Today’s public square: real & imagined mix freely in timeless drift, plus Trump’s illogical comments on Weiner

What can be more irritating than to see a news story that’s a week or month or even a year old appear on Google News, Yahoo! News or your Facebook feed? What’s worse is when days after it was originally published you ran across an early version of a news story—when maybe some of the facts were wrong or the accused had not yet completely exonerated herself (might as well be topical). When I find out I’m reading yesterday’s—or last year’s—news, it raises my blood pressure a little.

That is, if the story has a dateline attached to it and I remember to check it. Otherwise, I may believe it’s the latest news, or that the ideas or assertions that were already discounted are actually true.

This reappearance of stories that should be time-bound out of chronological context is one of the ways that the shift to the Internet for getting news and creating public forums has warped our sense of time.

Another way is the 24-hour availability of Internet news. In traditional news media, the reader, viewer or listener gets a chunk of the world at a given increment in time at the same time every day.  Here is how the world stands when the paper was printed at 1:00 am. Here is how the world stands right now at 6:00 pm. By contrast, the Internet purports to give us news to the instant 24 hours a day. Anyone who frequently checks news-oriented websites knows that it’s more like news every few hours plus whatever big event just occurred. But the very expectation that what you see is up-to-the-minute destroys the sense of chronology you develop by reading the newspaper or watching the 11:00 pm news every day and thus order events by the day they occur. In a sense, on the Internet everything happens at once in a timeless drift.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. Politicians, pundits, store-bought intellectuals and reporters continue to fill news media outlets with lies, false accusations, mistakes in logic and pure fantasy. I’m not talking only about the right-wing media. The mainstream frequently carries distortions, large and small. What was the media applause before the Iraq War, the intense focus on deficit reduction during a recession, the multiple Benghazi hearings, the “swift-boating” of John Kerry, the brouhaha over Planned Parenthood, the touting of the Tea Party in 2010 and the disregard of organized left-wing activity in that same year and this year if not distortions and fantasies. The best recent example of mainstream news media creating false news or a false take on the news is the Associated Press (AP) scandalously falsifying article which claimed that more than half of the people who met with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state used the Clinton Foundation as a conduit to reach her. As it turns out, the AP was looking at a miniscule subset of visitors, and that in fact very few of the people with whom Clinton met during her reign as secretary of state had made contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Just as the case with every other media outlet that has pored over Clinton emails, the AP was unable to provide one example of a contract given, a policy changed or any other action taken by the State Department as the result of a request to the Clinton Foundation.  The AP is trying to create a scandal where there is none.

Now for a slight change of topic to Donald Trump’s latest inanity.

It seems as the Donald’s overactive imagination has been acting up again.  During the campaign, the Donald has imagined African-American life in the United States to be a wretched urban hell in which no progress towards a higher standard of living and a safer environment has been made over the past 50 years. He has imagined that crime is up when it’s really down, that unemployment is up when it’s really down and that illegal immigration is up when in fact it’s so far down that more illegals have left the United States than entered over the past few years.  Of course, these fantasies of Trump’s could also be out-and-out lies, like his many lies about his past successes as a businessperson or that he opposed the Iraq War early on or that Hillary Clinton has stated she wants to repeal the Second Amendment. (I wish it were true!)

Trump’s first statement about Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin leaving her husband, the notorious sexter Anthony Weiner, serves as a dismaying metaphor for the current state of public discourse.

Trump said that Huma “is making a very wise decision. I know Anthony Weiner well, and she will be far better off without him. I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information. Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.

Trump turns a wild innuendo—that Clinton was “careless and negligent” about allowing Weiner to have close access to highly classified information—into a true statement which then serves as an example of a wild assertion—that Clinton exercises poor judgment. His conclusion is that we should be very worried that important state documents got into the hands of an Internet pervert.

Picking apart this statement is easier than walking away from your bills and making your vendors sue you for the money. It assumes that we believe that one or more of the following are true: 1) Clinton has control over the selection of her employees’ mates; 2) Clinton routinely shares state secrets with the significant others of her employees; 3) Huma Abedin told everything she knew about state secrets to her husband, on the advice or orders of Clinton.

Perhaps Trump is confused and thinks we’re still in slave times, when the boss, who was also the owner, tried to exercise complete control over the sex lives of his employees, who were the slaves. Or maybe he thinks that because Abedin has an Islamic background that she has no rights over her own body and voice and was forced to follow her Clinton Mafia family orders to marry that twerp.

So where was Clinton’s bad judgment? In hiring someone who is a high-achieving, hard-working and talented individual? Perhaps it was hiring someone with an Islamic background? That racist assumption may in fact be what Trump is really trying to communicate, just as his ostensible appeals to African-Americans seem meant to really communicate to whites that he endorses certain myths and lies about African-American culture.

It’s worth noting that Trump declares his expertise at the beginning of the statement: “I know Anthony Weiner” well. Is that any different from your run-of-the-mill Manhattan Institute or American Enterprise Institute pseudo-academic claiming expertise in the topic about which she/he is about to lie or distort? In fact, I could point to a number of Wall Street Journal Op/Ed pieces that take exactly the same structure as the Trump quote (for a few examples, see my analyses of Journal opinion pieces in OpEdge blog entries for February 11, 2016, December 8, 2015, August 4, 2015 and May 5, 2015):

  1. Establish false expertise
  2. Give false assumption
  3. Create a causal relationship based on the false assumption, sometimes using coded language
  4. Come to false conclusion.

The subject of the Trump quote on Abedin-Weiner symbolizes the degradation of the news media over the past 20 years. That the media thinks the separation of two prominent political figures rates top-of-the-news, first-page coverage degrades the marketplace of ideas. This kind of story traditionally was never front page news and often would not even make the Times; it was called “tabloid news” or a “page six” story, after the gossip column page of the scurrilous New York Post. That a political candidate would deign to comment on the private matter of an opponent’s employee further sullies the political discourse. The completely illogical nature of the comment suggests a mind that is both disorganized and deranged or a cynicism about the abilities of the American public to reason cause and effect, or perhaps both. In any case, this kind of logic further demeans discourse. (The hypocrisy of a serial adulterer taking an ethical stand has been par for the course in American political history, and is therefore less troublesome.)

In short, the Trump quote is a complete disgrace, from every point of view. If you want to know what’s wrong with our current public discourse on important issues, multiply this illogical, tasteless and irrelevant quote by about a billion.

To paraphrase Elvis Costello, what’s so funny about liberty, equality & fraternity?

Since the revolution of 1789, the national motto of France has been “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” which translated into English and updated to remove any sexism translates to “Liberty, equality, solidarity.”

French beach towns are making a mockery of all three concepts by passing laws that forbid the wearing of burkinis.

The New York Times reports that more than 20 French towns, mostly along the Mediterranean, have banned the burkini, which is a head-to-toes beach garment worn by devout Muslim women. The municipalities’ reasons for passing these bans sound as if they come directly from the America right-wing dictionary of racial code: the garments are not “appropriate,” not “respectful of good morals and of secularism” and not “respectful of the rules of hygiene and security of bathers on public beaches.”

Just reading these odious racist excuses gives me the same yucky, skin-crawling feeling I get from rolling around in sand immediately after applying greasy sunscreen. The reference to hygiene was especially nauseating, because it reminded me of the ugly things well-bred white Americans used to say—and sometimes still do—about African-Americans during the days of legal segregation.

A few comparisons demonstrate the absurdity of banning a modest garment that shows nothing of a sexual nature.

First, let’s compare the burkini to the standard swimwear in France in the late 19th century. They look practically the same, except for the head covering on the burkini. 150 years ago, French women would likely wear wide brimmed hats on the beach. Back then, if a woman dared to show up in a bikini or topless, the authorities would haul her to jail for public lewdness and immorality. By the way, every French Mediterranean beach I’ve ever visited has allowed women to walk around topless.

Now let’s compare the burkini to a wetsuit, which is still allowed to be worn on the beaches banning burkinis. Again, there seems to be nothing to distinguish the two from each other. A few days back on Facebook, I saw side-by-side photos of a burkini and wetsuit in the same sleek green and black color-combination and I really couldn’t tell much of a difference, even in the way the material covered the head.

Evidently the police of these towns are patrolling the beaches and asking any woman wearing a burkini to leave. By the way, if a man or woman wearing a wetsuit on one of these French beaches also sported a very large cross around her/his neck, the local constabulary would ignore it. Evidently a Christian cross in not a religious symbol, whereas wearing clothes that cover your body and a head covering is. I’ve seen 2016 photos of nuns wearing their habits on Italian beaches. Although the habit resembles the burkini in many ways, I doubt the police will be hassling nuns on French beaches this summer.

These bans make a mockery of the French ideals of liberty, equality and the solidarity between human beings encompassed in the word “fraternity.” The French towns are denying the Muslim women the liberty to wear what they choose. They are making the women and their religion less equal than other religions and cultures. And instead of embracing this group as part of the family of man, they are differentiating them from the mass of humanity and creating laws specifically meant to impede their actions. In the United States, we call that Jim Crow.

One rational for these laws is to ensure the security of bathers on the beach. Really? How does wearing a long garment threaten other bathers? Are the authorities concerned that every burkini could hide a machine guns and grenades?

Far from making bathers safer, these bans make all of French society less safe for two reasons: The banning of burkinis inflames the more radical among France’s Muslims and gives them an additional shred of evidence that the West hates Islam. The banning also encourages the French alt-right because it communicates to them that the authorities, at least in these localities, agrees with them that there is something wrong with Islam and that France should control and mistreat their Muslim citizens and immigrants.

As Elvis Costello pointed out in his 1974 song, there’s nothing funny about peace, love and understanding. If the French are serious about domestic peace, they should show a little love to its Muslim population and some understanding that the overwhelming majority of them are law-abiding citizens who only want to express their liberty and live in equality in a community that shows solidarity to all its members.

Emails reveal no conflicts of interest between Clinton State Department & Foundation. Controversy reveals double standard

As an owner of a small business I have been on both sides of requests for access similar to those at the center of the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State.  Anytime my company needs to make contact with a company or highly placed individual, the first thing we do is ask ourselves who might know someone we could reference. It’s called “six degrees of separation” marketing, based on the John Guare play. People who want to work for my agency or sell it goods or services often invoke the name of a business friend to get in the door.

The success of using contacts to gain access doesn’t always work. When I needed to reach out to the Justice Department on a sensitive matter for a client about 10 years ago, I called the former campaign manager for a former Pennsylvania governor and a former prosecutor because I thought they would know whom at DOJ I really needed to contact. Didn’t help me one bit.

I’ve been on the other side of the conversation, too. To get a job interview at my firm, one of my very best employees of all time used the name of someone whom she had gotten through another contact—that’s three degrees of separation.

Virtually every month, someone on my staff gets requests from business friends to interview someone or consider contributing our time or money to a charity. I don’t have much to do with these matters any more, but occasionally I get an email asking me about a request or letting me know we said “no.”

So if I wanted to contact someone at the State Department and I knew someone at the Clinton Foundation, damn right I would call the Clinton Foundation. And if I’m at the State Department, damn right I’m going to turn down all these requests. Except maybe sometimes, I might propose a short meeting if it seemed appropriate, just as I would if it were the chair of General Motors or the executive director of the NAACP.

And if I were the person responsible for fielding requests, damn right, I would occasionally write a memo to my boss. It sure would be embarrassing if HRC met Bono at a party and didn’t know the State Department had turned down his request for high-level help to arrange a live link to the International Space Station for his concerts.

Thus, the key fact in the controversy over whether Clinton Foundation donors got access to and favors from the Clinton State Department is buried in the fifteenth paragraph of the Washington Post’s expose:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday that there is ‘no clear sign’ donors received access for their contributions.

The Washington Post article gives three examples of requests for access. In two cases, the answer was “no.” The third case was the Crown Prince of Bahrain, a country with which the United States has friendly relations. The Crown Prince also applied directly to the State Department. He participated in one Clinton Foundation event in 2005. In what way is setting up a meeting with the head of a foreign country that’s an ally corruption? Should a State Department turn down all requests for meetings from any organization in which a key executive has gone to college with the Secretary and Undersecretary? Worked for the same law firm? Served on the same board? Lived in the same town?

Corruption comes not in fielding these requests, but in approving a request for any reason other than its merits.

If there were any evidence—any slip of paper or veiled reference—of someone calling the Clinton Foundation and then winning a competitive contract with the State Department or getting their nephew a cushy job, the Washington Post would have published it. If a majority or even close to a majority of requests were granted, the Washington Post would have noted it and not had a “no” as the result of two out of the three case histories it detailed. That The New York Times article used the same Bahrain case history strongly suggests that there was nothing really problematic in the emails.

In other words, what the emails show incontrovertibly is that the system worked. Influential people tried to gain access to the Clinton State Department through the Clinton Foundation and none did, except in those instances that the Clinton State Department was going to say “yes” in any case to a meeting request.

As usual, the Clintons are under a much more careful scrutiny that has not been applied to others. No one has scrutinized the emails of the Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell State Departments. We swept the illegalities of the torture gulag the Bush-Cheney Administration created under the rug.  No one wonders about the millions of emails the Bush-Cheney Administration destroyed.

Let’s compare. A few people may have been able to meet with State Department personnel because they had a contact with a nonprofit organization that does wonderful work around the world. High-level officers in an Administration concocted a series of lies to convince the United States to begin a war that turned into a quagmire and then engaged in barbaric acts that were illegal under U.S. and international law. Who do we go after?

Or how about this double standard: Do we investigate Benghazi or do we investigate the 13 separate attacks of U.S. embassies during the Bush-Cheney years in which 60 diplomatic officers died?

The most recent of these comparisons comes this week. The right-wing media is putting out false and scurrilous rumors that one candidate has serious health problems and the mainstream news media is correctly telling us that the rumors are baseless—using the experts and facts that right-wing enthusiasts always doubt because it goes against what they know in their hearts must be true. This candidate released a letter from her physician that gives her a clean bill of health, while discussing past medical problems; the letter takes the form and uses the language that virtually every other letter about a candidate’s health has ever employed. The one exception to this standard format for medical letters is the other candidate in this year’s race, who released a letter that sounded as if it were written by an ignoramus, not a physician. The letter said all tests were positive, which is generally a bad thing and asserted that the candidate would be the healthiest president ever, which a physician would never say unless he had personally examined all the others. And yet except for Rachel Maddow and a few other journalists, no one is questioning the authenticity or veracity of this letter. And no one has wondered about the true state of health of this overweight 70-year-old who professes to love unhealthy food and whose primary exercise is riding a golf cart.

A double standard for Hillary? I would say so.

Instead of doing push-ups, supporters of veterans should organize against war or staff suicide prevention lines

I first learned about the 22 push-up challenge on Facebook. Several of my 2,300+ Facebook friends are doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days to commemorate the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. The idea is to complete the 22 days and then challenge someone you know to do the same, all in memory of the 22 veterans added to our suicide rolls every day.

This morning I began seeing news stories on the 22 push-up challenge, about 127,000 in all in a Google News search, which is a relatively small number. The most prominent of the mostly minor media to cover the fad are Fox News and Inc. Most of the coverage focuses on the celebrities who have decided to drop and give 22.  They include Kevin Hart, Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Kevin Bacon, Ludacris, John Krasinski and Dwayne Johnson.

The 22 push-up challenge was devised by, which looks like it’s a for-profit group with the lofty goal of raising awareness about the high rate of suicide among veterans. The website mostly sells a variety of rings, clothing and headgear with branding. Unlike the typical awareness-raising event such as a walkathon or last summer’s ice bucket challenge, the people aren’t trying to use the challenge to raise money, although I’m fairly certain they would be delighted if the campaign led to an uptick in the purchase of their merchandise. does try to raise money on its website, which it says will be allocated to a wide range of nonprofit organizations helping veterans. Donate a minimum of $22 for four months and you get a free honor ring. Two questions remain unanswered: 1. How much of your donation does keep and how much gets funneled to the real nonprofits? 2. Why can’t you cut out the middle man and give directly to these other organizations?

While many things about sound fishy, I am not going to condemn or accuse the group, as I don’t know enough about it. Besides, whether or not the group is legitimate does not affect the viability and potential impact of the campaign, which I view as a complete waste of time.

Over the next few days and weeks it is possible that the 22 push-up challenge will blaze across the Internet and the mainstream media, much like the ice bucket challenge did last year and twerking did in 2013. But so what? How does that greater awareness help veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder?

Only two things will reduce the incidence of veteran suicides:

  1. Spending more money to provide services that help soldiers adjust to the aftermath of war.
  2. Not sending soldiers to war.

In that context, doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days with no donation is pretty meaningless. At 10 minutes a day, the total time spent doing the push-ups works out to more than 3.5 hours. The same time could be spent staffing a suicide line or at a table outside Walmart soliciting contributions for one of the many organizations that help veterans in trouble. Perhaps the best use of the 3.5 hours would be to send letters to our elected officials exhorting them to spend more on veteran’s mental health and psychological counseling. The 3.5 hours could also be converted into a contribution:  For example one person I know who is doing the challenge makes in excess of a half million a year; instead of doing push-ups, this person could contribute $875, which represents 3.5 hours of a $500,000 salary for a 2,000-hour work year.

While the 22 push-ups does nothing for veterans, it helps the participants in several ways. Obviously doing 22 push-ups a day improves the fitness of most healthy people. But doing the push-ups also makes the participants feel good inside in three ways: 1) They think they have helped an important cause; 2) They get to bond with other participants; 3) They enjoy the approval of the circle of their friends and associates who know about the challenge.

In short, doing something makes people feel good because they feel they are doing something. The premise is that people who participate in challenges, walkathons, marathons or dinners will give more money and be more committed to the cause than if they just wrote a check. People also like getting the various pins, water bottles, hats, tee shirt, mugs and other paraphernalia they typically receive when participating in nonprofit events. Many of my readers may not know that at the most expensive of these fundraising activities—formal dinners and cocktail parties for which the price of admission can be $150, $350 or even $1,000 a ticket—the gifts can be quite expensive and include vacation trips and spa memberships as door prizes. Like participants in the 22 push-ups campaign, those who walk, run or dance and those who sponsor them could give the money and donate their time directly to the nonprofit. But it wouldn’t feel as good.

In short, most fund-raising events and challenges appeal not just to our altruism, but to our inherent self-centeredness. In America, it can’t be good for someone else unless it’s also good for me.

Besides the typical self-centeredness I find in all of these challenges and events, I object to the 22 push-ups challenge for another reason. It does nothing to address the broader question of how we can help prevent veteran suicides. The answer, of course, is very simple: Don’t go to war.

War has always victimized a goodly number of soldiers. Anyone who has read any battlefield literature knows why: Seeing people wounded and die. Having to kill and wound others. Sleep deprivation. Living in ditches or other uncomfortable quarters. The regimentation of your life. The sound of bullets. The smell of blood and rotting corpses. The fear of bombs. Questions about the justness and fairness of the war. The guilt that you survived when comrades didn’t. The frustration of dealing with injuries. No wonder every war destabilizes the mental health of many soldiers.

At this point, we could broach a philosophical question: Is any war ever necessary or just? But in the United States, the issue of a just war has become moot. We have fought at least five wars in my lifetime that were absolutely unnecessary: Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq I and Iraq II; we could also make the case that our incursion into Afghanistan has also been a complete waste. From the standpoint of the home front, churning out PTSD-affected soldiers seems to be an American growth industry. (And let’s not forget the millions of people we killed or injured in the countries we invaded.)

Thus, the best way to reduce veteran suicides—which is the sole goal of the 22 push-ups campaign—is to not fight wars. Those who are doing push-ups would be better off working for and giving money to peace and disarmament organizations. And all of us should make sure that the next time a president or Congress wants to go to war and our territory has not suffered attack by an armed force that we send emails and letters against the war to elected officials and the news media and participate in anti-war demonstrations.

Shocking revelations in Clintons’ tax returns: Hillary is honest & believes in paying her fair share

No wonder Republicans are so afraid of Hillary Clinton that they continue to hitch their wagon to the exploding death star known as Donald Trump.

The Clintons made $10 million last year, which definitely makes them one-percenters, just like all our presidents have been since Eisenhower, except her husband (who joined later) and Barack Obama (who is well on his way).

What makes Hillary Clinton so dangerous to the ultra-wealthy is her willingness to pay her fair share of taxes without engaging in the kind of complicated, if legal, tax avoidance schemes that we saw in Mitt Romney’s taxes and which past statements by Trump suggest are in his. The Clintons fulfilled their civic responsibility by paying their fair share of taxes, an idea that our plutocracy thinks is un-American and socialist.

The cynical will say that the Clintons avoided sophisticated tax avoidance schemes because they knew Hillary would be running for president and wanted to present clean books. But even if their tax strategies derived completely from political calculations, we must then contrast what Hillary thinks will fly with the American public with what Romney (and no doubt Trump) does. Romney was not afraid that taking legal deductions would make him look bad, even though it reduced his tax rate to 14%, lower than his secretary. In older tax returns from the 1970s, Trump paid no taxes because of the lush tax breaks afforded to real estate investment. By contrast, the “cynical” version of the Clintons decided that the American public really did want their leaders to pay their fair share—which in the case of the Clintons is almost 35% of their income.

Of course, perhaps the Clintons realized that they operate under two double standards—one for the Clintons and one for Hillary for being a woman—and understood that the mainstream news media and the GOP would hit them hard for standard tax shelters used by many one- and two-percenters.

The application of a double standard is implicated in virtually all of the complaints against Hillary Clinton. She, but no one else, remains unforgiven for her vote to support the potential invasion of Iraq, as if she were the only one who could see through the Bush-Cheney lies and deceptions and so is the only one blamed for falling victim to them. For some reason, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and everyone else who voted for the harsh and racially based prison terms in the 1990s get free passes, but Hillary who was not yet in the Senate, gets chided as the wife of the president who reluctantly signed these bad and now widely regretted pieces of legislation.

Why have there been no investigations of the other Secretaries of State like Condoleezza Rice who used private servers, except for the existence of a double standard?

Why has more money been spent on investigating the Benghazi tragedy than on investigating the Bush Administration for creating a worldwide torture gulag or instigating the Iraq War, except for the existence of a double standard?

The email scandal is perhaps the most egregious example of the double standard applied to Hillary Clinton. People who are making a big deal about possible conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department when Hillary was running it have floated only one example of a potential conflict problem: a Clinton Foundation donor asked Foundation employees to hook him up with someone from the State Department. But as it turned out, the guy didn’t want any favors, business or special treatment. He wanted to give the State Department inside information he had about a crucial election in another country. He was not trying to use the Clinton connection for selfish ends, but to help the United States.

It’s interesting to note that just days after the Clintons released their latest tax returns, Maureen Dowd ran another screed in her decades-old campaign against the Clintons. Dowd spends an entire column trying to present Clinton as the perfect Republican candidate. She starts her latest flight of fancy by pointing out that the Clintons are one-percenters, ignoring that they have committed the cardinal sin for the ultra-wealthy, which is to leave money on the table for others. She creates Hillary the Republican from bits of facts and innuendos, starting with the wholly irrelevant fact that she supported Goldwater as a middle-schooler. Another double standard—others are allowed to change their views, but not Hillary. Not even the teenaged Hillary.

Most of the evidence that Hillary is really a Republican amounts to a whispering campaign. Dowd assumes that her “pals” John McCain and Lindsay Graham are rooting for her and that the endorsements from the Republican defense establishment has to do with her politics and not the fact that her opponent is an ignorant looney who lacks self-control. Dowd is also convinced that until recently, Hillary never stirred up any emotion among women and that the recent excitement about Hillary is limited to Republican women in the suburbs. (Dowd obviously has avoided Facebook and Twitter for the past two years, or else she would have seen the electrifyingly high level of excitement that Hillary has generated among women since she announced she was running for president.)

Nowhere does Dowd mention that Clinton explicitly states that she wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for massive investment in infrastructure and alternative energy technologies. Nowhere does Dowd mention that Hillary explicitly states that she wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 (although I suspect that if Dowd had brought up the minimum wage, she would have used it to call Hillary a flip-flopper, since before the primaries she wanted to start with $10.10 an hour). Nowhere do we read of Hillary’s many connections to labor unions and organizations working to improve the economic standing of minorities. Dowd also seems to forget that Clinton, unlike most Republicans, believes in a woman’s right to birth control and abortion and the right of all Americans to marry whomever they damn well please. Most Republicans want to build a wall along our border with Mexico. Most have a much more bellicose attitude about the Middle East than Hillary, despite what Dowd says. Most are against the Iran nuclear deal. Most want to lower taxes on the wealthy. So how is Hillary the ideal Republican candidate?

The Dowd column is a perfect hatchet job on Hillary’s liberal bona fides. Few facts, a lot of assumptions and a ridiculous conclusion.

The truth is quite the opposite from Dowd’s absurd assertion: Hillary Clinton stands in the great center-looking left tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. She is embracing what is perhaps the most left-wing platform for any political party in American history.  Her plans are detailed and realistic. To call her the ideal GOP nominee is a slander that would not be legal if Donald Trump had his way.

Just when we thought Trump could sink no lower, he calls for assassination of his opponent as if America were Chile or Iran

To walk something back is a recent expression to the American lexicon which refers to the quibbling and prevaricating political candidates or elected officials do to show that they didn’t really mean to make a controversial remark that has sunk them into deep doo-doo.

Supporters of Donald Trump will need a “Million Man March” effort to walk back his explicit suggestion that some identified group of gun owners attempt to assassinate a President Hillary Clinton as a means to prevent her appointing Supreme Court justices who would support the 90% of all Americans who want to toughen gun control laws.

I know readers have seen and heard his exact words a number of times, but they really do capture everything that is dangerous about the Donald, so here goes: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know…

There can be no doubt what he is taking about—assassinating Hillary Clinton. The explanation he and his factotums are giving for this vile statement is that Trump is referring to the collective activity of voting, but, clearly his statement refers to a time after Clinton has assumed the presidency. Judging from the reaction by the news media and both Democrats and Republicans, this walk back was a complete and utter failure.

Assassinating the winner of an election is an American tradition, but we usually do it in foreign countries. Many of the same hardliners who approved or would have approved of our complicity in disposing of the elected leaders of Iran, Chile, South Viet Nam and elsewhere are now scared out of their minds that a major political candidate in the United States has floated the notion that the assassination of his opponent might be acceptable.

Trump’s intemperate comments mark the second time since the end of the major party conventions that he has tried to throw into question the legitimacy of the American political process.  Days earlier he started suggesting that the fall elections could be rigged. He didn’t explain how or why, but in his distorted world in which he is the Sun King, the only way he could possible lose anything would be through nefarious means. Just as after his assassination call, after Trump cast shadows on the honesty of the electoral process, a large number of prominent people distanced themselves from his remarks. Many wrote or said rigging a national election wasn’t possible, since the fifty states control the ballots.

There have been at least three rigged elections in my lifetime, all engineered by Republicans: 1) Nixon got the South Vietnamese to agree not to start peace negotiations until after the 1968 elections, depriving Humphrey of the foreign affairs victory he needed to win the election; 2) Reagan got the Iranians to postpone releasing the American hostages until after the election in return for Reagan supplying Iran with advanced weaponry; 3) Illegal purging of voter rolls in Florida gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush.  The first two are examples of rigging by influence, as opposed to our more common understanding of rigging as involving the actual manipulation of votes.

While accusing others of rigging, Trump tried to do it himself. When Trump called on Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee offices and reveal any unsavory emails, he was really asking that a foreign power intervene and help him rig an election.

Historically, however, most rigging has come before an election through denial of the ballot or making it harder for certain groups to vote. The dozens of new voter law to pass in Republican-dominated states over the past six years collectively have one purpose: to prevent minorities, the poor and the young from voting and thereby swing the election to Republicans. Thus, the assault on our democratic process and the desire to delegitimize it does not begin with Donald Trump, but is a long-time strategy of the Republican Party.

In fact, most of the really obnoxious statements the Donald has made over the past year are firmly rooted in the standard post-Reagan Republican playbook. As many have pointed out, he merely speaks with greater crudeness and explicitness than other Republicans.  He was not the first or only politician to express admiration for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin as a means to denigrate our own President.  Every Republican candidate called for building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and all of them like to conflate terrorism with Islam. Every Republican wants to lower taxes on the wealthy.

Even when he goes too far for his fellow Republicans—as when he went after Ghazala Khan, referred to a television news personality’s menstruation or suggested that women who broke anti-abortion laws should go to jail—he is reflecting the underlying sentiment of the GOP and its core voters.

The reference to assassination is different in that it probably does not reflect the thoughts of any but a handful of deranged people. But in another very important way, Trump’s suggestion that someone assassinate Hillary Clinton is very typical, because when Trump says something really sick and icky, it almost always involves women. A woman should quit a job when facing sexual discrimination or harassment. A woman is too ugly to serve as President. Ivanka is so hot I would sleep with her if she weren’t my daughter. The real reason Ghazala Khan said nothing is that she is oppressed by Islam. Let’s assassinate the first woman president of the United States.

When Donald goes so far over the line that even his supporters distance themselves from his comments, his victim is almost always a woman, which is without a doubt part and parcel of both of his underlying mental illness and his undiminished appeal to uneducated white males.

My Jewish Currents article on “The Great Exception” sees possibility of another New Deal or Great Society

My recent in-depth reading of Jefferson Cowie’s The Great Exception has made me more confident about the future of social democracy in the United States than I have been in many a moon.  You can find my article on the book and why it makes me so optimistic in the latest issue of Jewish Currents.

The basic premise of The Great Exception is fairly depressing: that the period roughly from 1935-1975, dominated by the wealth redistribution policies of FDR and LBJ, was a great exception to the political tradition of the United States. The current era, ushered in by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, is more in tune with the flow of American history, says Cowie.

Building on the ground-breaking work on income inequality by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, Cowie characterizes the great exception as a period in which the U.S. enjoyed a relative equality of income. The share of the workforce that was unionized was at an all-time high, while the percentage of income and wealth captured by the top 1 percent was at an historic low. Taxation of the wealthy was at its highest point since the establishment of the income tax, especially during and just after World War II, as the U.S. decided to fund the war through increased taxation (which stands in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s administration, which cut taxes on the wealthy while fighting its two wars). In 1939, only 5 percent of the workforce paid income tax; by the end of the war, it was 74 percent, with marginal tax rates topping out at 90 percent for multimillionaires. The Great Exception also saw, in the early 1970s, the minimum wage come as close to a living wage as it ever has been. Cowie sees it as the only period in American history in which government seemed to work to protect economic security. Polarization between the major political parties was at an all-time low.

Cowie’s explanation of why 1935-1975 was the Great Exception breaks new ground. He believes that the political will to provide income protection to Americans and foster a greater equality of wealth through high marginal tax rates, government programs, and pro-union policies came only because our political and public culture in the mid-20th century was homogeneous for the first and only time in U.S. history. When that homogeneity broke apart in the 1960s and 1970s, the impetus for social democracy faded, as the South broke away from the Democratic Party, and the working-class unity that had helped to push the government towards providing economic protections shattered.

By 1935, African-Americans were mostly segregated, thanks to Progressive Era politicians like Woodrow Wilson. Schools, stores, and the workplace, unionized or not, had a fairly homogeneous population, since blacks were segregated both geographically and according to occupation. The New Deal social welfare programs such as Social Security and the minimum wage exempted many occupations dominated by blacks and other minorities, such as agricultural workers and domestics. Cowie doesn’t mention it, but we know from many sources that minority veterans of World War II were denied mortgages and other benefits of the G.I. Bill. Whites received the bulk of the benefits of the Great Exception, especially from 1949-1979, during which time the pretax income of the bottom 60 percent of the income pyramid doubled.

The low level of immigrants in the period 1935-1975 also helped to homogenize the workforce. The U.S. started clamping down on immigration in the early 1920s, and by the time of the New Deal, most immigrants had assimilated into American culture. The Great Exception also saw a temporary relenting of the culture wars that previously had divided much of the working class, as evangelism receded and the ecumenical idea of a universal Judeo-Christian tradition temporarily dominated the mass media and public discourse.

Cowie doesn’t mention it, but reinforcing this ostensible political and cultural homogeneity during the Great Exception was the emergence of the first mass media, which promoted the middle-class white suburbs as the ideal and predominant lifestyle. Thus for the first and, Cowie postulates, the only time in American history, elements of the working class put away differences and cooperated with each other.

But as the workforce became more diverse beginning in the 1960s, the coalition pushing the government to pursue pro-labor policies began to fray. A new wave of immigration, primarily from Latin American and Asian countries, and the integration of the workplace brought about by the civil rights movement, fragmented working-class homogeneity. The culture wars recommenced, revolving around sex-related issues such as abortion, birth control, women’s equality and LGBTQ rights.

The pressure this increased diversity placed on the labor coalition was exacerbated by a concerted business effort, led by the Reagan Administration, to reduce union membership and the political power of unions. For Cowie, the key event marking the end of the prosperity and fairness of the Great Exception was President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers when they went on strike in 1981, which signaled to the corporate world that the government would not intervene if they also started firing striking workers.

Cowie depicts the federal government during most of American history as large and activist, but always supporting business and corporate interests while fighting organized labor and stressing the rights of individuals. Government has always intervened, but except in the period defined approximately as 1935-1975, it always intervened for business and to protect individual rights, never to provide economic protection or to support labor. Indeed, such elements within the New Deal coalition as Tammany Hall, the South, and the West were at first frightened of government intervention because it had historically only served to help industrialists.

As Cowie says of the Reagan years, the issue never really was — or rarely ever is — whether the ever-expanding government was large or small, as rightwing rhetoric would have us believe. The real issue is towards what ends and whose interest those massive institutions of government are focused.
Cowie’s argument stands or falls on his demonstrating that both before and after the Great Exception, the U.S. political culture was not interested in fostering an equitable distribution of wealth. Despite the relatively short length of the book, Cowie succeeds.

Some point to the Progressive Era as proof that there are precedents for social democratic thinking in the U.S. government before the New Deal. The high-school version of American history praises Progressive Era legislation that constrained big business, such as monopoly and food safety laws. But Cowie makes a strong case that the goal of this legislation was to regulate the new corporate order created by industrialization and the modern corporation, and had nothing to do with seeking economic equity or fostering collective economic security. Rather, progressive legislation set the new ground rules for the new economy.

Progressives such as Woodrow Wilson also saw enforcement of racial boundaries as an achievement. The Progressive Era saw a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment, leading to anti-immigration laws that contributed to the homogeneity of the 1930s-1970s. And while there was an uptick in the Democrats’ support of unions during World War I, in contrast to World War II, as soon as the former ended so did the Democrats’ interest in helping labor. In short, progressives thought in terms of ethnic categories, while New Dealers thought in terms of economic classes.

It’s easy to demonstrate that the past thirty-six years have seen a return to the pro-corporate, pro-individual values that Cowie says characterized American politics and government before the Great Exception. Cowie is not the first to call the Reagan years a restoration, not a revolution. Government policies to lower taxes on the wealthy, cut spending on redistribution programs, and weaken laws and regulations protecting unions restored the wealth and income advantage enjoyed by the top 1 percent and top tenth of 1 percent during the Gilded Age — and in less than four decades.

Cowie makes a convincing case that during the current era, the government has supported other trends that tend to fragment the working class and deny them the power to make economic equity an important concern of government. Many post-1960s political concerns of the left have revolved around individual rights, including the opportunity to compete in a tighter job market. The New Deal democratized economic security, whereas beginning sometime in the 1970s, the left began to emphasize the democratization of access to the market, i.e., for minorities, women and LGBTQ individuals. Rights became the dominant political theme, even for the right, which pursued religious rights, school choice, and gun rights. Cowie notes that while African-Americans, women and LGBTQ individuals began to receive equal treatment with white males in the workplace, all groups suffered from the growing inequality of wealth and income.

The current preoccupation with “moral” issues, Cowie observes, has fragmented the working class into a number of special-interest groups, for whom one issue dominates all others. These include groups who fear or dislike African-Americans and other minorities; want to see a revival of religion in American culture; want to escape state structures and state control; and want to control immigration and immigrants.

Unions themselves get some of the blame for ending the Great Exception. Cowie suggests that one reason the Great Exception did not continue is that unions negotiated for benefits and wages only, not for managerial input, as they did in Europe. Without a say in corporate policy, unions were powerless to prevent boards from resorting to policies that did not have the interests of the workers in mind. The Obama years then saw the Supreme Court, which previously had upheld most of the New Deal, give new rights to corporations in the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby cases, much as it gave new rights to corporations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

If all the progress we have made towards a society that fosters freedom from want occurred in two short bursts of legislation, why do I say that reading The Great Exception has made me more optimistic than I have been in a long?

It comes down to identifying some interesting similarities between the New Deal and the Great Society.

The legislation that produced the Great Exception came in two short bursts: in 1935-1938, after voters gave FDR overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate; and in 1964-1965, after voters did the same thing for LBJ and before he lost the support of the country because of the Vietnam War and the reaction of whites to civil-rights unrest. In both cases, the Republican Party was in a shambles, and special circumstances had given the Democrats their huge majorities. In both cases, the Democratic president was a left-looking centrist with years of experience in the corridors of power.

The Great Recession of 2008 presented the country with another opportunity to push economic equity, when the Democrats won majorities in both houses and another left-looking centrist became president. While we shouldn’t downgrade the importance of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama spent a lot of political capital pushing it through and the Democrats didn’t spend enough real money trying to maintain majorities in both houses in 2010. The problem was that while Democrats had a large majority, the President was inexperienced and the Republican Party seemed to recover quickly from the debacle of the Bush II presidency and the Great Recession.  A golden opportunity was missed.

The left has another chance in 2016. Hillary Clinton is a left-looking centrist with as much experience in the halls of power as either FDR or LBJ had. Clinton is running on a platform that has specific proposals that address income and wealth inequality, including new taxes on the wealthy. The basic contradiction of the Republican Party — that its economic policies hurt a majority of Republican voters — is coming back to haunt them in the candidacy of Donald Trump, which is built, like the GOP’s long-standing economic and social policies, on a web of lies. Studies show that ticket-splitting is down and every day brings a new reason to vote against Trump. One day it’s his irrational argument with the parents of a fallen soldier. The next day he shows his ignorance of Russia’s military involvement in the Ukraine. The day after he gives radically retro advice to women experiencing sexual discrimination in the workplace, advice that suggests once more than he has no idea how things work in the real world. And yet another new day brings another feud with a prominent Republican.

With any luck, voters will not only elect the Democratic nominee, but also give Clinton a majority in both houses. Democrats will be able to get to work raising taxes on the wealthy, investing in alternative fuels, mass transit and roads, raising the minimum wage, making it easier for unions to organize, fine-tuning Obamacare and fulfilling the rest of their very progressive platform.

Maybe my horror at thinking that the mid-20th century really was a great exception has disoriented me and made me spin an overly optimistic fantasy in my mind. Still, I like the odds that we’ll soon have a Clinton presidency and a Democratic Congress passing legislation that reverses the course of the last forty years and helps to foster the collective economic security of all our citizens.

Hiroshima Day reminds us to tell all elected officials to vote against developing a new generation of nuclear weapons

There’s good news and bad news for those who want to end the existence of nuclear weapons in the United States and throughout the world.

The good news is that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is reaching the end of its useable lifespan.

The bad news is that President Obama wants to spend $1.0 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize our nuclear capability, including developing a host of new nuclear weapons and delivery systems.  A recent “Washington Newsletter” by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) lists the new and improved weapons in the plan: intercontinental bal­listic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, gravity bombs, submarines, nuclear-capable stealth fighter jets, and a fleet of stealth heavy bombers.

Which makes President Obama a hypocrite when it comes to nuclear disarmament. When he visited Hiroshima in May he spoke about his commitment to nuclear disarmament for about the hundredth time since he assumed the presidency. While it is true that under Obama our stockpile of nuclear weapons has diminished, his trillion-dollar plan to refurbish our nuclear capability speaks much more loudly than pious homilies and shutting down of what is in the main obsolete weaponry.

It’s going to take an avalanche of letters and emails to convince the incoming president not to pursue this reckless and expensive plan. But we also have to pressure Congress. FCNL reports that Congress is already considering the approval of $85 million to begin research on a new nuclear cruise missiles to replace our current arsenal. That $85 million will quickly turn into $20-$30 billion if Congress agrees to fund the full plans of the Obama Administration to build about 1,000 of these new missiles.

The number “1,000” to describe just one part of this comprehensive program to keep America nuclear frightens the imagination. Think of the death and destruction wrought by just two nuclear weapons dropped 71 years ago. The standard estimate of the number of people the United States of America killed by dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is 129,000, with more than 100,000 other people seriously injured.

I want to quote directly from a University of California at Los Angeles website for an organization called “Children of the Atomic Bomb” on the many ways people died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (with typos corrected!):

  1. Very large numbers of person were crushed in their homes and in the buildings in which they were working. Their skeletons could be seen in the debris and ashes for almost 1,500 meters from the center of the blast, particularly in the downwind directions.
  2. Large numbers of the population walked for considerable distances after the detonation before they collapsed and died.
  3. Large numbers developed vomiting and bloody and watery diarrhea (vomitus and bloody feces were found on the floor in many of the aid stations), associated with extreme weakness. They died in the first and second weeks after the bombs were dropped.
  4. During this same period deaths from internal injuries and from burns were common. Either the heat from the fires or infrared radiation from the detonations caused many burns, particularly on bare skin or under dark clothing.
  5. After a lull without peak mortality from any special causes, deaths began to occur from purpura, which was often associated with epilation, anemia, and a yellowish coloration of the skin. The so-called bone marrow syndrome, manifested by a low white blood cell count and almost complete absence of the platelets necessary to prevent bleeding, was probably at its maximum between the fourth and sixth weeks after the bombs were dropped.

These horrifying descriptions speak to the sheer unthinkability of anyone ever igniting another nuclear bomb. What they don’t do is describe the impact of fallout, the radioactive debris that the winds propel across land and water, which then descends on the rest of the earth after a nuclear explosion. Fallout means that whenever a country drops an atomic bomb on its enemies, it is also hurting its own people. Fallout underlies the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD), which states that no country would be crazy enough to start a nuclear war, since it would likely mean the annihilation of its own people.

The experts use MAD to justify the development and possession of nuclear weapons. “As long as we have them, no one will mess with us.” But one could just as easily use this reasoning to prove that if one nation has nuclear weapons, no other nation has to have them, since any nation that drops the bomb hurts itself.

The wild card in these game theory machinations about nuclear weaponry is the growing possibility that a nutcase gets hold of the bomb, or worse yet, someone who sincerely holds religiously-based apocalyptic beliefs. We may have less to worry about from a terrorist organization on this score than from a hotheaded loose cannon elected by fluke by a western democracy possessing nuclear weapons.

FCNL is recommending that people write their congressional and Senate representatives and urge them to:

  • Oppose the administration’s proposal to modernize the nuclear arsenal.
  • Support a pledge by the United States not to make “first-use” of nuclear weapons.

We should also contact Hillary Clinton and the candidates running for federal office this November and make the same demand. Let the candidates know that you are more likely to vote for them if they explicitly come out for a “no-first-use” policy and for continuing to shut down our nuclear capability.

As to Donald Trump, I’m not sure whether it’s worth trying to influence him on the issue of nuclear disarmament. A big man needs big weaponry. Besides, he’s already said that he would never take first-use off the table, as it weakens our position in negotiations. Trump seems to relish the threat that he thinks nuclear weaponry gives him over the rest of the world. Given Trump’s erratic nature and tendency to fly off the handle, perhaps the most significant action anyone can take to lessen the possibility of anyone in the world using nuclear weapons is to vote against Donald Trump in November, which means vote for Hillary Clinton.