Moral aspect of tax policy: How much do “deserving” rich really deserve? Not as much as they think

As Donald Trump and Republicans roll out their proposal to provide wealthy people with a massive tax cut while giving everyone else a small break or nothing, they are restating that old lie that reducing taxes will make the economy grow so much that tax revenues will be more than before. It wasn’t true when Arthur Laffer proposed it in the late 1970’s and it’s not true now, as the recent experiences in several states show. Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana (no matter how much Republicans and the New York Times try to scrub the numbers) all slashed taxes drastically and ended up with weaker economies and budget shortfalls.

If history is any guide, the Trump-GOP tax cut would be part of a two-part swindle. In the first part, everyone gets their taxes cut—the rich massively so—and in the second part, the poor and middle class get their taxes increased or the benefits they receive from the government cut. The GOP successfully engineered the two-part swindle under a mediocre Hollywood actor. Now they’re trying it again with a reality television star in charge.

All the rightwing arguments in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy are false.They don’t create new jobs. They don’t create much new spending. And, they can lead to a recession if the wealthy put too much of their new largess into bubble-prone assets. As they always do.

But the right wing also has a moral argument in favor of tax cuts and low taxes for the wealthy, which goes something like this: They earned it and they deserve it. The rich certainly don’t deserve to give up their hard-earned money to the undeserving, the lazy and those who didn’t work as hard as they did to get where they are. After all, America is the land of opportunity in which anyone and everyone can climb to the top and make the big bucks. Behind this argument stands a basic tenet of the Protestant ethic: that the good do well and the wicked do poorly. The subtle but subversive power of this argument is that it puts everyone who pays taxes on the side of the wealthy, since all of us deserve to keep as much of our money as possible. We put in the work and we don’t deserve to have our largess stolen by government!!

In the recorded history of self-serving crap, no crap has ever been more self-serving than the idea that the wealthy deserve their wealth because of their talent, education, hard work, drive and general goodness. First of all, much of the success of any given person depends on the economic, physical and social infrastructure that society provides, usually through government spending. The roads, bridges, tunnels, mass transit and airports that a high-tech genius, her employees, vendors and customers use, the public schools that educated her workers, the consistent operation of society which the maintenance of laws and standards of operation, weights, measures and safety ensure, the safety maintained by the police and armed forces, the subsidies to our health care and retirement systems that allow her to pay her employees less. All this and more is what President Obama meant when he inarticulately said, “You didn’t build this.” He really should have said, “Whatever you built would have been impossible without the efforts of the rest of society.”

More significantly, much more of the success of virtually all of us has always resulted from the luck of the draw than from the virtues of the individual. As philosopher Daniel Robinson detailed in Praise and Blame: Moral Realism and Its Applications, luck determines most of our fates, the good and the bad, the successful and the failures.

The factors that affect our fate include:

  • Having a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Marrying into a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Growing up in a family that has not been devastated by poverty, food scarcity, substance abuse, criminality or mental illness.
  • Being born with a special skill or more intelligence than the average person. No matter how hard a 5’9’’ male athlete of average speed and strength works on his game, he’s not going to be able to keep up with the 7-foot Shaquille O’Neal.  No matter how much a person of average intelligence studies, he or she won’t be able to keep up with someone with a photographic memory. Shaq did nothing virtuous to attain his size. The genius was likewise born with the photographic memory.
  • Being in the right place at the right time, which can mean being the assistant of someone who makes a great discovery or taking a job right out of high school at Apple instead of the post office in the early 1980’s.
  • Being born at a time in history when your skill is appreciated or your weakness not a problem. This last point can be illustrated by imagining Willie Mays if he were born into slavery in the first part of the 19th century or Stephen Hawking before the development of motorized and digitized aids for people with physical disabilities.
  • Meeting a mentor or someone with connections who will take a special interest in you.
  • Not having an accident or dying young in a war or epidemic.

These factors determine not only whether people will achieve wide recognition for their life work, but also the fate of the average person. For example, researchers recently tested Indian sugar cane workers before the harvest when they were broke and after the harvest when they had lots of money. The difference in scores amounted to 9 or 10 points on an I.Q. test, which measures certain intellectual capabilities correlated with success in school and in professional employment.  On an I.Q. test, 9 or 10 points means a lot: for example, about 28% of the population scores between 106-115, while only 9% of the population scores between 116-125. Thus, the physician with an I.Q. of 120 from a wealthy family could work 60 hours a week and earns $400,000, while a lab technician with an I.Q. of 110 whose poor family could not afford SAT prep courses and summer enrichment could work the same 60 hours a week and make $65,000. Who is more deserving of the additional money and respect? Who would get to go to school for more years, score higher on tests, achieve more and make more money if the tables were turned?

One thing that the latest studies on wealth and income inequality have shown is that the United States has very little socio-economic mobility, and less today than ever before. The so-called land where anyone can make it big sees fewer people making it big who weren’t already big than most other industrialized nations.

The concept of the deserving rich and the undeserving poor is therefore built on a fraudulent understanding of the way individuals and society interact. Neither rich nor poor deserve their fates. In a land of abundance, isn’t it up to society to balance the scales and assure that all people have at least a minimum standard of living as defined by healthcare, education, retirement and housing? From the moral point of view, instead of lowering taxes on the wealthy, we should be raising them to help level the playing field. Raising taxes on the wealthy not only makes good economic sense, but also gibes with our basic morality. When the rich advocate for lower taxes to be paid for by cutting social programs and infrastructure investment, they are behaving out of pure anti-social selfishness.

If you want mainstream media to like your book on American decline, blame the 60’s. Fantasyland latest to do so

It seems as if no social critic can get a fair hearing in the mass media unless she-he blames it on the sixties. If you Google the expression “blame it on the sixties,” you summon up references to a wide range of articles and books in which experts and pundits blame a variety of current social and economic problems on changes in the attitudes, customs and mores of the 1960’s. My perusal of the first three pages of search results found the 1960’s and early 1970’s faulted for the rise in child abuse, our economic decline, political correctness, the vote in the Electoral College for Donald Trump, the increase in obesity, crime and growing drug abuse.

You’d think that most of the sixties-haters would be religious and social conservatives, because, say what you will about that decade, it did witness the sexual revolution that led to more open attitudes and greater social acceptance of sexual rights for women and all kinds of sexual experiences between all kinds of people. But as it turns out, a substantial number of sixties critics are self-flagellating liberals, you know, pundits who claim to be liberal but butter their bread by always blaming liberals for their own predicament. For example, after the election, a slew of Democrats blamed Clinton’s loss on the Democrats depending too much on “identity politics,” i.e., caring about civil rights. With friends like that…

The latest liberal self-flagellator to blame the sixties for the deplorable state of the world is novelist and journalist Kurt Andersen, in his glib and often superficial Fantasyland. Anderson’s description of today’s American Fantasyland is attractive and largely accurate. The insidious spread of fake news; the new level of lying by politicians; the basing of social and economic policy on disproven or bad science; the great numbers of Americans who believe in demons, the absolute existence of a god with male features and/or a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian genesis myth; the large number of adults whose lives revolve around electronic games, comic book superheroes, cosplay and other escapist fare; the climate change deniers, the evolution deniers, the birthers—these snapshots of the irrational are but a sampling of the evidence that Andersen musters to show that current American society is based on lies and myths, that we surround ourselves with fantasy.

Andersen is also right when he asserts that fantasy has played a major role in American society since the search for the Northwest Passage and the Salem witch trials. His history of irrational thought in America reads like an outline or a greatest hits list: each major figure in an irrational movement or trend gets a paragraph or so. For readers who want to delve into the long history of irrational thought in America, Fantasyland can serve as a syllabus that sends you to the right people and primary sources to read.

But the third part of Andersen’s thesis—that the sixties marked a turning point, after which instead of being a peripheral trend, irrationality took center stage—is dead wrong.

In sixties terminology, Andersen’s mistake is to conflate “do your own thing” with “believe your own thing.” Yes, a lot of people believed in some pretty weird stuff in the 1960’s. Like the First (1730-1740) and Second (1800-1860) Great Awakenings and the Roaring Twenties, the sixties saw an uptick in interest in the occult and the irrational. But lots of the doing of your own thing in the sixties and early seventies involved overthrowing old myths and lies and asserting the truth of empirical science, such as the anti-Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, environmental, anti-nuclear, organic gardening and sustainable living movements. All products of a very rational sixties. And in every case, it was the government or the majority of those with influence who were living in a fantasy.

Andersen takes particular note of the rise of the Pentecostal movement and televangelism in the 1960’s. True enough, but morality is not inherently contra-factual. Morality motivated a lot of the antiwar activists and poverty workers. Remember, too, that a Christian left and right wing have existed in this country since at least the abolitionist movement got its start. Even if we accept the core beliefs of the Christian right wing that have persisted for at least 140 years, a rise in a concern for moral issues doesn’t in and of itself suggest the society is entering a fantasyland. I can be against a woman’s right to control her body for moral reasons and still be living in the real world. I enter Fantasyland only when I believe that an abortion causes future health problems, that life begins at conception or that vaccines cause autism.

All of society bases part of its existence on fantastic notions, typically related to ethnic superiority, national character, religion and the convenience of rich folk. Certainly since Columbus made his voyages, religious and irrational beliefs have harmed the United States. Our economy before the 1860’s was largely based on the myth that Africans were inferior people who needed the white man’s guidance and therefore benefited from slavery. What about the medical, economic and social impact of the myths that led to the anti-marijuana laws of the 1930’s? TR, Henry Cabot Lodge and William Randolph Hearst shoveled a lot of bull hockey at Americans to build support for the Spanish-American War and our later atrocities in the Philippines. I would like to prove that the inflection point at which belief overran rationality was during the Reagan era, when so many edifices of lies were built and then used to justify horrific policies; lies and myths such as welfare queens, supply side economics, the failure of government, the failure of public schools and the benefits of the unimpeded free market. But reading history books like Stephen Kinzer’s The True Flag about the Spanish-American War epoch and Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy about pre-Civil War U.S. foreign policy demonstrates that the Bush II and the current administrations aren’t the first times the United States has been run by a band of reality-denying ignoramuses guided by myths with no basis in reality and representing a sizable minority but not all the people.  

If we, as I do, place primary blame for the growth of the American Fantasyland on the increase of lies and myths knowingly perpetrated by the news media, we can’t really locate in the 1960’s the inflection point after which fantasies begin to dominate the media and, by inference, American society. Since the original scandal sheets and yellow journalism of the Gilded Age, mass media has been growing inexorably, and as it does, so has the ubiquity of advertising, the focus on celebrity and the increase in myths being presented as truth—in commercials, by televangelists, well-funded rightwing think tanks and rightwing television and radio, on alt-right and UFO websites, in social media and fake news. Let’s look at some of major events in the history of media’s creation of Fantasyland: yellow journalism emerged at the end of 19th century, free market commercial radio developed in the 1920’s, the first radio evangelists started broadcasting in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the rise of commercial television and the beginning of the right wing creating alternative distribution channels for their myths occurred in the 1950’s, the federal law that allowed companies to own more TV and radio stations passed in the 1980’s, rightwing radio was born in the 1990’s, the Internet was the 2000’s, the Citizens United decision in 2010. You get the idea.

Why then blame the 1960’s? We would have to read into Kurt Andersen’s heart to know the answer as it pertains to Fantasyland. I am, however, quite confident that the larger phenomenon of blaming the 1960’s (and early 1970’s) for every social and economic ill since then results from the mass media applying a screen: Blame the sixties—we like it; blame another decade—reject the article! For the most part rich folk who like the status quo own the mass media and the companies which support media outlets with advertising. While rich folk include a spectrum of beliefs from left-leaning to ultra-right (there are very few socialists of any ilk among this group), they mostly lean right and mostly want to protect the prerogatives of the wealthy.

And they don’t like the true story of what happened in the sixties: It was the absolute high point for equality of wealth and income in U. S. history and the high point of union power (if not of union membership, which occurred in the 1950’s). While not the inflection point for American irrationality, it certainly was for the movement to provide equal rights in courts, the marketplace and workplace to all Americans—plenty happened afterwards, but the turning point certainly came in the 1960’s with the maturing of the Civil Rights movement and the start of other inclusion movements. The 1960’s thus represent the start of the threat to the special position of white males.

In other words, the real “evil” of the 1960’s is not that it created an American Fantasyland, or that it led to a decline in morals or educational standards or the work ethic. No, what the mass media hates about the 1960’s is that for a few brief years we saw a way to institute a true social democracy in a fairly equitable society with a fairly level playing field, kind of like the model developed in Europe after World War II. The Reaganites saw another way, but to make it work, they had to denigrate the real ideals of the sixties—government spending to solve social problems, a level playing field that did not favor individuals of any group, the importance of ending poverty and giving people a hand up, enlightened stewardship of natural resources, a foreign policy not dependent on America bullying other nations. These core beliefs—all based on facts and science—contradict everything the right stands for. Thus the desire, even today, to blame everything on the 1960’s.

I stopped reading novels about writers or university teachers about 30 years ago. I think it might be time to stop reading books that blame the 60’s.


Kudos to protesting players. Part of being role model is standing up for important causes. Trump doesn’t get it

The hundreds of professional football players who protested during the singing of the national anthem at football games this week were making three messages:

  1. The original meaning of Colin Kaepernick’s lonely protest in favor of social justice: that the flag also stands for the continued oppression of minorities.
  2. In protest against Donald’s Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant, sexist and autocratic statements and actions.
  3. A reminder to the NFL that no team has yet to give Kaeperick a tryout this year.

While all three messages are consistent with American ideals, the later also resonates with the free market ideology that the ruling elite believes and tells us goes hand in hand with democracy and personal freedom. The market is not supposed to discriminate. The market is supposed to reward the best. For all we know, Kaepernick is washed up from all the beatings his injury-prone body has taken. On the other hand, I understand that while on the field last year, the guy threw 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Those are great numbers for a starter, and for a back-up, they are incredible. He definitely has the pedigree and recent performance to deserve a try-out.

That’s the level playing field that sports is supposed to be about. Athletes are taught that during the game they are not supposed to care about what happens off the field: your teammate is your teammate and the best guy plays the position. The only thing that matters is who can throw and catch the ball the best, run the best, tackle the best, coordinate with other players the best. Who is the fastest, strongest, quickest, most accurate. The level playing field—a myth in the real world—operates most effectively in the fantasy world that is professional sports. If businesses and executives so often use sports metaphors, it’s because they would like us to think that the virtues of sports—hard work, the level playing field, team spirit and practice—rule in the real world. Of course, the hard-working poor and middle class of the past forty years might disagree. So would the owner of the company that lost that first big contract to the inferior technology Microsoft offered because the loser’s mother wasn’t on the board of IBM.

What’s interesting about the message to Trump is that Trump has taken a traditional management position, but in such an overtly racist way that management can’t agree with him without risking alienating the players. Trump and the other White Housers who have commented essentially are saying that the athletes should shut up and do their job. Yes-suh and No-suh, yes’m and no’m. I don’t agree with that idea. We demand that professional athletes be role models, and part of being a role model is speaking your mind when you see injustice and lending your trusted and recognized voice to important causes. On the other hand, management asking an athlete to remain silent is not inherently racist, only un-American. Trump makes it racist by exclusively going after minority players. He makes it racist by going after a player whose so-called transgression was to protest racism. He makes it racist by his use of language and code words. In the case of the entirely inappropriate “son of a bitch” quote, Trump also demonstrates his total lack of understanding of the sports world. I have heard “son of a bitch” and SOB used by an athlete or coach innumerable times about whites, blacks, Hispanics and even a Chinese left fielder, but only in admiration of an opponent, as in “that sumabitch hit my best fast curve ball.” Management never wants to run its own sons of bitches off the playing field, just the other guy’s!

My own personal view is that the main purpose of singing the “Star Spangled Banner,” a war song from the early 19th century, at sporting events is to give people something to protest. At heart, it is a jingoistic and war-mongering custom meant to brainwash patriotism into us. Until Kaepernick, I had long advocated ending the singing of this musical monstrosity before games. Until 2001, I would sit with my hat on during the pseudo ceremony. Now I just stand there, hands at my side, and look at my feet silently, afraid to enrage another fan. But I’m fantasizing a scenario in which athletes engage in more and more elaborate protests during the singing of the national anthem, dividing the country and affecting attendance. People in the stands start to participate, too, maybe by not singing. Rather than keep the controversy alive, one team will experiment with no having the anthem, maybe replacing it by rotating the singing of uplifting sectarian songs such as “Imagine” and “If I Had a Hammer.” After an initial wave of protest against ending the anthem, maybe things will settle down and more teams will end the practice. The announcer will merely cry out “play ball” and the game will begin…

But the television blare of the national anthem before the Yankee game jerks me awake from my day dream of an anthemless sporting world. Uh, oh. The game is about to start. Where’re my grapes? I suddenly realize that the real function of singing the national anthem is to give the folks at home an extended break to go to the bathroom and get a snack and drink.

A new Contract with America: economic equity, health care for all, integrated quality public schools, reduced military

During the heat of the 1994 mid-term elections some 23 years ago, Republican Congressional Representatives Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey rolled out their Contract with America, a pledge to pursue a conservative legislative agenda once the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives. The Contract listed eight reforms the Republicans promised to enact and ten bills they promised to bring to the floor. The proposed legislation was typical conservative claptrap: require balanced budgets; institute harsher criminal sentences; end welfare; cut payments to the United Nations; and, as always, cut taxes on the wealthy. Interestingly enough, social conservatives did not seem to have a hand in the making of the contract, which was free of any anti-choice or other divisive social issues. After the Republicans wiped out the Democrats in November of 1994, they were able to pass some of the Contract’s proposal, but not all of it.

Despite its mixed success, the Contract with America was a significant symbolic victory for conservatives in their thirty-year war to install an economic and political regime that benefits the wealthy. The Contract set the stage for all political discussion until well into the Great Recession. Conservatives still espouse many of its false notions, such as the idea that tax breaks on the wealthy create more jobs. But most importantly, it has served as a proud and palpable symbol of conservative principles. Not so much anymore, but for years, Republicans would pledge to the Contract as a means to demonstrate their sincerity and commitment to the movement. The Contract became conservatism, as Marshall McLuhan predicted might occur when he said in the 1960’s that the medium was the message.

Since the election, I have been thinking a lot about the Contract with America. The Democrats should revive the idea and present a 21st Century Contract. By becoming a touchstone for Democratic candidates, a new Contract could establish the terms of public debate looking forward, especially in light of Trump’s splintering of Republican solidarity and the emergence of economic equity as an issue.

I’ve taken a hand at creating a first draft of a 21st century contract. It aggressively advances the idea of European democratic socialism, but it takes into account the views of all contemporary Democrats, except for those with heavy ties to the financial industry or who have forgotten the central importance of trade unions in creating a fair, just and equitable society. My contract addresses just about every issue facing Americans except the spiraling cost of higher education, although putting this contract into law will mitigate that problem to a large extent.

Here is the contract. I intend to send it to my Senators and Congressional representative and demand they make the pledge. I ask my gentle readers to follow suit.


If elected to office, I pledge aggressively to support legislation to:

  • Create a more equitable distribution of wealth and income.
  • Ensure that all Americans have the basics that all humans deserve, including education, health care and a secure retirement.
  • Create real opportunity for all people, regardless of race, religion, sex, beliefs or economic class by creating a level playing field.
  • Protect the environment for our children by mitigating the effects of climate change and transitioning to a sustainable economy and society.

To achieve these objectives, I will support the following specific legislative actions:

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and remove all current exemptions, including for farm workers and interns.
  2. Remove the cap on income assessed the Social Security tax.
  3. Reform the federal income tax system to raise more revenue from the wealthy, who have gotten a free ride for three decades, as follows:
  • Increase the number of individual tax brackets and tax the highest bracket—income over $1.0 million—at 70%
  • End the lower capital gains tax except for investment in initial public offerings of stocks.
  • End the carried interest deduction.
  • Increase the federal tax on gasoline by one dollar and earmark 75% of it to the development of rail-based mass transit within and between cities and the rest to maintenance of highways, bridges and sewers.
  1. Replace the exchanges for individual health insurance with Medicare coverage (the so-called public option) for anyone lacking health insurance coverage through work or Medicaid.
  2. Replace district public school funding with statewide funding that provides all public schools with the same amount per student and redistrict schools to promote integration.
  3. Pass a new omnibus Civil Rights law which explicitly protects the rights of LGBTQ people; gives ex-cons the right to vote; ends Jim Crow sentencing laws; directs all states wishing to receive any federal funds to extend voting hours and end voter ID laws; and mandates equal pay for women and minorities for the same job with the same experience.
  4. Outlaw state right-to-work laws and all charter schools run by for-profit organizations or that hire non-union staff when the local public school is unionized.
  5. Give legal citizenship to all “dreamers” immediately and create a path to citizenship that takes no longer than five years to any undocumented immigrant who can prove residency before 2016.
  6. End all federal and state subsidies for oil & gas exploration and production and nuclear electricity generation and redirect the funds to supporting the development of wind and solar energy and technologies for cleaning up the environment.
  7. Cut the military budget to $400 billion a year and end all funds for the development of newer nuclear weapons or automated (robot) weapons.

Trump acts and talks like a stand-up comic, but the joke is on the American people

At first listen, Donald Trump’s speaking style when he eschews the teleprompter seems chaotically free form, as if he tossed a few dozen tweets and sound bites into one of his “Make America Great Again” caps and picked a few out, one at a time, not bothering to supply connective material or an overarching direction. But there is a method to Trump’s rhetorical madness—a tried and true method that has been around since at least the British music halls of the 19th century.

It’s called stand-up comedy, a style of public speaking with which voters are familiar from late night comedy shows and prime time specials, a style which generally makes its live and broadcast audiences feel good because it makes them laugh, even when the comic is discussing something serious or infuriating. Talking like a stand-up comic may be as significant a part of Trump’s appeal to his core as his nativism, racism, misogyny and isolationism.

Most elected officials and candidates use the same speaking style, which after salutations and a short joke follows a basic three-part structure: 1) Tell them what you’re going to say; 2) Say it; 3) Tell them what you just said. Within that overall framework, the typical political speech will go from issue to issue. In each part of the speech, the speaker will employ a rather limited set of rhetorical devices: using more words than are necessary as opposed to speaking directly; referencing a mix of anecdotes and isolated statistics; and hedging bets with such weaselly phrases as “anticipate” “start to address” and “return to American traditions.” The speaker typically builds tension through repetition, especially of the first few words of a sentence, as exemplified by Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream…” speech. For example, in a speech warning of the danger of electing about Trump that Hillary Clinton made in June 2016, she repeated “He said…” to begin a series of five sentences in a row, and later repeated “It’s no small thing…” to begin three sentences in a row. In a typical stump speech, Bernie Sanders would embed the emphatic rendering of the simple phrase, “we are going to” in four or five sentences in a row.

Except for the use of anecdotes and statistics, both often fabricated, Donald Trump rejects this standard stump speech style in favor of stand-up comedy.

We can identify several characteristics of stand-up comedy that Trump has repurposed for the political arena. First and foremost is the lack of a recognizable formal structure in Trump’s rants. The contemporary comic for the most part doesn’t tell traditional jokes, but rambles from topic to topic, free form and without apparent goal, occasionally telling a story or saying something funny or zinging a sacred cow or well-known human foible. You never have the feeling that the contemporary comic is scripted, but rather speaking a spontaneous stream of consciousness rap. And yet she-he manages always to tell the same jokes and even sling the same insults at audience members in all routines. Doesn’t that sound like Trump? For Trump, the jokes are the insults, the zingers, the boasts, the false facts, the inaccurate characterizations and the unrealistic promises. Instead of starting with the standard “Great to be here,” Trump will often begin in the middle of an anecdote, sometimes even borrowing the “A funny thing happened on my way to the show” joke that begins many classic stand-up comedy routines. For example, the first words of his speech of his victory tour, in North Carolina, were “So the weather was really bad, really bad, and they said, ‘You know these are great people in North Carolina. They won’t mind.’ No, but they said, ‘they won’t mind, sir, if you canceled and made it another time.’ And I said, what?”

The contemporary comic will take a complex social issue, reduce it to one or two points which will be inflammatory but not necessarily salient and then melt away our anxiety with simplistic, often aggressive and senseless exhortations. Lewis Black and Chris Rock both take this approach. Doesn’t it also sound like what Trump has done to many issues, for example, reducing the complexities illegal immigration to building a wall and the fight against terrorism to limiting immigration from Muslim countries?

Stand-up comics frequently find humor in playing on stereotypes or insulting people.

Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Ron White, they all reduce people to stereotypes consisting of one or two traits, and then make funny remarks or tell stories that exemplify those traits. It’s what Trump does to issues and to other politicians—“Crooked Hillary,” “Lying Ted, “Little Marco.” While some comedians, such as Don Rickles, Dom Irrera and Lisa Lampanelli, built their routines entirely around insults, most will throw in at least some name-calling, sometimes of the audience, sometimes of well-known people, sometimes of themselves. Insult humor is also a mainstay of situation comedies like “Big Bang Theory,” “Two Broke Girls,” “Everybody Love Raymond” and “Two and a Half Men,” for example.

In stereotyping people, stand-up comics will often briefly leave their own persona by changing their voice and body movements to imitate another person. A wide range of comics will play several parts in their routines, from Bill Cosby to Chris Rock. Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher often breaks into their respective versions of Trump’s voice for a sentence or two. A few extremely gifted mimics like Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams have built their entire routines going from character to character. Some of Trump’s most notorious moments occur when he is briefly playing another person, such as his imitation of a reporter with a physical disability. Trump imitated others in the North Carolina speech referenced above. No other politician of recent vintage would dare take on the voice and gestures of another person.

The contemporary comic is self-referential, either drawing from her or his own life or interrupting a thought process to refer to her or himself—how the performance is going, why something makes the performer angry, the effect of current events on the comic’s personal life or something else just as extraneous to the topic at hand. Those who believe that Trump is unqualified for office because of his instability often cite his extreme narcissism as a character flaw. Many of his lies stem from an irrational desire to self-aggrandize. His early speeches after the inauguration, to the Central Intelligence Agency and members of the military, started with and returned often to his personal issues—poll and voting results and insults he may or may not have hurled. There are many comics who focus on themselves, from Jack Benny to Rodney Dangerfield on to Elaine Boosler, Wendy Liebman, Amy Schumer, Lewis Black and Jeff Foxworthy, among myriad others.

Other than talk-show hosts who pretty much deliver jokes in the tradition of Bob Hope, most contemporary stand-up comedians play a comic character that is a well-known stereotype. There are red-neck comedians like Ron White, Bill Engvall and Jeff Foxworthy. Wendy Liebman and Sarah Silverman are promiscuous Jewish-American princesses. Chris Tucker is an angry black man. Amy Schumer is always a party girl. George Lopez plays a series of Hispanic stereotypes and D. J. Hughley and Eddy Murphy play a series of African-American stereotypes. Playing a role is a cherished tradition of stand-up comedy: Jack Benny was a miser. Red Skelton was a clown. Lenny Bruce was a hipster; Cheech and Chong were dopesters. Irwin Corey was a gasbag.

Trump plays a stereotype character whose roots go back to the Italian commedia dell’arte in the Renaissance. But every comic type with origins of a thousand years will have many manifestations. The left, Democrats, many centrists and the mainstream news media see one version of the classic type upon which Trump has modeled, subconsciously or not, his public person. But Trump supporters saw a different version, comic to be sure, but also heroic.

At essence, Trump is Pantalone—the older, wealthy man, often vain, often a lecher, often a bully, often pompous and ignorant, who usually gets his comeuppance in commedia dell’arte skits, sometimes even wearing the horns of a cuckold. Moliere’s “bourgeois gentleman” is the classic example of this comic type. A friendlier, sunnier and definitely de-sexed precursor to Trump was Ted Baxter of the Mary Tyler Moore show, played by Ted Knight.

Most of the intelligentsia across the political spectrum view Trump as the know-nothing buffoon version of Pantalone, the bourgeois gentleman who thinks he knows more than the dancing, speaking, music and other experts he has hired to aggrandize his reputation, or perhaps a Ted Baxter as a sexual predator.

To New Yorkers, Trump has long been a puffed-up and vain buffoon—a wealthy fool, someone with a lot of money but no taste. Before running for president, the properties he built were garish. His private life exemplified what used to be called the “nouveau riche,” those who have money but spend it tastelessly and foolishly. His “Apprentice” TV show was a parody version of the business world, his gruff and insulting style a parody of a type of executive who is not all that prevalent nowadays, certainly not among public companies responsible to shareholders.

But the rich and pampered oaf is not what his followers saw in Trump. To Trump voters, he was the Rodney Dangerfield and Jackie Mason characters of the two Caddyshack movies of the 1980’s that are still frequently aired on a number of broadcast and cable stations. Both play extremely rich white males who made their money at least partially in real estate development. Their vulgarity, apparent ignorance of social etiquette and kind treatment of the “hired help” turn them into average Joes who are breaking down the barriers of elite institutions. Viewers may laugh at Dangerfield and Mason as they commit social faux pas or make ridiculous statements, but we treat them as heroes who upend the social order for the good of the whole when they insult, trick or defeat pompous and snobby rich folk. There is no difference in what the audience feels for these rich disrupters in the Caddyshack movies from what supporters feel about Donald Trump. In the numerous interviews with core Trump supporters since the election, they forgive his vulgarity and stumbling as part and parcel of his outsider status.

How much has Trump’s stand-up comic style contributed to his success in connecting with enough former Democratic voters to win an electoral majority? Did delivering his nativist, racist, misogynist messages like a comic serve to enhance his dystopic ejaculations? It certainly made them seem “funny” to those who despise so-called “political correctness,” but did his voters respond to the jokes positively, or would Trump have won by a greater margin if he had delivered his material in the traditional style that characterized every other candidate on the campaign trail this year?

The very fact that Trump’s language and rhetoric so little resembles the standard fare certainly contributes to the view that he is a disrupter. That he distills his messages into short statements—be they insults, lies or simplifications—make them easy to remember, transmit on social media and use in television news, which now favors quotes of less than ten seconds. His performance might steal a movie satire of elections. On the other hand, the news media treats his rally speeches and early morning tweet rant as manifestations of instability, inexperience and ignorance.

We can’t really know whether his performance helped him win the election unless a progressive Democrat attempts the same approach. I’m certain that any number of Hollywood and New York comedy writers would love to help a candidate of the left try the stand-up style.

Meanwhile, we can anticipate that Trump is going to ramp up campaign style rallies to rile his base as his ratings continue to tumble and he continues to implement unpopular policies and made racist, sexist and otherwise distasteful statements. Like any stand-up comedian, Trump loves the immediate applause, the laughs and the hoots, the love and attention unmediated by polls, computers, experts or media spins. It’s the love of attention that has Trump now actively seeking deals with the Democrats.

Like any professional comic, Trump’s inventiveness feeds off the audience response. Playing to live audiences will therefore likely incite Trump to make more of the type of embarrassing and ignorant statements that marred his campaign and that he has continued to make in the first year of his administration. In the best case scenarios, Trump or others walk back the assertions he makes via Twitter, news conferences and large rallies by twisting the meaning, denying he said it or quietly restating long-standing American policy. We have already seen this dynamic play out again and again—with North Korea, Charlottesville, transgender military service, Israeli settlements and the one China policy. The worst case scenario, as may happen with DACA, has Trump turn a federal department on its head to implement a legally suspect executive order that hurts individuals and the economy, all so that Trump can say he delivers on a promise he makes in his large tent meetings.

In other words, Trump may talk and and act like a stand-up comedian, but the joke is on the American people and the world.

If the goal is a strong economy, tax reform should lower taxes on poor & raise them on wealthy

Politicians of both parties seem to take for granted the idea that a tax cut leads to economic growth and more jobs. As it turns out, they are only half right. Tax cuts to the poor and middle class lead to growth and jobs. Tax cut on the wealthy create no new jobs and generate no new economic growth.

One reason for this phenomenon is that poor and middle class people spend more of the extra money produced by a tax cut and save little, if any, of it. By contrast, the upper middle class and wealthy will save most of the additional money, typically burying it in deep holes that have no real impact on job creation except when a burst bubble leads to massive layoffs—in stocks on the secondary market, artwork, collectables, real estate and other non-productive investments. Remember that when you buy a share of IBM or Apple, not one penny goes to the company to expand or develop; the company only collects from selling the initial sale of a stock offering.

To understand the other reason that raising taxes on the wealthy creates jobs and economic growth, compare the spending and saving patterns of all people and the government. Poor folk spend a lot, save a little. Even the most spendthrift of rich folk eventually run out of things to buy and end up burying their money in non-productive assets. But the government spends every dollar we send it—circulating trillions of dollars back into the economy by sending checks to millions of individuals and businesses. That spending grows the economy and creates jobs.

While paying a bit more in taxes than a few years ago thanks to Obamacare taxes and the unwinding of some Bush II tax cuts, the wealthy are still paying much less in taxes than they did in the golden age of the American economy, approximately 1945-1975. Compared to other industrialized democracies since the beginning of the 20th century, the current rich in the United States pay historically low rates and amounts.

Economists have discovered that one beneficial side effect of high tax rates on the wealthy is that it leads to greater equity in income and wealth. When the highest incremental tax rate was 90%, executives had less incentive to pay themselves large salaries and so plowed more of their company’s earnings into R&D and salaries and benefits for other employees. As top individual tax rates declined—from Kennedy to Reagan to Bush II—the salaries of top execs soared, while those of everyone else stagnated or diminished. In the 1960’s, for every dollar the average factory worker made, the average chief executive officer made $42. By the 21st century, the ratio exploded to anywhere from $340 to $540 paid to every CEO for a dollar paid to factory workers, depending on the year. In Europe, by the way, the ratio is a much lower 25 to 1! Thus by raising taxes on the wealthy, we will not only give the government more money to spend on education, healthcare, infrastructure, alternative energy development and the social safety net, we will also encourage large companies to invest more and give more to employees, which will grow the economy and reverse decades of growing wealth inequality.

Donald Trump and Republicans are clamoring for a cut in the corporate tax rate. While the rate is high, with all the loopholes and deductions corporations are paying less now than they did 20, 30 and 40 years ago, and, depending on the survey you see, about the same or a little less than corporations pay in the rest of the developed world. It’s those loopholes we have to look at. Which of them serve a policy end and which merely make it easier for corporations to reduce their taxes? Take the social policy of protecting the environment and transitioning to renewable energy. Our current corporate loopholes and deductions heavily favor oil and gas exploration and use. We would be much better off ending all subsidies to the oil and gas industry and replacing them with greater incentives to develop and use alternative energy and pollution-lowering devices and systems. In the end, whatever the set corporate tax rate and systems of deductions, the real rate corporations pay should rise a little, and certainly not be lowered.

One of the big lies of right-wing economic policy is that Americans pay more in taxes than most other countries of the world. We pay very low taxes when compared to the rest of the developed world. The Tax Foundation found that the total tax burden faced by average wage earners in the United States is 31.7 percent of their pretax earnings, which 24th highest of the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), far below the 34-country average of 35.9 percent. Maybe that explains why most of the rest of the industrialized countries have universal health care, better kept roads, more extensive mass transit systems, lower-cost higher education and better retirement plans. According to the Tax Policy Center, total U.S. tax revenue—individual and corporate—now equals 26% of gross domestic product, well below the 34% average for developed countries.

If the goal is to transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, than the best tax reform is to lower taxes on the wealthy, like Trump and the Republicans seem to want to do.

If, however, the goal is to create more jobs, improve the economy and invest in our future, we should keep taxes as they are on the poor and much of the middle class and raise taxes on the wealthy.

Why some left-leaners like charter schools & why they shouldn’t. It comes down to confusing Alinsky & Friedman

Whenever I contemplate the fact that many leftists and left-leaning centrists believe charter schools are a good idea, I am reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s premise in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness that it is not the evil children of darkness who cause most of the world’s problems, but foolish, misguided or uneducated children of light, i.e., well-intentioned good people.

Make no mistake about it, from day one the charter school movement has been a darling of contemporary children of darkness, very wealthy families seeking to lower their taxes or make more money by privatizing public schools and the right-wing ideologues who support them. People like the DeVoses, the Princes, the Anschutzes, the Bradleys, the Kochs. I think you get the idea—the selfish ultra wealthy, as dark a group of people as the average leftist or lean-leaner could imagine. These are the people who originally funded the charter school idea, set up think tanks and grass roots associations to campaign for charter school funding and got public relations agencies to make sure the mainstream news media thought this failed idea was more successful than it actually was. These people know in their greedy little hearts that the charter school idea is the big right-wing lie in education policy discussions, similar to the big lies in other important policy areas, such as climate change denial, intelligent design, voter fraud claims, abstinence only training, budget deficit panics and the idea that lowering taxes on the wealthy stimulates the economy. All are discounted ideas of America’s children of darkness that persist and, in the case of charter schools are thriving, in practice and public discussion.

One reason more charter schools are popping up around the country despite their widespread failures and scandals is because of support from well-intended children of light, including a good number of left-leaning centrists and leftists, such as President Obama, Hillary and President Bill, Andrew Cuomo, Howard Dean and Marian Wright Edelman. A survey by Stanford’s Hoover Institute found that 58% of Democrats liked charter schools in 2016.

The advocacy of charter schools by left-leaning politicians can’t be because of charter school performance, since studies show that the students in more than 70% of all charter schools across the country perform at lower or the same level as the students in the competing public school, 31% performing worse. Many of the approximately 29% of charter schools whose students manage to do better than those in their public school alternative have fixed the game. They discourage kids with disabilities from applying or weed out students who are less successful; for example, one Arizona charter school that U.S. News & World Report placed in the top 10 of all high schools across the country starts with 125 students in sixth grade but has a mere 21 in the graduating class. The administration presumably weeded out low performers, who then returned to their traditional public school, artificially raising the performance of the charter school and lowering the performance of the traditional public school. Improvement at a mere 29% of schools, up from a miniscule 17% in 2009, makes charter schools a failure. Only ideologues who prefer to create their own reality would continue a program that fails to work 71% of the time and actually makes things worse about a third of the time. On top of all that, it turns out that charter schools are more segregated than regular public schools. I have an article in the autumn issue of Jewish Currents that goes into greater detail on the disadvantages of charter schools and other right-wing educational reforms such as cyber schools and school vouchers, but I think you get the idea: charter schools are bad.

I can understand why many desperate parents of modest or little means with children in schools of few resources in poor districts might be attracted to the line of bull professed by charter school operators, many of whom are for-profit companies whose investors will make their dough by spending less on the children and lowering compensation for their teachers. Just like subprime mortgages, payday loans and for-profit vocational schools, charter schools target the most vulnerable and sell them a bill of goods.

But what about sophisticated left-leaners, policy wonks like the Clintons and Obama? I think there are three reasons so many mainstreamers seem comfortable with charter schools: First, out of respect for minority communities among whom they think there is a lot of support for charter schools, mainly because the mainstream news media and charter school lobbyists tell them so. In point of fact, there is an organization that purports to represent African-Americans who like charter schools, called the Black Alliance for Educational Options, but it receives most of its support from the ultra-right, ultra-white Bradley Foundation. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group for 50 organizations, have come out vehemently against charter schools.

Secondly, embracing charter schools is part of centrist Democrats’ slow dance away from unions. It’s not that Democrats don’t like unions, it’s that they don’t think about them as a central part of their core constituency anymore. Union issues have become an afterthought. Centrist Dems don’t consider the impact on unions when deciding how to shape policies, in or out of power; e.g., NAFTA. When unions protested that the impetus behind charter schools was to kill public school unions and thereby lower teachers’ salaries, the centrists probably thought it was more union obstructionism, or perhaps veiled racism since charter school folks were falsely touting how minorities could take hold of and thereby improve their children’s education. Maybe they have vague memories of accusations of union racism that marred the first controversy over locally controlled schools, in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn in 1968, long before conservative billionaires started funding the charter school movement. On the one hand, who can blame the centrists Dems, given that so many union members abandoned the Democrats for Trump? On the other hand, it’s inconceivable to imagine a progressive movement or a large middle class in this country without a vibrant, large and politically active union workforce.

The last reason is the most subtle, and perhaps the most important. Leftists and left-leaners who have supported charter schools look at its superficial features and see the model for community organizing advocated by the sainted Saul Alinsky. In his Rules for Radicals and elsewhere, community organizer Saul Alinsky proposed to effect progressive change and empower people by organizing them around existing community organizations or symbols for direct nonviolent action against a well-known (“useful”) enemy. The Alinsky model asks the community itself to determine the precise goal of the organizing.

That does seem a lot like charter schools, doesn’t it? The existing organization or symbol is the public school. The community as represented by the school’s board of directors—all community members and parents at the school—determine the goals. The enemy is the public school/union bureaucracy. The nonviolent direct action is to take over the school. The empowerment results when the community has more control over how its children are educated.

No wonder charter schools excited sixties and seventies radicals turned establishment types like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It sure does sound like solid gold Alinsky.

But it’s not even cheap brass plating. It’s an illusion. Underneath the radical left exterior, the operation of a charter school is a conveyance for privatization by which control of all decisions rests in the hands of private businesses, either for-profit companies or non-profit companies whose administrators make big bucks. Since state and national standards drive virtually all curriculum decisions, virtually all the decisions the community boards make come early and involve window-dressing, e.g., make it a Spanish-language school or mandate uniforms. The board can’t dictate that the school not teach evolution or teach that the South won the Civil War. The board can’t restrict minorities or those with handicaps from attending the school, although the for-profit school administration has been known to do so by where they market the school and what they require of applicants. Maybe that’s why charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools.

Everything else is driven by the administration installed by the charter school operator with whom the community board has contracted. Like many boards of directors in the private sector, the community board becomes a rubber stamp for the senior management. As long as the operator fulfills the terms of the contract, it can pretty much do what it likes. And that almost always involves hiring less experienced teachers and fewer certified teachers, nonunion in most cases, paying them less, and providing them with fewer professional development opportunities. Cut and take profit. It’s how government privatizers make a living, be it in education, prisons or the military, and it’s central to the crony capitalism practiced by the contemporary Republican Party.

In a sense, much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the charter school movement is Milton Friedman masquerading as Saul Alinsky.

Charter schools have proven to be a failure. It’s time to move on, to shut down all existing charter schools and reintegrate those schools and the students in them, into their traditional public school district.

But ending a school-reform-gone-bad is not enough. We also have to address what made the charter school attractive in the first place—not the racism, but the lack of resources in public schools. We need to invest in more teachers in elementary schools, where it is well-established in the real world that smaller classes are better for the students. We need to buy schools more computers, updated non-Texas-vetted text books, more enrichment such as music and art materials and teachers, equipment and supplies for special magnet schools and other resources that public schools now lack in many areas. It might be helpful to tax rich school districts statewide to support poor school districts, to in a sense, mandate equity in public education.

There are lots of things we can do to improve our public schools and make sure that every student gets the best and most appropriate education. Virtually all of these ideas involve increasing spending. The only thing that will really help our education system that doesn’t involve spending more money is to end all charter schools.

Tell your Rep & Senators to cut military spending below $400 billion a year, with no funds for new nukes or automated weapons

The agenda of the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans includes raising military spending by billions of dollars. A lot of that money will go to developing a new generation of smaller, “smarter” nuclear weapons and to developing weapons that will inflict damage on the enemy without prior command by a human, so called automated weapons systems—robot weapons.

Both new weapons systems raise grave questions of morality and ethics, starting with the fact that each has characteristics that make its use easy to justify. Instead of slowly dismantling our nuclear capability or letting it go obsolete, which President Obama pledged to do, the plan—approved by Obama—is to spend more than a trillion to build smaller nukes that inflict pinpoint damage, which would enable generals to make the claim that they are almost conventional and therefore okay to use. I can imagine a future Buck Turgidson (from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”) assuring a future president that the bomb he wants to drop on Pyongyang will only kill 20,000 and not the 146,000 killed by the Hiroshima blast, and that the radiation fallout will be negligible and limited to a small area, maybe the size of France.

Automated weapons incite a number of ethical challenges. We can anticipate that decision-making weapons will be as susceptible to bugs, hacking and programming errors as other sophisticated systems based on digital technology, such as bank databases, credit card companies, government servers, clouds and the Internet. Triggered by a hacker or by a bug in one of millions of lines of code, a robot could turn on us, kill the wrong target or mindlessly start slaughtering innocents.

There is also the moral issue of agency. The very thing that makes automated weapons so attractive—we can send them into battle instead of live soldiers—also underlies the essential immorality of using robots to kill other humans. It’s so easy to kill an animated figure on a screen in a video game. And then another, and then another, each of them so realistic in their detail that they could almost be human. Pretty soon you’ve knocked off hundreds of imaginary people. Not so easy, though, for most of us to pull a trigger, knowing that a bullet will rip through heart of someone standing ten feet away and end their existence. Perhaps we instinctively empathize with the victim and fear for our own lives. Or maybe most of us kill with difficulty because the taboo against killing is so strongly instilled in us, that moral sense that taking the life of another human being is wrong, sinful.

The problem with all advanced military technologies is that they turn war into a video game, and by doing so distance the possessors of the technology from their adversaries. Whether the attack is by conventional bomber, missile, drone or the decision-making robot weapons now under development, the technology turns the enemy into video images. Remote warfare dehumanizes the enemy and makes it easier to kill lots of them without giving it a thought. The bombardier doesn’t see the victims below, or if he can, they look like specks. The operator of the drone is even farther away from his intended victims. The operator of robots even more so.

Developing either or both of these advanced weapons systems will lead to an arms race with any number of other countries, including China, Russia and Iran. History and their own actions suggest to me that neither China nor Iran really want to spend any more money on military spending than they have to. But they will, if they have to, we can be sure of that. Let’s not forget that as countries develop new systems to keep pace with us, the chance grows that these weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of countries led by irresponsible leaders such as North Korea and…and…and, on my god!, the United States.

Seriously (or at least not mordantly funny)…it’s not enough merely to cut development of nuclear and automated weapons from the Pentagon budget. Pentagon spending has been at historically high levels for more than a decade. When we correct for inflation, every year since 9/11 we have spent from 20-55% more than the average annual outlay for defense 1962-2018 (est.). The average is $486.9 billion and includes the most expensive years of the Viet Nam War and the build-up under Reagan. We’ve spent about $600 billion annually the last few years, and the Pentagon wants to boost that to about $650 billion.

Over the last 10-year period for which we have statistics (2004-2014), the United States spent more on the military than China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, India and Saudi Arabia combined, Plus, our NATO and other major allies collectively spent almost as much as we did.

What’s worse—most military build-ups in American history have lasted five to ten years. Our current orgy of spending on weapons and wars has lasted 16 years and counting. The best source I have found for facts and figures on military spending is the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the Quaker’s lobbying arm.

As FCNL reminds us, besides making the world a much more dangerous place, military spending makes no economic sense. Each billion dollars spent on the military creates about 12,000 jobs, including 6,800 direct jobs. These job numbers created by military spending are paltry in number compared to the jobs generated by the same investment in education (25,000 jobs, including 15,300 direct), health care (17,000; 8,400 direct) or clean energy (17,000; 7,900 direct). To an advanced economy, spending on defense is almost the 21st century equivalent of a potlatch, the ceremonial festival held by the Kwakiutl and other Northwest American Indian tribes in which the host enhanced his (and it was always a “his”) social status in the tribe by the destruction of his personal property. I write ”almost” because our military potlatch also kills other human beings, many of them non-combatants.

The military establishment, Trumpty-Dumpty and his team, most Republicans and many Democrats proclaim that we have to boost military spending because of the dangers in the world. Remember that the military establishment speaks in a self-serving voice. Trump and the GOP are the same people who tell you that our cities are warzones, when crime is at historic lows everywhere save Chicago, Milwaukee and Baltimore. They are the people who tell us that immigrants create crime waves, when immigrants have a much lower crime rate than those born here. They are the people who tell you it was better for American society for rich folk to get a tax break than for 22 million people to get health care. They want to cut spending on education, health care, food stamps and other social welfare programs and they don’t seem to care a gnat’s buttocks about infrastructure, but when it comes to arms, it’s more, more, more, more and more.

But we’ve done more, and it has left the country broke and with little if nothing to show for our wars and military excursions except death, destruction and a loss of reputation. Meanwhile, a cheap economic boycott and a little diplomacy produced the truly transformative nuclear deal with Iran.

We can remain the world’s strongest nation while improving our economy by cutting military spending to about $400 billion a year. I’ve selected that amount for several reasons. It’s one quarter less than the average for the past 55 years. More to the point, it’s what we spent in the mid-1970’s. For those too young to remember, the mid-1970’s was not only the era in which we spent relatively little on the military, it also saw earnings for the average American worker peak. It was when America experienced the least inequality of wealth and income.

Limiting Pentagon spending to $400 billion a year must come with a stipulation that none of it be spent on developing a new generation of nuclear weapons or automated weapons. Yet even without these expensive programs for mass destruction, the Pentagon will still have to cut elsewhere, and that’s a good thing. There’s a lot of fat, especially in military contracts to for-profit companies to fight senseless, goalless wars in the Middle East.

But we’ll benefit from cutting the Pentagon budget to the bone only if government spends the money represented by those cuts to create new jobs. Congress can’t let the private sector—AKA rich folk—try to create jobs via tax cuts, because they won’t. They’ll put the added cash in their pockets or in Jeff Koons paintings, high-tech stocks and never-occupied apartments overlooking Central Park.

Now that I have convinced you that instead of increasing military spending, we should be decreasing it, here’s the call to action: Tell your elected officials.

Contact your two senators and your congressperson and make demands as explicitly as possible:

  1. Stop all research and development in automated weapons and new nuclear weapons.
  2. Cut the total military budget for the next 10 years to $400 billion a year, no inflation increase.
  3. Use the more than $200 billion in savings per year on education, mass transit and the development of alternative fuels.

I would recommend contacting these elected officials once a month until there is a budget vote later this year. And you might want to donate some money to FCNL, which seems to be leading the charge on the issue of reducing military spending.


Trump is almost the same person as Teddy Roosevelt in personality and character, except Trump speaks loudly & carries no stick at all

Since the election pundits have from time to time compared Donald Trump to various former presidents, most frequently Andrew Jackson because both were racist populists with tempers who liked talking tough and using the military. But I’ve also seen writers find similarities in Trump’s temperament to both Adamses, in incompetence to Buchanan and in dishonesty and political strategy to Nixon. Trump himself has spoken of his accomplishments as worthy of a Lincoln, which to people who live in the real world is akin to claiming an average Little League baseball player is as good as Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays (or Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout for younger readers).

In a continuation of this trend, Vice President Mike Pence recently compared his boss to Theodore Roosevelt — a comparison that may have surprised many Americans because TR is depicted as a hero and one of our greatest presidents in most history books while the public already realizes how unprepared and incompetent Trump is for the job he has now held for about eight months.

But as Stephen Kinzler’s depiction of TR in his entertaining and illuminating The True Flag reminds us, Trump and Teddy share so many personality, character and class traits that you might think they’re the same person. The True Flag discusses the debate surrounding the Spanish-American War and its bloody aftermath in which American soldiers tortured, raped and slaughtered their way to victory against rebels in the Philippines, the first time the United States used its military might to make acquisitions beyond the borders of the contiguous 48 states. The book focuses on the imperialist arguments made at the end of the 19th century by TR, Henry Cabot Lodge and the yellow journalist William Heart, who with Joseph Pulitzer pretty much invented fake news. They and many others were in favor of projecting American military might, holding possessions in which the inhabitants could not have free elections and extending U.S. control to peoples considered racially and culturally inferior. On the other side, the peaceniks believed fervently that the U.S. should not pursue military adventurism and that it was unconstitutional suppress the voting rights of people in other lands; they included such luminaries as Mark Twain, former President Grover Cleveland, Jane Adams, Andrew Carnegie and the distinguished Senator Carl Schurz.

Nowhere in The True Flag does Kinzler mention Donald Trump, but the picture he paints of TR is so similar to the Donald we have seen for the past 30 years that you could swear it was Trump being described.

Let’s start with their backgrounds. Both TR and Trump were born in the lap of luxury with a silver spoon in their mouth, on third base and thinking they hit a triple. Filthy rich.  The Roosevelt family had what’s called old money. Very old money. The original Roosevelt arrived in the New World from Holland sometime in the years just before 1650 and bought a lot of land in mid-town Manhattan, the original source of the family wealth. Trump family money also originally came from real estate—developing and managing properties.

Inherited money gave TR and Trump immediate access to the public through the news media and to political circles that would not be available to most people. Both used that access to expatiate about controversial topics, going to war and projecting America’s might in TR’s case and, for Trump, spreading the bold-faced, racially-tinged lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

But access doesn’t necessarily translate to respect. For the most part, the ruling elite, including the Republican Party, disliked both and found both to be a royal inconvenience, and with good reason: The Rough Rider was and Trumpty-Dumpty is a self-centered and loud-mouthed buffoon who often spoke/speaks without thinking and acted/acts impetuously. The center of TR’s world was TR, who thought himself the best man for every job and burned to wield the power of the presidency. Sound familiar? Many in the Republican Party at the turn of the 20th century feared that the irresponsible Roosevelt would gain the power that he so blatantly sought. Same for Republicans during the 2016 primary and election season.

But while despised by the political, civic and intellectual elite, TR and Trump were/are highly popular with large segments of the American public, thanks to the news media. In TR’s day, the media meant newspapers, of which there were many, many more across the country than today. Interestingly enough, Teddy’s rise in the public esteem was fueled to a great extent by one media giant, William Randolph Hearst, who owned and ran a media empire of newspapers based on sensationalizing the news and saber-rattling for wars of conquest. Hearst grew to dislike Teddy, especially after Hearst also became infected by political ambition.

Here’s where the similarities get really sick: Both Theodore Roosevelt and Donald Trump built their reputations on fabrications. TR was the warrior, the hero, the Rough Rider who led a band of volunteers up San Juan Hill against the Spanish Army in Cuba. In fact, the hero spent a total of two afternoons in battle. His one casualty was an escaping unarmed prisoner surrounded by TR’s men who he shot in the back several times. Kind of sounds like big game hunting.

Most of us now know that when Donald Trump agreed to be the business mogul featured in the original “Apprentice” he was a failed real estate developer and casino operator in multiple bankruptcies and a mess of financial trouble. It was the mass media—the television show and the entertainment and celebrity media that covered it—that established his reputation as a business master of the universe, thus giving Trump the platform to pursue his sometimes successful and sometimes disastrous branding business.

Two frauds that the media turned into celebrities.

The last similarity: both were accidental presidents. The Republican Party made Teddy McKinley’s VEEP to remove him from power and the public eye. The plan backfired when McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt assumed the presidency. Let’s not dwell too long on the long string of freak occurrences that enabled Trump to win the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by about three million, including the wave of voter suppression laws, the interference by the Russians, the weakness of the other Republican candidates and former FBI Director James Comey’s ridiculously stupid twin decision to release information about the Clinton probe but not about the Russia-Trump connection.

A consideration of the differences between the two men is sobering, because it reminds us that the problem with Donald Trump is his not his emotional frailties but his political positions and the reasons he holds them.

Roosevelt believed in science and in weighing the evidence, which among other things, informed him of the need to protect the environment from the degradations of human beings. He backed down from his imperialism once he became president and had more information and experience (and perhaps the power after which he lusted). TR was well-read. His beliefs in domestic matters tended towards the progressive, which in those days meant minimizing the power of large corporations and setting the rules to create fairness for workers and consumers.

By contrast, Trump is poorly read and educated and holds a basket of deplorable beliefs about immigration, crime and the economy that are rooted in the myths of the 1950’s, and by myths I mean beliefs that were wrong then and not held now. On global warming and environmental regulations, he has ignored basic science and the advice of virtually every reputable expert in favor of his own irrational beliefs. He looks past the crime statistics which shows an enormous long-term decline and instead believes in the harsh image of crime in the cities depicted in the tabloid newspapers that he read in the 1960’s and 1970’s, before the days of cable news.

Which brings us to the issue of racism. TR made and Trumpty-Dumpty makes a large number of racist statements. Racism was inherent to the Rough Rider’s imperialism and lurking behind many Trump’s beliefs and actions. But TR’s racism reflects the mainstream thinking of his era. Like Woodrow Wilson and much of the Progressive movement, TR believed in the inherent superiority of white people of European descent. Racism tars his reputation, but most every other white American was racist at the time. I doubt that TR would be an overt racist today, since all his views, even his foreign expansionism, were mainstream. By contrast, Trump’s racism puts him out of the mainstream. Virtually every Trump statement or action to be condemned by other Republicans has involved denigration of or harm to African-Americans, Muslims, Mexicans or other non-white minorities. He flirts with racist groups that hold views that are so far out of the mainstream as to be an anathema to virtually everyone else.

Finally, despite his heavy-handed narcissism, Roosevelt ended up being one of our better presidents, rated by some among the top ten. In contrast, by ending DACA and U.S. support of the Paris agreement, disrupting relations with long-term strategic allies, cracking down on immigrants, trying to kill the individual health insurance markets created by the Affordable Care Act, threatening the civil rights of the transgendered and rolling back environmental, business and educational regulations, Trump has already done enough damage to America and the world to rate as the second worst person ever to win the electoral college or succeed a dying or resigning president. All he has to do to slide below Harry Truman to the very bottom of the list is convince the American military to drop a nuclear bomb on some enemy.

The lesson, again, in comparing these two highly narcissistic individuals is that it’s not the state of Trump’s emotions that should be of concern, but his politics. It’s his harmful, racist and misogynist stands and beliefs that are most dangerous to the future of the United States.