong in the United States is the fault of government, or Democrats or both. This premise has led to some truly bizarre arguments, such as:

  • Blaming federal agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the great recession of 2008 because they made too much money available for low-interest mortgages. This explanation ignores the fact that these federal agencies did not approve mortgages with little or no documentation for people with insufficient funds, nor did they sell bundles of these faulty loans knowing the securities were much riskier than advertised, nor did they rate these securities without sufficient due diligence.
  • Blaming the Clinton Administration for 9/11, even though we have plenty of proof that our security services were receiving lots of warnings of 9/11 in the summer before it happened, which the Bush II administration chose to ignore.
  • Blaming Obama for the rise of ISIS, even though it was the Bush II administration that destabilized the region by invading Iraq, without cause as it turns out.

One of the New York Times resident conservatives, Ross Douthat, joins in the false blame game in his article titled “From Obama to Trump.” His contention is that Obama is largely to blame for the rise of Donald Trump, for two reasons:

  1. Obama created the “celebrity presidency”
  2. Obama has exercised an imperial presidency, which has accustomed voters to Trump’s strong man declarations.

Republicans started comparing Obama to a celebrity during the 2008 election. Somehow the endorsement of Obama by Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Silverman and other actors and celebrities was different from past celebrity endorsements of presidential candidates. Douthat ignores the fact that an actor served as president for eight year or that John F. Kennedy was considered close to a group of celebrities called “The Rat Pack,” famous for their womanizing, boozing, sexism and boorish behavior. He neglects the many histories of the Goldwater campaign, which mark a speech by a celebrity—Ronald Reagan—as its high point. He forgets that Lauren Bacall, Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Burt Lancaster, Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor were all active supporters of George McGovern. What is it about Obama’s celebrity supporters that creates such a difference? Why were McGovern, Reagan, Kennedy and others not celebrity candidates or celebrity officer holders and Obama is one? Could it be because he and a few of those celebrity supporters are black?

Beyond the facts of the various celebrity endorsements that have litter presidential campaigns since World War II, is the change in focus in the coverage of elections that has occurred. Since the 1960 election of John Kennedy with fewer than 50% of the vote, the news media have gradually taken the focus of their election coverage away from issues and placed it on the same concerns that dominate celebrity news: Gotcha’s and mistakes. Personality clashes. What others think. Family life. Hobbies. Speaking style. Charisma. Skeletons in the closet. Long-time grievances and jealousies. Insulting other candidates. The latest popularity contest. The race for money. In every election, ever more time and space is devoted to “celebrity issues” and ever less time to economic, social, international and environmental issues. Moreover, since the turn of century, at the same time the media has been celebritizing our news, reality TV in all of its formats has grown to dominate broadcast and cable television.

Douthat ignores all of these facts to conclude that the rise of a boorish celebrity who has never run for office could not have occurred without Obama’s so-called celebrity presidency.

The accusation that Obama has created an imperial presidency is equally ludicrous, but it’s one we are hearing with ever greater frequency by Republicans. The contention is that Obama has made a number of power grabs by using expanded executive authority to launch wars without congressional approval and make domestic policy without congressional support. The right never complained about Republican imperial presidencies, and in fact, spent a lot of energy defending the imperial disasters of Republican presidents, such as Iran-Contra, Bush II’s Iraq War and the global American torture gulag. For their part, Democrats tend to complain about Republican presidential overreach..

The concern that the president has amassed too much power goes back at least to Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson.  No president ever received more criticism for acting as if he owned the country than FDR did. In general, the presidency has had too much power since at least the end of World War II.  To blame Obama for presidential overreach and then say that’s why we seem willing to accept a narcissistic proto-fascist is absurd. The American people are quite used to a president who acts on his own.

I have no idea why Trump is so popular, just as I have no idea why people watch reality shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” why people prefer Las Vegas to New York City, why so many people found Bush II likeable or why everyone said the notecard-reading Ronald Reagan beat the encyclopedically knowledgeable and analytically brilliant Jimmy Carter in their debate. In my mind, Trump was always a garish and womanizing buffoon who defined the term celebrity: someone who is famous for nothing more than being famous.

We should keep in mind that Trump is the favorite candidate of somewhere between 35-40% of all Republican voters, who represent a mere 26% of the electorate. At most the informal party of Trump comprises about 10 % of all voters.  In other words, an ignorant and angry fringe is hijacking a divided Republican Party, but that party has spent eight years fomenting anger at government, society and our president. For years Republicans have fanned the fires of racism, sexism and resentment of the other. The rightwing media has promoted a series of lies about science, health issues, the environment and economic theory to its millions of viewers. If Douthat is really interested in assessing the conditions that have created the probability that a vulgar, name-calling liar like Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president, he should look to the Grand Old Party itself.

Scalia’s “originalism”: a sham theory used to take rights from people & give them to corporations

It doesn’t surprise me that in the weeks after his death, the mainstream and rightwing news media have treated Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as if he were Robert E. Lee, who is traditionally presented as an admirable hero who served his country well. Both were brilliant and prominent men whose distorted visions of what constitutes liberty and who should have it reflected the views of large portions of the ruling elite. The difference, of course, is that Scalia successfully pursued his rightwing agenda, at least in the short term, whereas Lee proved to be an incompetent general on the strategic level, whose failures ensured that his illegally-constituted renegade government dedicated to slavery and racism would fall.

A better historical comparison for Scalia would be John Calhoun, the wealthy slave owner who defended the interests of slavery and promoted its spread westward as vice president, secretary of state, secretary of war, congressman and senator in the first half of the 19th century. Both Scalia and Calhoun achieved great successes pursuing their retrograde agendas, which helped the wealthy few while hurting the bulk of Americans. Scalia, like Calhoun, should rightfully appear in all our history books, but will eventually be seen as a regressive figure who did the country great harm. Another good comparison to Scalia might be our seventh president, Andrew Jackson.

Scalia pretended to pursue an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, which means he wanted all laws and regulations to conform to the original intent of the 40 wealthy white men who signed the Constitution in 1787.

As others have pointed out since his death, Scalia, and his cohorts Thomas, Alito and Roberts, have not really strictly followed the words of the Constitution, but instead have stretched and warped meanings as least as much as they contend liberal justices have done. The classic example is the Citizens United v. FEC decision, in which the four ultra-right Supremes and the mildly conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that a corporation had the same rights as individuals and could therefore legally contribute whatever they liked to political campaigns. The Citizens United ruling overturned an earlier decision, to which Scalia had dissented, that established that corporations did not have the same rights as individuals.

You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to do a word search through the Constitution and find that the word “corporation” appears nowhere. And why would it? At the time of the Constitution’s signing, there were very few corporations in the United States.

Thus, any decision by the Supreme Court that involves corporations must interpret beyond the meaning of the original words. Yet time and time again, Scalia peered into the minds of 40 dead white men and declared they embraced the idea that corporations have the same legal rights as people. When considered in this light, his proclamations that the Constitution does not protect the rights of women to have abortions because the word “abortion” was not mentioned in the Constitution seem inconsistent and perhaps two-faced. (FYI, infanticide was a preferred method of birth control in the late 18th century.)

In general, Scalia took an expansive approach to interpreting the Constitution when it suited him and tried to stick to the original words when it didn’t. He used the term “originalism” as a brand to mask his pro-business and ultraconservative religious views and to assert states’ rights in matters in which states, groups or individuals have wanted to restrict voting rights, loosen gun laws, inflict one set of values on society or enforce patterns of racial discrimination.

But even if one generously overlooks the inconsistency with which Scalia applied “originalism,” we have the concept itself, which is as wrong-headed and pernicious as slavery, scientific racism, phrenology or spontaneous regeneration. The central idea of “originalism” is that these 40 rich white males were so wise that more than two centuries later their words can still be one hundred percent valid without reading into them or interpreting them in light of modern conditions, just as rabbis read into the Five Books of Moses.

The 40 rich white males who signed the Constitution stood literally at the brink of a new world that they could never imagine, a world far more complicated than the way humanity had lived for thousands of years. Most economic historians now understand that when you net out population growth there was little economic progress as measured by per capita income anywhere in the world before the 19th century. While theorists have postulated that the Industrial Revolution started in the middle of the 18th  century, or about 30-40 years before the writing of the Constitution, the changes produced by industrialization really did not begin to affect society and social, political and economic relationships until the 19th century. For a full understanding of why we cannot talk about an industrialized society or economy until at least the middle of the 19th century, I refer readers to Jürgen Osterhammel’s The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the 19th Century.

In other words, the signers of the Constitution—40 rich white males claiming to represent more than two million other people—were used to a world in which not much had happened for thousands of years, but which was about to be turned upside down by new technologies, new economic forms (including the modern corporation) and rapid urbanization, as well as new relationships between business entities, the private sector and government, employers and employees and men and women. They had no idea what was going to happen.  One could theorize that if the creators of the Constitution knew that the rate of social change was going to increase exponentially, they might have made it easier to amend the document.

Luckily for the continued development of the United States, just 16 years after the signing of the Constitution, in the case of Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court, under its first chief justice, John Marshall, established the Court’s power to decide what the Constitution means. By establishing its authority as the final arbiter of what the Constitution means, the Court also established its authority to interpret. Many of the signers of the Constitution were alive at the time of the Marbury decision, but there doesn’t seem to have been much of an objection, although the slave-owning Thomas Jefferson did disagree with the decision to have the judges serve as final arbiter of the law.

Because amending the Constitution is so hard, without judicial interpretation the document would be completely unviable as a guide to government and law in the 21st century (or the 20th for that matter). The foundation of originalism is that these 40 rich white males in 1787 could see into the future and create the perfect document for a world beyond their imaginations. But the staying power of the Constitution, like the Old Testament or the I Ching, derives not from its inflexibility, but from the ability to flexibly interpret it to respond to changing conditions and social conventions. It is the job of the Supreme Court to read this flexibility into the original words, and therefore, make them still viable in today’s world. The end game of the theory of originalism (and not the cynical way Scalia practiced it) would turn the Constitution into an unworkable document.

No matter who wins Dem nomination, progressives, liberals and centrists must turn out in Nov. to vote for her-him

In the nearly eight years I have been writing OpEdge, there are only two issues that have attracted large amounts of negative response on Twitter. By large, I mean more than 20 people making uncalled-for attacks on me, including at least one who bombards my Twitter account with a rapid-fire series of negative tweets, out of what is now 38,500 people receiving my Twitter feed. Until this week, I have received this relative onslaught of negativity only when I have come out in favor of gun control or advocated raising the minimum wage.

Now a third issue has led to a “firestorm” on my Twitter account: my support of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. I have been flamed and shamed on Twitter all this week for endorsing Hillary in an OpEdge article.

I have also noticed a lot of ad hominem attacks against Hillary Clinton coming from Sanders supporters among my 1,800 plus Facebook network of mostly progressive friends. By ad hominem attacks, I mean unnecessary insults and unproved accusations. It’s absolutely amazing how much Democrats who hate Hillary have absorbed the right-wing’s decades-old campaign against her. By contrast, I have seen almost no comments from Hillary supporters on social media that I would consider negative campaigning against Bernie. To a person, the Clinton supporters go out of their way to show Bernie the love, although usually adding “but Hillary is more electable and will get more done.”

Here’s another small piece of anecdotal evidence that Bernie supporters are going negative: For the first time ever, someone accused me of being an unethical hack who accepts money to color my political and social opinions. A Facebook comment by a woman named Barbara L. Bowen suggested that the Clinton campaign paid me to write an essay endorsing Hillary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I own a public relations agency, I have never accepted money to support any position or product on OpEdge, nor has my work for any client affected my OpEdge opinions, nor have I ever been involved in a “stealth” campaign of any sort. Ms. Bowen created the accusation out of the same thin air from which the rightwing has created nonsense about Hillary through the years. FYI, the only reason I mention Ms. Bowen’s name is that I contacted her via Facebook email and gave her the opportunity to apologize and withdraw the comment, which she did not do.

My social media universe isn’t a perfect microcosm of the real world, so the negative campaigning I have seen from individuals supporting Bernie constitutes anecdotal evidence only. It points in a certain direction, but it doesn’t prove.

When people respond with irrational anger towards candidates it makes them think in funny ways. I discovered this anew when I misused “flip-flop.” My comment was that the fact that Hillary has changed her mind about issues such as the Iraq war and overly strict drug sentencing laws is a good thing: it shows growth, rationality and the ability to admit when you’re wrong. She was therefore not a flip-flopper. It turns out that I was wrong to write that to “flip-flop” you need to vacillate between two views. “Flip-flop” is merely a nasty way to say someone changed her-his mind on an issue. Many Bernie supporters corrected me, always repeating that Hillary’s “flip-flopping” was by definition a bad thing.  But as it turns out, “flip-flop” is a meaningless invective, a piece of mud thrown at people whom we don’t like. Applying the term “flip-flop” turns additional study, new facts, maturity or a personal epiphany into a negative trait. Did Obama flip-flop when he came out in favor of gay marriage?

Ironically, the ugliest comment I have seen so far hasn’t been on social media and didn’t come from the Sanders campaign. It was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declaring there is a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” meaning that women should vote for Hillary just because she is a woman. I would hope that no woman would help or vote for Nikki Haley, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman or Joni Ernst for any reason.  Albright, who later apologized, was entirely in the wrong, but the comment did bring into sharp focus the age divide that separates younger and older Democrats, men and women, when it comes to Hillary versus Bernie.

I was young once, too, and an ardent supporter of the anti-war candidacy of Eugene McCarthy in 1968. After Humphrey won the Democratic nomination, I saw my progressive peers of all ages stay home from the polls thinking there was no difference between the Happy Warrior, a long-time liberal and one of the very earliest of mainstream white voices to stand up for civil rights, and the man who defeated him and then disgraced the presidency, Richard Nixon.

It was not the last time that progressives didn’t vote for the nominated Democrat because they thought he was too centrist and thereby assured that a conservative who practiced crony capitalism and thumbed his nose at laws would be elected. It happened again in 2000, when nearly 2.9 million progressives voted for Ralph Nader believing that there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush, whose administration later failed to read the signs pointing to the 9/11 attack and then responded by misleading the American people, fought a war for no other reason than to give out military contracts, created a worldwide torture gulag, lowered taxes on the wealthy to create an enormous deficit, tried to privatize Social Security, created a Medicare drug benefit that guaranteed that drug prices would soar, proved incompetent in its handling of natural disasters, fought environmental regulations and ignored global warming. No one suspected Bush II’s incompetence during the election, but his conservative ideology and dedication to crony capitalism were always apparent.

Then came 2010, when millions of young people who had been energized by Obama and voted in 2008 decided to stay home. The result was a Republican sweep of state offices that led to the gerrymandering a Republican Congressional majority and the passing of dozens of state laws that extended the rights of gun owners at the expense of public safety, restricted a woman’s right to an abortion, cut support of education and aid to the poor, and made it harder for people to vote.

My concern, then, is not with the nastiness I see from Bernie supporters per se, but with the possibility that it will cause the millions of people excited by Bernie’s campaign to stay home in November. This year’s Republican candidates for the most part are lying racist demagogues who want to lower taxes on the rich, reward their cronies and those who are bankrolling them, gut social welfare programs even more than they already have been and embark on military adventurism abroad. That the rightwing John Kasich is able to present himself as the most reasonable of the Republicans demonstrates what a sorry lot the GOP is fielding.

The primarily older Hillary supporters lived through these awful elections, which may explain why so many of them go out of their way to write, “But I’ll support Bernie if he gets the nomination.” In my Facebook world very few Bernie supporters have made a similar pledge to support Hillary.

I am not telling Bernie supporters to back off their criticism of Hillary. But I am asking them to remember that no matter how much they love Bernie, they must support the Democratic candidate, no matter who it is. Hillary Clinton is not the perfect candidate for progressives, but neither is Bernie Sanders. But the alternative to either should make all progressive, liberals and centrists fear.

It’s okay to be angry, but don’t let that anger lead to the three most terrible words anyone in this country could ever utter, “President Ted Cruz.”

Dionne’s new book presents conservatives as idealists; forgets most are class-based self-serving crony capitalists

Reading E. J. Dionne Jr.’s Why the Right Went Wrong provides an illuminating contrast to Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. Both cover the same history: the Republican Party and conservatism since the 1950s. But whereas Mayer focuses on the mechanisms by which economic and social right-wingers took over the Republican Party and drove public discourse to the right, Dionne’s story is one of how their ideas developed and changed over time.

The overarching narrative Dionne relates is the gradual movement of mainstream Republicanism away from accommodation with the New Deal and towards the extreme social and economic policies of the John Birch Society. Dionne tells his tale with an unexpected naivety, rarely if ever questioning the purity of motives of right-wingers. He may disagree with them, but he presents them as principled individuals. Unlike Mayer, Dionne never details how inextricably intertwined the ideas of the funders of conservatism were with their own self-interest. He never explores the way economic right-wingers have exploited the fears and mythologies of social conservatives. His picture of Bush II is not as a crony capitalist who misled the public so his associates could benefit from government war contracts. No, in Dionne’s rendition (pun intended), George the Torturer is a “compassionate conservative” against whom less forgiving and more right-wing conservatives rebelled. We never learn from Dionne the extremes of lying and manipulation in which a few ultra-wealthy families and their educated and well-paid factotums have gone to subvert the Democratic process.

Another difference between the two books is that Mayer’s describes the complete battlefield of ideas in the American system, including the dense network of nonprofit organizations, think tanks and university centers that promulgate and promote the ideas that animate politics, what William Domhoff called the “public policy model” by which an oligarchy can control the democratic process. By contrast, Dionne limits himself to the final stage of the process, elections and a few pieces of major legislation. By doing so, I believe he underestimates the degree to which a handful of billionaires have high-jacked the political process, which is the major theme of Mayer’s tome.

Reading both these books in the same month also made me realize the profound impact that two actions the Reagan administration took have had on the course of U.S. history since the 1980s. First, there was the massive Reagan tax break to the wealthy he pushed through early in his first term, which gave billionaires enormous amounts of new money to fight against social welfare programs and for lower taxes, at the same time giving them more incentive to do so, i.e., more wealth to shelter. Mayer doesn’t explicitly connect the tax cut to increased rightwing spending on politics, but she makes it impossible for the thoughtful reader not to draw that conclusion.

Dionne drops the other shoe: In Reagan’s second term his Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended the Fairness Doctrine, which required the holders of television or radio broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner the FCC deemed honest, equitable, and balanced. By ending the Fairness Doctrine, Reagan enabled radio and television stations to broadcast partisan ideologues such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity without having to air opposing views. The billionaires bought up stations, created networks and created the many voices who made and still make the same false statements about unions being bad, taxes being too high, and the nation being overrun by immoral and unreligious outsiders (recently to include the President himself!). While the creation of hundreds of shell organizations to promote fallacious research and self-serving theories helped the billionaires move the conversation to the right inside the beltway, the right-wing radio and TV demagogues reduced these ideas to simple messages and insults for those in America’s heartland.

Throughout his book, Dionne postulates that there is a good conservatism and a bad conservatism. The bad conservatism “resisted movements on behalf of African-Americans, workers, women and other groups facing exclusion,” whereas the good conservatism offers “incremental adaptation” as an alternative to change that is too radical or comes too quickly. In describing good conservatism, he evokes Edmund Burke, the 18th century British politician who supported the American Revolution but not the French one. In Dionne’s reading, conservatives go wrong when they oppose all change and do the right thing when they merely try to direct change in an appropriate direction, e.g., in using a private model to provide universal healthcare.

But Dionne’s differentiation turns conservatism into nothing more than an attitude or a point of view. The good conservative accepts the basic premises of a mixed economy and a state-sponsored safety net for the poor, elderly and disadvantaged, but wants to make sure we are careful about change and make it according to basic American and constitutional principles.

Unfortunately, the core of the conservative movement since the New Deal has comprised a number of explicitly stated bad ideas that would turn back the clock on centuries of progress, such as no government regulation, no unions, no minimum wage, low taxes on the wealthy, no Social Security, market solutions to all social problems and enforcing the public morality of the 19th century on private individuals. Supporting these conservative views is an ugly and mostly implicit mix of nativism, racism and sexism.

In other words, conservatives are not the most reasonable among those who want to improve the world, as Dionne wants them to be and imagines they once were. Instead, they have a consistent political platform that over the past 35 years has set the United States on the path of becoming a nation of a few rich and mostly poor.

Once again, a Wall Street Journal columnist is undone by bad math & a lack of business skills

I’m beginning to wonder if not being good at business math is a requirement for getting a regular column on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Time and time again, columnists use fallacious quantitative reasoning to build their case. Whether overestimating the impact of the minimum wage on overall employment, supporting the laughable illogical Laffer Curve, not recognizing the economic boon that alternative fuels and environmental regulation will bring or underestimating the costs of war, the rightwing often plays fast and fancy with numbers.

It’s so much in their nature to lie with numbers, that rightwing pundits do it even when they don’t have to take. Take, for example, Daniel Henninger’s excoriation of the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president in an article titled “Trump Among the Canaries.” I don’t agree with Henninger on many things, but he is correct when he says that the Donald “has been floating in an inch-deep pool of policy and shows no inclination to expand his pre-existing knowledge of anything.”

One great point that Henninger makes is that Trump’s proposed 45% tariff on goods imported from China is unrealistic and will harm the U.S. economy. But then he displays some of the stupidest thinking with numbers I’ve read this year when he writes: “Wal-Mart has 1.4 million employees in stores filled with foreign-made consumer goods. With a 45% price increase, many won’t be working for long.”

Does Henninger really believe that a 45% increase in the tariff paid to import Chinese goods into the United States will lead to a 45% increase in prices? If he does, he’s an unsophisticated fool with so little experience in the business world that he should not be writing for a business newspaper or commenting on economic matters.

The cost of merchandise is not the only factor that goes into the price that people pay at Walmart, or anywhere else. There is also transportation (a factor that will now be reduced substantially over the short term as soon as the merchandiser has unwound the long-term gas contracts it entered into when oil prices were much higher), store and warehouse space and equipment, labor costs, marketing and advertising, insurance, information technology, legal, other administrative costs and the cost of borrowing. And let’s not forget about profit. When costs go up, businesses always have the option of eating the additional expenditure and making slightly less money.

It would be great if we knew exactly how much Walmart pays for the merchandise it sells. Unfortunately, Walmart lumps what it pays for merchandise into a line in its annual financials that also includes “the cost of transportation to the Company’s distribution facilities, stores and clubs from suppliers, the cost of transportation from the Company’s distribution facilities to the stores, clubs and customers and the cost of warehousing for the Sam’s Club segment and import distribution centers.” That number is just under 76% of revenue. If the cost of product were half this number and Walmart insisted on maintaining its healthy profit margin, a 45% increase in the tariff would result in 17% increase in store prices. Still steep, but not the 45% increase in prices that Henninger threatens will occur.

Henninger would have had a good point, even if he didn’t present a misleading picture. But it seems to be encoded into the DNA of rightwing pundits to manipulate numbers and do bad math.

Forgetting about factors in an economic analysis is something that Trump himself does, most egregiously when he claims that he made good business deals when he took three business entities into bankruptcy. The number the Donald forgets, of course, is the hundreds of millions of dollars of losses incurred by investors. His bragging about his billions in assets neglects the fact that a passive investor would be worth twice as much as Trump is after his three decades of businesses deals.

In truth, Trump has been an unsuccessful business person. And with his seemingly unsophisticated understanding of simple pricing matters, it looks as if Henninger would be just as bad as Trump if he had to quit his sinecure at the WSJ and get a real job.

What progressives have been waiting for! The OpEdge endorsement for Democratic nominee

When I think of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, I always imagine an enormous rock that weighs thousands of tons and symbolizes American society. Bernie and Hillary are charged with moving the rock one mile down the road. Hillary talks of using ropes, winches and pulleys and of humans working together to slowly move the rock to where it needs to be. Sanders, by contrast, thinks he can fly over the rock, pick it up and instantly transport it.

This extended metaphor captures the major difference between these two long-term progressives. Bernie focuses on the final goals, which he implies are quickly and readily achievable, whereas Hillary focuses on what we can do now to nudge us to the goals. For both candidates, I think these goals include a hybrid economy with a strong middle class, bolstered by a government that provides universal healthcare, keeps quality public education inexpensive or free, cleans up our environment, fosters the transition to renewable fuels and protects the rights of all minorities in a secular society that embraces diversity.

Healthcare provides a good example of their differing approaches and appeals. Bernie is calling for universal Medicare, which Republicans, aided by the Dark Money billionaires, will vehemently oppose and use as an issue to destroy a Sanders presidency. Hillary, who was bruised badly in her own attempt to install universal health coverage in the 1990s, is right to want to improve the Affordable Care Act, as opposed to ripping it up and starting from square one. She wants to push the healthcare rock further to where it would be if the United States were a European social democracy. Sanders’ thinks he can pick up the rock and fling it down the road. Sanders statements on foreign affairs are similar: he states emphatically that we have to get rid of ISIS in a tone that suggests that he will do it. But we never hear the details of how. In a sense, Bernie creates a cult of the strong man who will get it done, just as Donald Trump has.

The appeal of this superman approach by Trump and Sanders may reflect the same cultural imperative as the spate of superhero movies that seem to have dominated the box office over the past 10 years. It would be lovely indeed if someone could solve the problems by virtue of her-his special powers—but that would also border on fascism. Interestingly enough, Democratic voters seem to be splitting by age. Younger voters who have grown up on superhero culture are gravitating towards Bernie, whereas older voters who have largely eschewed these comic-book-cum-video-game-cum-special effects extravaganzas are gravitating towards Hillary.

Sometimes when I look at Bernie Sanders, it’s like looking into a mirror (although he has more hair on the top of his head and no beard)…Jewish, an avowed socialist, a bit of a nudge when it comes to intellectual matters. Hey, that’s me. I can’t help but love the guy.

But when I look at Hillary Clinton, I see someone just as intelligent, quick-witted, progressive and caring as Bernie. Plus I see a list of accomplishments which make her perhaps the most qualified person ever to run for President of the United States, for these reasons:

  • High intelligence: How can anyone deny that Hillary is both highly gifted intellectually and a lifetime learner? So is Bernie, BTW.
  • Past experience: Only the rabid right would call her time in the Senate and as Secretary of State anything other than successful. Bernie has enjoyed success as the loyal opposition, for which he should have our undying gratitude. Hillary has actually been in charge and gotten things done.
  • Lack of hypocrisy: Hillary has never said one thing and then hypocritically did something else, for example, rail against the Affordable Care Act and then sign up for Obamacare, as Ted Cruz has done, or advocate against gays all the while trolling public bathrooms for same-sex quickies, as Republican Senator Larry Craig did.
  • She admits when she’s wrong (like Obama!): She admitted her mistake when she voted to allow Bush II to begin the ill-fated Iraq War and supported the harsh crime laws during her spouse’s presidency that led to the mass incarceration of minorities for victimless crimes. She also admitted that it was a mistake for her, like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell before her, to use her private email for government matters.
  • She has a cross-cultural understanding of social cues, which means that she won’t embarrass herself by saying or doing the wrong thing, as Mitt Romney constantly did during the 2012 presidential campaign. Romney publicly revealed a secret briefing that many had undergone over the decades but that everyone else had the good sense to keep confidential. Romney also broke the cardinal sin of retired Chief Executive Officers, which is not to criticize the new administration unless involved in a hostile takeover; Mitt criticized the London Olympics (unfairly, too, as it turned out) even though he was a past CEO of the Olympic games. Far from making these “bull in a china shop” mistakes, Hillary seems to enjoy tremendous respect among the people of the world and world leaders. While Bernie may end up being too abrasive, I’m sure he will do a better job in representing us among the world’s countries than any of the Republican candidates would.
  • She is competent running an organization: Hillary seemed to have done a good job of running the State Department, even during the Benghazi disaster. The differences between running a small city, as Bernie did, and the State Department are enormous.
  • Science-based decision-making: Hillary has never said or written anything that tried to deny science. Contrast with the Republican candidates: all of them deny science in one way or another regarding a wide variety of issues, including global warming, science teaching, women’s fertility issues, gun safety and economics. I’m not saying Hillary is always right, but that she always reasons from the facts and not from what she wants the facts to be. So does Bernie.

There are certain issues on which I am closer to Bernie than Hillary, such as what the minimum wage should be, the abolition of capital punishment and the possibility of making public universities free to all. But on some other issues, I prefer Hillary’s stands, such as gun control and the way by which we will achieve universal healthcare. We’ve already detailed some of Hillary’s mistakes.  As for Bernie, his neglect of whistle-blowers when he was chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee looks like a lesser version of Bush II’s approach to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war. His gun stands remind me of the triangulation of another former president, Hillary’s spouse.  In short, both have made decisions they regret and compromises that make their true believers wince.

When elected, we can expect Hillary to hit the ground running because she has lived through the mistakes that young, first-time presidents like her spouse and Obama have made. She will not need a learning curve—she already knows the political process with all its pitfalls. Bernie’s oppositional politics may hamper him as he tries to scrounge up Republican votes to support needed legislation.

In a recent Facebook exchange, a Sanders supporter averred that Bernie would not be as large of target for Republican dirt during the fall campaign. That’s a very naïve statement. Anyone who thinks the Republicans won’t go after Bernie with a vengeance is living in a dream world. They will constantly bludgeon him with three large and spiky clubs: They’ll hammer him about being a godless, un-American socialist. At 75, they will say he’ll be too old to start a first term as president. They will figure out a dozen code phrases to remind the public that he’s Jewish. We in our progressive universe of cities and college campuses don’t care about his religion, but believe me, there is still a lot of hidden anti-Semitism in the country, especially in rural areas. Evangelicals will not find it inconsistent to support Israel, but hate “the Jew.”

Hillary has withstood 24 years of false accusations about Whitewater, the suicide of Vince Foster, her supposed role in a cover-up of her spouse’s affairs, Benghazi, her emails and her foundation. She is used to not melting in the heat of Republican lies. Additionally, many have grown tired of all the dirt thrown at Hillary that never hits or sticks. We have come to discount it. The dirt on Bernie will be fresh and therefore make more of an impact with independents. Finally—and this point is very subtle—the Republicans excoriate Hillary for what she did and does. They will excoriate Bernie about what he is—an aging Jewish socialist. You can change what you do, but not who you are. (For the record, I hope neither Bernie nor Hillary change either!)

Both Bernie and Hillary come off well in debates compared to the no-nothing liars running for the Republican nomination. But in town hall meetings and one-on-ones, when there is time to give a more nuanced presentation, Hillary soars. She thinks on her feet and she has command of the facts. Her explanations always make sense. She takes no leaps of logic, nor does she depend on widely-believed myths. She is definitely a progressive. Her style reminds me of a female Barack Obama—friendly, studied, compromising.

Finally there is the issue of sex. It’s about time we elected a woman president, years after England, Israel, Germany, India and many other nations have done so. If we were talking about Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina, the sex of the candidate wouldn’t be an issue at all, because both are incompetent liars. And really, it doesn’t matter in Hillary’s case either. Man or woman, black or white, gay or straight, Methodist or Muslim—Hillary Clinton is as qualified to be president by virtue of her abilities and accomplishments as anyone who has ever run for the office.

Thus, I’m going to continue to give the love to Bernie. But I’m going to support Hillary Clinton and vote for her in my state’s primary.

Dark Money shows how difficult it’s going to be to recapture our democracy from rightwing billionaires

Jane Mayer’s Dark Money does a thorough job of dissecting the 40-year campaign of a small coterie of billionaires to change the American political agenda for their own selfish ends. She explains the process by which our country has reached the point at which it is overwhelmingly centrist-looking-left but controlled by right-wingers, especially at the state level. It explains how the Democrats could outvote the Republicans by millions and still not have a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. It explains why the mass media focuses on inessential issues such as the deficit or promulgates ridiculous myths such as the social value of lowering taxes and the idea that science is unsure about global warming.

The ultimate reason for the current state of American politics and public life is money. In this case, money spent over the past 30+ years by a small number of billionaires who wanted to lower their taxes and end regulation that cost their businesses money. The main organizers of this group have been Charles and David Koch, two of four sons of industrialist and rightwing funder Fred Koch, an original founder of the John Birch Society.

These rich folk have included among others Richard Mellon Scaife, the DeVos, Bradley and Olin families, Phillip Anschutz, Peter Singer and Sheldon Adelson, but most of the organizing has come from Charles Koch.

According to Mayer, their long-term game plan, hatched in the mid-70s, came partly from a memo by Lewis Powell before he joined the Supreme Court and a white paper put together by William Simon after he was Secretary of the Treasury. It started with secretly starting and financing think tanks that churn out position papers supporting their rightwing political views, e.g. government is always bad, the free market solves all problems, a minimum wage leads to unemployment, unions constitute restraint of trade, taxes should be lowered on job creators—the entire package of lies still peddled by Republican candidates, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and a horde of think tanks. They also invaded the universities, feeding them with money to study economic, political and social phenomena from a rightwing perspective. Mayer does an especially good job of showing how Koch money has turned George Mason University into a center of phony rightwing research. One of the more successful think tanks has been the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the organization that writes all the anti-union, voter suppression, gun rights and shaft-the-poor legislation that Republican legislators have passed in recent years.

For years Koch has held secret seminars for his billionaire pals in which he outlined issues, discussed strategies and shared information on how to establish layers of nonprofit organizations to hide the names of donors and how much they have given.

From the think tanks, rightwing ideas spread to the general public through the news media, especially the rightwing media which used to consist of a few hundred radio stations but now includes the vast Fox broadcasting empire. At a certain point, the Kochtapus—a description of the Koch network of fellow billionaire contributors—began to invest millions in supporting specific candidates. After Citizen’s United, the ultraright ratcheted up candidate investment. Along the way, they found it easier to control local and statewide elections than national ones.

The 30 or so rich individuals or families Mayer mentions as part of the Dark Money network fall into one of three categories:

  1. Their business interests have depended either primarily or substantially on government contracts, which explains why the ultraright hates government but loves military contracts and subsidies for oil and gas.
  2. Owners of companies that have gotten into trouble for not following environmental, financial or other regulations and owe or have paid the government a ton of money or are involved in litigation with the government.
  3. People who are both, which include the Koch brothers who are the closest people to being pure evil as I have ever encountered in reading or real life.

In other words, these billionaires will often wrap themselves in a flag and say they are trying to preserve and enhance our freedom, but their desire is to create a government that bows to their selfish interests. For all of the billionaires, the only thing that matters is money and power, but others are motivated by their religiosity, racism or love of guns, which partially explains the alliance these plutocrats have made with the religious right and the gun lobby.

While Mayer does an excellent job of shedding light on all of this dark money, she doesn’t put the experience of the last 40 years of rightwing insurgency financed by a handful of the ultra wealthy into the context of U.S. history. Around the time of Simon’s call to action, which was general, the progressive sociologist William Domhoff laid out in great detail how to control American policy decisions in his public policy model. Domhoff constructed a complicated flow chart that describes in advance exactly what the Kochtapus did: Start by controlling research and universities, then public policy, and finally legislation and legislators. Domhoff is illuminating a process that has controlled American policy since at least the turn of the 20th century. The controlling interests have always been the ultra wealthy and have always skewered to the right. What differs with the current bunch of oligarchs is the vastly larger sums of money involved, that they have concealed so much of their activity behind multiple layers of organizations and that so much of the ruling elite has turned its back on the compromises made with the New Deal.

Mayer doesn’t mention it, but I believe that the massive tax break that Reagan pushed through Congress early in his first term has led to the great increase in the money that these billionaires have contributed to controlling the American political process. The tax cut both freed up more money for them to throw around and by making them richer, gave them more incentive to fight against social welfare programs and for lower taxes. I believe Thomas Piketty made a similar argument in Capitalism in the 21st Century as to why incomes for chief executive officers skyrocketed after the Reagan tax breaks.

Dark Money is a depressing book, but one I recommend that everyone who cares about the future direction of our country read.

How do we fight the forces of Dark Money? To my mind, progressives, liberals and centrists must vote for the Democratic candidate this year, no matter who it is, and more important, to vote Democrat in every off-year election. A mildly progressive president won in 2008 and 2012, but his victory was neutralized to a large degree because of the election of 2010, which determined who was going to set the boundaries of Congressional districts.

Like Obama and Hillary Clinton, most Democrats tend to be extremely progressive on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy issues, but much less so than the Republicans. The loud cry of people like Elizabeth Warren drives the more mainstream Democrats even further left. Voting for Democrats, but driving the party further left is the only way we can stop the United States from becoming a land of rich and poor with fake elections controlled by a handful of selfish and very wealthy people.

I was wrong when I said transgendered should use public bathroom of their genitals. See original OpEdge article at Vox Populi: http://voxpopulisphere.com/2016/02/01/marc-jampole-5/

Last week, when I wrote that the transgendered should use the bathroom for the sex of their genitals, I was wrong. Two friends pointed out that a transsexual will often dress and look like the sex with which she/he identifies and to use the bathroom of the other sex would be disruptive. One friend rightfully worried that there are still enough unenlightened individuals around that if a transgendered female who has not had surgery uses the men’s room, she risks getting beat up.

I did note that the problem is easy to fix while giving people more dignity and privacy: Have unisex bathrooms with stalls that are actually little rooms.  Until that happens, it is best that transgendered people use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify, but always in a stall.

I haven’t changed my mind about the rest of the article, which proposed using genitalia to determine which public shower rooms, sports teams and scholarships are appropriate for a transgendered person who has not had surgery. You can see the article at Vox Populi.

We are talking about inherently ambiguous situations which surgery immediately and profoundly clarifies, certainly for the rest of the world and perhaps for the transgendered individual as well.