When Conservatives say regulation kills jobs, they are ignoring a pile of research that says otherwise

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

It is too early to say with 100% ironclad confidence that government intervention can work to address the damage of climate change. But once we accept the premise that it does — as do virtually all governmental and economic experts around the globe except conservatives in the United States —  it is easy to demonstrate that government solution such as regulations and mandates can effectively address a changing climate, while market-based solutions are bound to fail.

The case against government regulation to control and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases or promote the development and use of alternative energy is built on the myth that every additional government regulation leads to a reduction in jobs and hurts the economy. An overwhelming amount of evidence shows that regulation has little, if any, impact on the number of jobs in the economy in either direction. The best start for reviewing the research on the impact of regulation is Does Regulation Kill Jobs, a collection of 14 articles by a total of 23 leading economic and governmental researchers. In the introductory chapter, the editors conclude that the number of jobs lost through enhanced regulation virtually always will equal the number of jobs gained because of the regulation. They also compare the impact of regulation on jobs in cleaner, less regulated parts of the country with that in dirtier, more regulated areas; these studies indicate relatively few job losses without even taking intoaccount job creation that the regulation produces elsewhere..

As Wayne Gray (Clark University) and Ronald J. Shadbegian (Georgetown University, now at the Environmental Protection Administration) detail in another chapter, the overall effect of pollution abatement on employment is very small: a 10 percent increase in overall abatement costs typically leads to a loss of roughly thirty jobs in industries averaging 40,000 employees. Moreover, they report, the cost to buy, install and maintain pollution-abatement equipment is quite small, measuring about 0.4 percent of all manufacturing shipments (which is far from the entire economy). Coglianese and Carrigan conclude: “The empirical evidence actually provides little reason to expect that U.S. economic woes can be solved by reforming the regulatory process.”

Having failed to prove that regulations remove jobs from the economy — and in fact fully demonstrating that the number of jobs gained through regulation equals the number lost —many economists are now busy trying to quantify the loss in lifetime earnings, self-esteem and other factors that negatively affect those who do lose their jobs.

There can be no doubt that those who lose their jobs because a dirty plant closes down or a toxic material is no longer permitted will suffer, and that there are political costs to that suffering (see: Wisconsin’s, Pennsylvania’s, and Ohio’s swing for Trump in the 2016 election). For every worker who suffers, however, another gains a job in inspection, compliance, or the development and manufacturing of non-polluting technologies. It comes out about even, unless the new jobs pay less, or the newly unemployed receive a lower level of unemployment compensation and other government aid. That’s not a problem with regulation, but reflects critical flaw in America’s advanced free-market economy: a low minimum wage, great inequality in income and wealth, a diminished labor union movement, and the decades-long shredding of the social safety net.

These analyses of jobs lost and gained exclude many substantial benefits of governmental action to address climate change. For that, we can turn to the White House Office of Management and Budget reports to Congress on the benefits and costs of federal regulations.

The agency’s 2016 report, for example, provides a stunning justification for environmental regulation: In the previous ten-year period, thirty-seven EPA regulations produced between $176 billion and $678 billion of benefits (in 2014 dollars) while costing between $43billion and $51billion. That means for every dollar spent on conforming to EPA regulations, the country benefited anywhere from $3.45 to $15.70. Conservatives are ignoring the evidence when they repeat time and time again that environmental regulation hurts the economy and reduces jobs.

Early European settlers in North America ignored weather patterns with disastrous results. Lesson: government must address global warming

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

Another recent book about how weather affects human history, historian Sam White’s (Ohio State) A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America, reminds us that the 21st century is not the first time that Europeans in North America have ignored the climate or tried to impose their will on it, thereby creating human disasters. In the 16th century, several European nations founded a number of settlements in North America, yet any attempt to colonize north of Florida ended disastrously with crop failures, deaths from freezing, famine, cannibalism, and retreat. White documents how European arrogance in reaction to the Little Ice Age, which peaked in the 1500s, contributed to their many failed settlement attempts.

Following the Greeks and Romans, the European science of that time postulated that all geographic regions at every latitude would have the same weather. The weather in New York would be the same as in Madrid, in Quebec as in Paris, in the north of Canada as in London. In every case, of course, the weather was and is much colder and subject to more extremes in the North American locale than in the European city at the same latitude. Despite the evidence before their eyes, however, European settlers and adventurers assumed and prepared for the milder European clime. Promoters of North American settlements who had experienced the harsh North American winters of the Little Ice Age first hand nevertheless painted a rosy picture of mild climes and long growing seasons for the folks back home. Royal governments, which commissioned and financed the settlements, tended to believe this nonsense.

Europeans also ignorantly assumed that the same crops and domesticated animals they cultivated in Europe would transfer readily to the New World, and that they could grow the crops at the same time of year. Thus attempts by the Spanish to grow winter wheat and barley and raise goats and sheep in Florida ended in complete failure. Bad harvest after bad harvest led to cannibalism during the “starving time” that the English colony at Jamestown endured later in the century. Like the Spanish, the English ignored the empirical truth of the weather they encountered — and the recommendations of Native Americans — instead arrogantly persisting in ideas disproved time and again.

Europeans finally learned the way humans have always learned: through observation of empirical phenomena and the accumulation of evidence. With an assist from the warming climate, Europeans applied the knowledge gained from observation and learned how to survive and thrive in North America, building permanent encampments from the beginning of the 17th century onward.

We are just at the beginning of studying how groups of humans have responded to climate change through recorded history. The examples of the Roman Empire and the European early experience in North America came during the only periods of sudden weather change in the 2100 years before the 20th century, and suggest that organized intervention under the aegis of government has often helped human populations adjust to the effects of climate change, while ignoring climate change leads to disaster. Other examples — the actions of the Egyptian government to combat the famine described in Genesis, the British and French governments’ differing responses to the Black Plague, and the lack of response of the Ming dynasty to the famine of the 1660s — all strengthen the premise that government intervention works a lot better than doing nothing. Keep in mind that until about 1800, human activity was not a major factor in causing temperatures to turn warmer or colder, and that it took another century to develop the tools to measure its impact.

Analyses of the Roman climate show government action to address climate change works

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website, so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

There are two conceptual differences between the left and the right when it comes to the environment and environmental policy. The first difference is fundamental: The left believes it is appropriate for the government to coordinate or dictate action to respond to environmental degradation and climate change, whereas the right questions the effectiveness of any governmental solution that impedes the freedom of individuals or corporations. The second difference is tactical: Once a nation or a group of nations has decided that government intervention is necessary, leftists prefer simple regulation, whereas right-wingers insist on complicated, market-based solutions like carbon trading. Readers may immediately think that I’m leaving out the fundamental issue of whether global warming is actually occurring and, if so, whether humans have caused it. In fact, that question has been decided by science.

Recent research gives us a fresh perspective on the impact of climate change on past societies, and the ways that past governments reacted to sudden modifications of weather patterns. Historians are poring over statistics from carbon dating, tree rings, ice bores, human records of harvests, food prices and plagues, population estimates and fossils to understand how weather has affected humans in the past. Although the discipline of history has only recently begun investigating the impact of climate on past civilizations, a fair amount of research already suggests that government intervention works better than denying the realities of weather.

Before the industrial revolution and the development of vaccines and advanced agricultural techniques and sanitation systems, sudden environmental change typically led to famines and epidemics. A decade of droughts or cold summers could ruin enough harvests to create widespread hunger. As classicist Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma) details in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, a change in temperature could also force a carrier of disease such as rodents or mosquitos to move to a new region and infect human populations already weakened by famine.

Harper finds that weather change is implicated in the entire history of the Empire. From circa 200 [BCE] to 150 [CE], the Roman world had such good weather that climatologists call the period the “Roman Climate Optimum—warm, wet, and stable across much of the territory the Romans conquered. In an agricultural economy, these conditions were a major boost. The population swelled yet there was still enough food to feed everyone. But from the middle of the 2nd century, the climate became less reliable. The all-important annual Nile flood became erratic. Droughts and severe cold spells became more common. The Climate Optimum became much less optimal.

According to The Fate of Rome, the unrest throughout the Empire in the second half of the 2nd century is tied to cooling weather at the end of the Climate Optimum and the epidemic, probably of smallpox, that it helped to cause. Two hundred years later, a large and significant drought in the Asian steppes turned the Huns into “armed climate refugees on horseback.” In the 530s and 540s, a series of violent volcanoes, highlighted by the “year without summer” in 536, ushered in the Late Antique Little Ice Age, which saw the greatest decline in the energy the Earth receives from the sun over the past 2,000 years. This Late Antique Ice Age likely led to the first known outbreak of bubonic plague in 541. Over the next century or so, the Eastern Roman Empire’s population fell by as much as 50 percent, as the plague recurred about every ten years.

How did the Roman Empire react to these weather crises? Harper documents that the Roman governments took aggressive action to ameliorate the damaging impact of climate change on the economy and society. Because the emperors and their advisors perceived the menace of climate change as epidemics, their actions primarily related to population management: From Augustus onward, the Roman state penalized childlessness and rewarded fecundity in its policies. About 30 years after the Antonine plague of 165 to 180 CE, Caracalla took the unprecedented step of granting citizenship to all non-slave residents of the Empire, leading to an infusion of talent, growth of the imperial bureaucracy, and the dissemination of Roman laws and customs throughout imperial territory. Diocletian and Constantine’s answer to the Cyprian Plague in the 250s—which devastated the population and led to severe food shortages—was more government control of the economy and the military, producing the economic good times of the 4th century

Justinian, however, ruling from 527 to 565, could not add new peoples into the imperial system in his response to the disasters of the Late Antique Little Ice Age because there was no additional population left to integrate. Instead, writes Harper, Justinian built cisterns, aqueducts, granaries, and transport depots, reclaimed floodplains, and moved riverbeds, trying to “control the flux of nature.” But in the end, the Eastern Empire could not do enough to overcome the depopulation caused by a severe cooling of the Earth that lasted about two hundred years.

Before assuming women disgusted with GOP over handling of Kavanaugh sex allegations will vote blue in November, remember: a majority of white women voted Trump in 2016

Given the way the Republican Senators and Donald Trump are treating the accusations of serious sexual misconduct by three women against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, can there be any American woman in her right mind voting for a Republican this November?

Before you answer that question, consider that a majority of white women voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election after 19 accusations of harassment or assault, plus countless tweets that denigrated women for their looks or sex.

Does that mean racism trumps sexism in the United States? Or that a large number of women buy into the idea of male privilege, the “boys will be boys” morality that forgives men but not women their transgressions—youthful or mature? Or perhaps many are so beaten down by their significant others that, like victims of the Stockholm syndrome, they have taken on the belief system of their oppressors.

The contrast between the claims of Anita Hill and the three—so far—women who have accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct sheds a light on just how serious the charges are against Trump’s choice to fill the open position on the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas was accused of making suggestive and degrading remarks to Anita Hill and several other female employees (who were not called to testify). Illegal because it constituted workplace harassment, but far less serious than what Kavanaugh’s accusers are saying: Attempted rape. Exposing oneself and thrusting one’s penis towards the victim’s face. Getting a girl drunk and participating in a gangbang of her.

We could theoretically explain away Thomas’ actions in certain circumstances—if it happened only during a short period of time when he was under pressure, if it were his first job and he were under 25 years of age, if it happened in high school or college, if he had issued a sincere apology that showed he had evolved.

But under no circumstances can we explain away, forgive or rationalize what Kavanaugh probably did. It is never right to force yourself on a woman or to whip it out in front of a woman without her permission. And multiple men having sex with a woman incapacitated by alcohol, drugs or mental illness—there are so many levels of immorality and sociopathy about that scenario that is hard to contain my anger and sense of shame thinking about it.

What unifies the probable actions of Thomas and Kavanaugh with those of Weinstein, Trump, Moonves, Cosby, Franken, et. al., is that it is never about sex. In Franken’s case, I’m convinced it was the sheer stupidity of a professional clown who thinks everything is funny. I still think Franken was right to resign because the fact he went over the line from horseplay to harassment several times in inexcusable, especially in a workplace setting. I’m still shocked that running in left-wing circles, Franken never encountered a woman who told him his cracks and horseplay were inappropriate, as happened to me when I told a few risqué puns in the very first college class I taught at the age of 22.

In every other case, it was an unalloyed power play. The men and teenaged boy wanted to exercise power over women or show how powerful they were by making a woman do something she didn’t really want to do. In many cases, as with a gangbang—or perhaps gang rape is more accurate—the men must have wanted to humiliate the women the way a powerful warrior often likes to humiliate his opponent. What could be more humiliating than having an unwanted penis thrust in your face or waking from an alcoholic stupor to find you have been violated by several men?

What still confuses me, even after being schooled by my life partner, daughter-in-law and others, is why these men feel the need to assert their power over women? By definition, all these men are powerful to begin with. You don’t see front-page headlines in the major media for days on end about John Schmuck in accounting.

Yet power is an aphrodisiac that many women find irresistible. None of these men should have had any problem attracting women of all ages, shapes and sizes for whatever sexual antics they had in mind (except the gang rape). Those with a large appetite for new conquests should have had little difficulty satisfying their needs. I was a single guy for many years, so the insistence of these men on harassing or assaulting women was at first truly befuddling to me. I never used those exact words, but I followed “no means no” and “yes means yes” practices with women all my life. If a woman didn’t want to go out with me or give me her phone number, I moved on. Yet I rarely lacked for consensual female companionship. My experience and that of my friends has always been that women like sex as much as men do, but only with men who attract them and respect them as equals.

When I gave my own experience to express my confusion over the actions of a Cosby or a Weinstein to the several women with whom I feel comfortable having such a conversation, they all said the same thing. “It’s not about the sex, it’s about the power.”

But these men already have power. Think about how truly depraved that makes them, whatever the underlying cause. Men so insecure about their self-worth even with the enormous power they possess. Men so drunk with power they must always exercise it. Men who feel sexually inadequate for any of the usual reasons—size or stamina. Men so drunk that they lose control over the inhibitions that prevent social chaos. Men brainwashed into believing they really do have special rights over women. Men so narcissistically self-centered that they don’t care what the other person wants. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in their mind’s deep recesses. They are all sick fucks whose sickness nonetheless doesn’t excuse their actions. They all deserve to lose their power and position.

And the elected officials who condone, forgive or justify their actions don’t deserve our vote. They are fellow travelers to an unofficial subversive party that seeks to undermine and oppress women. As it turns out, these fellow travelers are all Republicans, and an overwhelming number of them want to limit severely or end a woman’s right to have an abortion and many would also limit women’s access to birth control.

That should make the choice this November particularly easy for women, especially in those states electing U.S. Senators. The pink wave of women should lead to a blue wave that takes both the House and the Senate. We have reason to be hopeful until we remember that the pink wave among white women broke Trump’s way two years ago.

In trying to market to minorities, DirecTV inadvertently makes a racial slur against them

For a long time now, DirecTV, a television broadcast satellite service provider, has been making television commercials that insult their viewers by making them seem a little looney. A few years back, one spot featured a man overjoyed that he was receiving a DirecTV package worth about $350 a year as his inheritance instead of getting the business, house and bank accounts. At the time I wondered why DirecTV thought that its potential customers would want to see themselves depicted as fools.

The Summer 2018 edition of “our customers are crazy” TV spots touting DirecTV adds a disturbing element: a subtle undertone of racism that smears both African-Americans and Latinos, presenting them as bad parents who rush through the responsibilities of child-rearing to have more time to watch football games.

First a brief description of each spot, and then a discussion of why they are racist.

In the first spot that came out, earlier in the summer, an African-American father stands at the door of his young son’s room, leaned against the doorjamb, and starts spitting out homilies of advice such as “A firm handshake goes a long way” and “Nobody like a snitch.” The boy, who appears to be around eight or nine, looks more and more befuddled as his father continues. “Whatever the contractor tells you, add six months” “Never get the extended warranty.” Finally, just before fleeing the scene, the father says “Birds? Bees? You get it. Cool.” He doesn’t see the totally confused expression on the boy’s face, nor hear his short, almost apologetic “Huh,” because he’s already out the door.

Where to? The TV room, where we see the entire family watching television underneath the screen-filling caption, “MAKE ROOM FOR SUNDAY.” Meanwhile, the voice-over announcer makes the pitch: “Get every live game every Sunday for no charge when you switch to DirecTV.”

The other commercial started to air a few weeks later, at least in the New York area. It takes the same form, except the lead-up to the family watching football on TV and the sales pitch is a scene of two Latino girls—maybe 11 and 9 years old—selling lemonade outside their middle class home with a big yard. A customer asks for a glass and the mother suddenly appears with an enormous plastic cup into which she slowly pours two complete pitchers of lemonade. The customer and kids look startled, but the mother insists on pouring every drop out of both pitchers. Then she starts to gather the cashbox and other paraphernalia on the table and says, “Time to pack up.” Again, we cut to the family watching football on TV and the big headline “MAKE ROOM FOR SUNDAY.”

In both these spots, parents rush through their responsibilities to their children so that they—and the kids—have more time to watch football on TV.

Bad parents, or at least a humorous caricature of bad parenting, to be sure. But what makes these spots racist?

There is no third commercial featuring a white (or an Asian or Jewish) family. Every person in the series of spots is a minority. The only bad parents we see are minority parents. The only parents who mistakenly think quality time is watching television sports with your child are minority parents.

These spots play endlessly on cable television especially during Yankee games and other sporting events. You would think a TV ad campaign lasting as long as this one would have at least three spots, which when I had an ad agency was pretty standard for an ad series. Perhaps DirecTV and its ad agency wanted to market the dish TV service specifically to minorities who love football, using their long-term advertising brand of caricaturing the foibles of their customers. Maybe they figured since they were targeting only two minority groups that they only needed two spots. Maybe they thought they could save money that way. Maybe.

The insensitivity of DirecTV and its ad agency penetrates down to the details. Most 21st century advertisers are aware of the large number of single-parent families and so try to represent them in TV campaigns consisting of multiple spots. That explains why there is no father watching football on TV in the ad about the Latino family. But hold on a minute! Don’t they know that Latinos have the lowest rate of divorce in the United States? Maybe DirecTV thinks the father was swept up in a Trump immigration raid.

I’m not accusing DirecTV of overt racism, just of insensitivity and stupidity that led to racist undertones permeating the two spots. Clearly the company wants to expand its market among Latin and African-American populations, which is why they featured them. But not to have at least one ad in which a white mother or father models bad behavior in a comic way creates a subliminal false impression that minorities are bad parents, especially among the pro-Trump, white supremacist crowd.

Before taking convention vote from super delegates, did the Dems consider that’s what the GOP did and it helped Trump win the nomination?

Before Democrats start patting themselves on the back for curtailing the power of super delegates at the national convention to nominate a presidential candidate, consider this: If the Republicans had super delegates in 2016, Donald Trump might never have been nominated.

Super delegates are typically high-ranking party machers who until now have been able to vote for any candidate they want at the convention, which differs from most delegates, who are obliged to vote according to the results of the primary or state convention. Just 15% of total delegates, the super delegates usually include people who have worked for the party for decades, winning elections, campaigning for other candidates and raising money for the party and other candidates. Specifically, a super delegate has to be a member of the Democratic National Committee, a current governor, senator, congressional representative or a current or former president or vice president. In a real sense, they represent the continuing party establishment and the institutional memory of the party.

Super delegates became a hot issue in the 2016 primaries, with supporters of Bernie Sanders claiming they gave Hillary Clinton an unfair advantage. The facts on the ground say differently. Hillary won a majority of both voters and delegates selected in the primaries. Bernie did garner a number of super delegates. While awareness that most super delegates wanted Hillary certainly caused other elected officials to endorse her, the idea that super delegate support of Hillary translated to more primary votes is a big stretch. Voters listened—or didn’t listen—to Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Warren not because they were super delegates, but because of their past actions and reputation.

Under the new rules, super delegates will be unable to vote for candidates during the first round of voting. Only if there is a deadlocked convention will they be able to cast a ballot. The last time that happened was in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson was nominated on the third ballot. The super delegates will likely never have a chance to cast a vote.

I would imagine that moving forward, some if not most governors, congressional reps and DNC members will wangle a way to be a regular delegate so that they can have a vote at the convention. The net effect will be that fewer of the obscure party workers at the local and statewide level will have votes. If a state has to reserve a delegate spot for a senator, there will be one less to give to a grass roots organizer. Thus, in a perversely counterintuitive way, the move to be more democratic may end up making the conventions less democratic.

The larger concern, however, is that the super delegates could serve as a bulwark against an inappropriate candidate with widespread name recognition winning a bunch of primaries in an open field with well less than 50% of the vote in any state. For the sake of argument, let’s call that candidate Donald Trump. In such a situation, the super delegates could serve as the conscience of the party and block the nominee, either at the convention or before the late primaries. Remember that, until the candidates started dropping like flies, Trump was winning early primaries with well less than 40% of the vote. He used his enormous name recognition based on his reality TV show and the false myth he was a successful business mogul to squeeze out wins over a large, fragmented field. Super delegate support of another candidate would have changed the math and perhaps stopped the autocratic and erratic Trumpty-Dumpty.

But the super delegate remedy for someone who is either a demagogue or does not represent the basic values of the party was not available to the Republicans in 2016. The Republicans ended the super delegate option some years ago. In the early months of the 2016 campaign, Republican super delegates would most likely have gone for Jeb Bush, and if not Jeb, for Marco Rubio or John Kasich. Let’s be clear: as president, these candidates would likely have supported lowering taxes on the wealthy, nominating ultra-right judges, loosening gun control laws, cutting social welfare programs including healthcare, increasing the military budget and reducing government regulations. But they would not have walked away from the Iran and Paris agreements, not have started a trade war with both our allies and most important trading partner, not have instituted senseless and sadistic immigration policies. They would not have overtly appealed to white supremacists. They would not have hurt and embarrassed the country by spewing out stupidities and lies day after day. I doubt we would be talking about impeachment for corruption or traitorous conspiracy with a foreign power less than two years into the administration of any other Republican candidate for president.

Super delegates strengthen a political party because they express the continuing will of the party. Not having super delegates fragments the party and puts greater power in the hands of the individuals running for office. It helps to turn parties, which are supposed to express collective agreement on broad principles, into collections of individuals who conveniently use the party label to run for office. The growth in the use of primaries over the past 50 years has democratized the process of selecting a presidential candidate, with the super delegates serving as a “check-and-balance” that can prevent a party takeover by a single individual. Essentially ending the role of super delegates is another step in the long-time trend for personalities to become more important than party and party platform, a game fixed in favor of the wealthy.

We won’t miss super delegates as long as the Bernie’s and Hillary’s are running for office. But imagine a rightwing celebrity or even a Democrat in name only like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin with unlimited resources running against six or seven credible progressive Democrats in the primaries. Let’s say Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown Kamal Harris, Ron Weyden and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez split the vote, giving Manchin all the winner take-all primaries and the biggest share of votes in the other primaries. As progressive slowly drop out, Manchin gains strength and gains the backing of the essentially centrist and right-leaning mainstream media. The Dems could end up nominating someone who does not want universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, a foreign policy based on creating partnerships not disputes, higher taxes on the wealthy and more spending on infrastructure and education or a regulatory regime that addresses global warming. All because the primary vote is fragmented and there are no super delegates to step in to assert the party’s values.

If it happened to the Republicans, it can happen to the Democrats, as well. In the name of a little more democracy at the convention, the Democrats may have perverted their broader democracy.

Look for a full term for Trump. He will never resign & the stability-loving political establishment won’t have the guts to either indict or convict him

In the 20th century, we would be entering the end game of Donald Trump’s ascendancy. His criminal conspiracy with Michael Cohen to ignore campaign financing laws would be enough to convince most voters that Trump is corrupt and has to go. Backroom negotiations between the two parties would determine whether Mike Pence would go, too, and if so, whether Trump would anoint—er ah, appoint—a traditional Republican like John Kasich or Mitt Romney as interim VP about to be president or have Nancy Pelosi or whoever is Speaker of the House take over as president. Political leaders would be relieved that they can change administrations without getting into the more destabilizing accusations regarding cooperation with the Russians to fix the 2016 election. Under extreme pressure from his closest supporters and the “wise men” (I would like to say “wise people” or “wise men and women,” but both would be inaccurate), of the Republican Party, Trump would announce his resignation.

Under normal—read: 20th century—circumstances, the resignation would occur in August because, as in 1974 when Nixon resigned in August, the Republican Party is facing a disaster in November, no matter what.  Why have the resignation affect another election cycle, when you can get all the bad stuff out of the way all at once.

But the standard model of representational democracy of the last century is not operative at the given time, for a several reasons:

  • Trump’s mental illness is of the type that will make him dig in and ignore the advice of Republican elders, believing he can depend on his loyal base to impose his untruths on reality.
  • Trump has helped too many people accomplish goals that go against the best interest of the country and its people, but do help either the ultra-wealthy or thin but well connected slices of the economy. The tax cut for the wealthy, increases in military spending, hardened immigration policies, dismantling of environmental regulations, backing out of the Paris Accord, Iran nuclear agreement and other international agreements, easing of regulations on for-profit schools, changing Justice Department policies that helped enforce the civil rights of minorities, encouraging white supremacy—all of these are bad policies, but most represent what the Republican Party stands for in the 21st century.
  • A large portion of the mass media and a large number of very well-financed independent internet voices may continue to support Trump, spewing out misleading accounts, lies and false accusations to protect him.
  • Never before has so much political discourse and policy been based on lies that go against basic proven science. Lies and disproven theories have always poisoned our political discourse, as can be quickly seen by reviewing speeches given by Southern politicians in the 19th century or by imperialists in the 1890-1920 period. From time to time, administrations have forged policies based on untruths, especially as related to the reasons to go to war or to cut taxes on the wealthy. But the quantity of lies told by this administration raises public mendacity beyond a thresh hold of decency and sustainability.

One thing that seems to remain from the pre-21st century political consensus is the idea that stability is more important than anything else. Our ruling elite has always solved constitutional crises by avoiding them—except in the case of the war in 1861-1865 between the United States and the 13 treasonous states that tried to leave the union and attack our country so that they could maintain and spread their slave regimes. Just think of what we have avoided since World War I: The ruling elite let an ailing Wilson remain president. Nixon didn’t contest the 1960 election. Nixon resigned rather than force an indictment. The ruling elite let a senile Reagan complete his term. Gore did not contest the 2000 election. We swept Bush II torture and lies about the Iraq War under the table rather than prosecute high administration officials. The demand for stability in the system made Republicans accept Trump instead of working to deny him the nomination at the convention or launching a third party bid. The quest for stability made the Electoral College voters decide not to follow their constitutional duty to prevent the election of someone representing, in the words of James Madison, “a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Avoidance of instability is the reason, I think, that so many constitutional scholars assert that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Nowhere in the constitution is there anything written that says that a president is above the law. The best the experts can hope to do is tease out the idea that because the constitution mentioned impeachment that implies the founding white fathers (again, an accurate, if tragic phrase) ruled out normal due process when a president is suspected of breaking the law.

If Mueller doesn’t indict, or if a rightwing court upholds the dubiously autocratic and certainly not originalist principle that a sitting president can’t face indictment, it leaves Congress to act to end this abomination of an administration. That other government officials have been both impeached and indicted undercuts this idea.

Three times the House of Representatives has considered impeachment. Nixon resigned before Congress could act on the notion. Twice, presidents were impeached, both times for political reasons more than any legal offense they committed. Don’t get me wrong—Andrew Johnson was a despicable racist who was dragging his feet on Reconstruction, but the reason he was impeached was inherently political: because he fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Clinton’s impeachment was most certainly political in nature, given seven years of investigation revealed no corruption and no law-breaking except fibbing about having an affair.

Assuming the Democrats win the House, it’s a safe bet that Trump will be impeached. But it will take 66 Senate votes to convict Trump, and the Democrats may not even win the Senate in November because of the rare oddity that they have so many candidates up for reelection. The central question may thus turn out to be how many Republicans will ignore the fact that Trump has delivered so much of their agenda and vote to convict? How much bad stuff about Trump’s active collusion with Russia and his ham-handed attempts to cover up his treason will it take for Republican Senators to find or relocate their basic decency?

My fear is that like always, the political elites will decide to resolve the issue in the way that maintains the greatest stability and illusion of continuity. Thus, if Trump refuses to resign—as he no doubt will do—the United States will likely have to live out a full four years of corruption, bad policies, increasing consolidation of power in the hands of the presidency and a severe weakening of both our economy and our standing in the world.

All for the illusion of stability.

Admiral McRaven’s Spartacus moment reminds us of the day the Obama Administration forgot about due process

In the latest episode of the battle between Donald Trump and the American security establishment, retired Admiral William H. McRaven, the officer in charge of the military operation that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, aggressively challenged Trumpty-Dumpty to take away his security clearance. But while we should applaud the Admiral for his guts to tell Trump off, we should also remember that McRaven was central to one of the most unfortunate moments of the Obama presidency: the killing, instead of capture, of Osama bin Laden.

In an open letter published in the Washington Post, Admiral McRaven condemned Donald Trump for revoking former Central Intelligence Director John Brennan’s security clearance. McRaven essentially threw the gauntlet down to Trump in a bold “double-dare-you” statement: “I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” he said.

McRaven was not the only public letter denouncing Trump’s latest outrage against both freedom of speech and our security agencies. A joint letter from six former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and a former director of national intelligence called Trump’s action “ill-considered and unprecedented.” They said it “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

More than one commentator has called it a “Spartacus,” moment, referencing the scene in the Howard Fast novel and the Stanley Kubrick film when a vast army of men stand up and claim to be Spartacus, the leader of the slave rebellion whom the Romans want to put to death. Contemplating McRaven’s history, however, made me think of another fiction, A Tale of Two Cities, because it was a “far, far better thing that” McRaven did this week than he has ever done before.

“Operation Neptune Spear,” the 2011 secret maneuver to storm the Pakistani mountain compound where the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was hiding, could have been McRaven’s and President Obama’s finest moment, a “teachable moment” moment as Obama used to say, in which the United States showed the world what “due process” and “the rule of law” were all about. We capture the monster and give him a fair trial. But instead, McRaven’s men killed bin Laden while technically usurping Pakistan’s sovereignty, which lost America the high ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. We didn’t show a better way, but the same way as Al Qaida: violence.

At the time, the news media superficially investigated the key question at hand: Was the primary objective to capture bin Laden or to kill him outright? In the days following the raid, then White House anti-terrorism advisor Brennan and CIA Director Leon Panetta both essentially said that the mission was open to capturing Osama alive if he proved not to be a threat. But, as Wikipedia tells it, an unnamed U.S. national security official told Reuters “’this was a kill operation’ making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan.” Another source reported that officials told the Navy SEALS who were being trained to carry out the mission, “We think we found Osama bin Laden, and your job is to kill him.”

Now I’m not condemning Admiral McRaven or his brave crew. They were just following orders. I blame the Obama Administration for not putting a greater emphasis on taking Osama alive, in stressing the importance of showing the world how a real democracy with a fair legal system operates. I understand that many at the time were concerned that a trial of Osama would result in unrest throughout the Muslim world. Maybe so and maybe no, no one knows for sure. But it certainly would have shown solidarity with the overwhelming number of Muslims throughout the world who are peaceful and anti-terrorist.

Seven years later, the news media seems to be accepting the death of Osama as an unalloyed good. In describing the distinguished career of Admiral McRaven, it seems as if virtually every broadcast reporter or commentator mentions that he “led the team that killed Osama bin Laden” with swelling pride. I must have heard at least eight or nine news anchors or pundits use those same exact words, “led the team that killed Osama bin Laden,” and all delivered them with the same confidence that all the viewers are in 100% agreement that killing Osama was an absolute positive, and not a missed opportunity. It’s true that in all cases the mainstream media wanted to build McRaven’s credentials to enhance the credibility of his words and to set the stage for this latest episode in the continuing reality series, “Donald Trump against the truth.” But beyond the effort to present the admirable admiral in a good light I believe stands an open-armed acceptance by both the mass media and most political and civic leaders that we had the right and the need to wreak vengeance on an evil menace. Once again, we have put the barbaric desire to quench our bloodthirstiness above the assertion of the rule of law.

So while my hat is sincerely off to McRaven, I want to remind everyone that his true heroism has come this week in opposing the lunatic autocrat, and not seven years ago in ending the life of the angry terrorist.

U.S. spends 40% of world’s total military budget & it’s controlled by an inconsistent & bellicose ignoramus who favors disruption over working together & shows no regard for victims

I saw a terrifying graphic on the last page of the most recent Fortune magazine: a chart of military spending worldwide since 1950 in constant dollars, based on numbers from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Surprise, surprise, surprise, military spending is at record levels worldwide when adjusted for inflation, an incredible $1.74 trillion in 2017.

The numbers are shocking. The governments of the world spend more than three times on weapons and soldiers than they did during the Korean War and about 25% more than at the height of the Cold War in the 1980s. As a species we are armed to the teeth.

Not surprisingly, like every year since 1950, the United States spends far and away the most on its military, about $610 billion in 2017, 40% of the world’s total and more than 2.5 times spent by the nation in second place, China, which laid out $228 billion for defense. And 2017 is not the peak, as the U.S. Defense Department budget for 2018 is $716 billion, an increase of about 17% in one year. This enormous expansion of spending on soldiers and weapons includes billions of dollars to develop two horrifying new weapons which should be outlawed across the globe: a new generation of nuclear bombs and robotic weapons systems that will operate without human command.

Our budgets for education, mass transit and other infrastructure improvements, healthcare and scientific research certainly did not increase by 17%. In fact Republicans and the Trump Administration want to make massive cuts to the domestic budget. While we brandish our drones and bombs on virtually every continent, our mass transit systems shrivel, our sewers and bridges corrode, our roads form so many potholes they resemble obstacle courses, our children are packed like sardines into classes, we continue to lose our edge in pure science and we have among the highest mortality rates in the industrialized world. If the trends of the past 35 years continue, pretty soon we’ll have an impenetrable defense protecting a ticky-tacky pile of garbage.

The amount we spend on arms becomes even more ridiculous when we convert it to per capita spending. Using the SIPRI numbers and population estimates pulled from various sources, I calculated that in 2017, the United States spent about $1,871 per person on our armed forces, set to increase to $2,198 in 2018. By contrast, the number two total spender on arms is China, which spent about $174 per person on its military last year, significantly below the $229 spent worldwide per person. It seems as if the Chinese are able to keep its population—four times as great as ours—safe for a fraction of what it costs us. Of course, Chinese weapons manufacturing is a cottage industry compared to the enormous and politically connected industrial behemoths in the United States.

When the military expenditures of the top 10 spenders worldwide are converted into per capita amounts, the United States stands alone with the autocratic, anti-Semitic, terrorist-supporting regime of Saudi Arabia, which spends $2,090 per person on its military. The other eight countries on the Top 10 list spend well under $1,000 a year per person on defense, ranging from $64 per capita in India to $865 per capita in France. Some countries that aren’t in the top 10 of spenders: Iran-$178 per capita; Turkey-$225 per capita; Israel-$1,951 per capita on military spending!!

(By the way, the SIPRI website is a great place to find scary numbers about the global arms industry. Besides providing the annual military spending of all countries since 1949, SIPRI has customizable databases of all international transfers of major conventional arms since 1950; the 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies; and all peace (read: armed intervention) operations conducted since 2000, including location, dates of deployment and operation, mandate, participating countries, number of personnel, costs and fatalities.

Even more frightening than the simple fact that the world is awash in guns and soldiers is that 40% of it is controlled by Donald Trump, an inconsistent, insecure and bellicose ignoramus who seems to favor disruption over working together and shows little regard for victims (and in fact may enjoy creating new victims).

Wait, wait, my esteemed readers may ask. We’re a democracy with one set of checks and balances in Congress and the courts, and another in a strong and talented cadre of career military, state, security and diplomatic personnel who transcend administrations. But these checks and balances only work when used. Congress has proven itself unwilling to put limits on the military actions of any president since Lyndon Baines Johnson. And when military misdeeds such as the Iran-Contra deal or the Bush II torture gulag are uncovered, Congress has decided against punishing the president and other decision-makers who committed the crimes. President Obama’s approach to torture exemplifies the American way: let’s sweep the past under a rug and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Meanwhile, career military and diplomatic personnel wring their hands in anguish as Trump makes outrageous statements and policy decisions regarding Russia, North Korea, NATO and Iran.

Which brings us to the latest military spending bill, to which Trumpty Dumpty affixed his signature this week. While broadcast and cable news and the front pages of major newspapers have focused on Trump calling an ex-employee a “dog” and pulling the security clearance of the former Central Intelligence Agency Director who took down Osama bin Laden, buried deep in a handful of newspapers is the news that in signing the military spending bill, Trump claimed in a signing statement that he has the authority to overrule dozens of provisions that he believes constrains his executive power. What that means is that he and his cronies believe that they do not have to follow the law as written.

According to the New York Times, Trump’s signing statements claim he can :

  • Ignore a ban on recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea.
  • Bypass restrictions on bilateral military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Russia.
  • Ignore a provision requiring the Pentagon to develop uniform standards for counting and reducing civilian bystander deaths as a result of American military operations.
  • Disregard a restriction against reducing the number of active-duty troops stationed in South Korea below 22,000.


Judging from how Congress has responded in the past when presidents have ignored the law in prosecuting foreign wars, what the $716 billion represents is a pool of money that Trump can essentially use in any way he sees fit, as long as the military contractors get their piece of the pie.

Donald Trump’s history of developing and running hotels and casinos demonstrates that when you give this guy a few billion bucks, he screws it all up, losing money for investors and wreaking havoc for suppliers. Now he has $716 billion dedicated to warfare…excuse me…defense…so the mess he creates is bound to be bigger and more painful for its victims. Let’s hope it doesn’t result in a “Big Bang,” this one not creating a new universe but ending human life on our small planet.

Unfortunately, voting for Democrats across the board may not help change our foreign policy. This year’s mid-term is coalescing around a handful of very important issues—healthcare, economic equity, immigration, racism, and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Democratic position on all these issues is far better than the Republicans for everyone in the United States except for the ultra-wealthy. The Republic Party has allowed itself to be hollowed out and taken over by what pundits like to call the “Trump base” So by all means pull the lever for any and every Democrat in November.

But as usual, not much is being said about defense spending or foreign policy, and for good reason. From Harry Truman through Obama, both parties have pretty much agreed on the broad outline of defense strategy and foreign policy. Even those who have called for a reduction or eradication of nuclear weapons like Obama have approved budgets that contained increased spending for these weapons of mass destruction. Thus, if the Democrats sweep and then manage to impeach and convict the current president and vice president, the United States may return to being a more consistent alley, but we will still be a bellicose, overly militarized nation. We will still continue to rely on force to get our way far too often, even as we negotiate and enter into peace and trade agreements.

With school districts all over the country putting armed guards into schools, it’s only a matter of time before a school guard shoots down an African-American parent

Try going to Google News and entering “armed guards in schools” and you will gain access to hundreds of articles about school districts nationwide taking additional security measures for the upcoming academic year. Most often mentioned is the posting of armed guards—usually one per school, but bringing guns into schools is not the only step school districts are taking to attempt to prevent a mass murder at their facilities. Across the country, local and national news media are reporting an increase in locked doors, buzz-in systems for visitors, hand-held metal detectors, active shooter lockdown drills and staff training. Districts are mandating the use of clear backpacks, increasing student mental health services and doing random searches.

Except for expanding mental health services and placing armed guards in schools, all of these changes involve restricting the freedom of individuals. Students and visitors will have to go through security. Others will be forced to buy new backpacks or have to undergo random searches of their lockers and backpacks. It’s indeed ironic how easily American legislators are to restrict individual freedoms, except the freedom to own guns. By contrast, our leaders fear any and all restrictions on corporations, even those that protect the health and safety of individuals.

My first emotion in perusing article after article about new security measures mixes amusement with anger. I’m amused in an ironic way that school boards can so quickly find money to increase security after years of claiming poverty, but angry that the same money—and more—has not been made available for decades to improve education. The frown gets the best of the chuckle when I consider that some if not most education systems may be paying for the new guards by cutting teachers or postponing purchases of new computers or textbooks. For decades, state and federal governments have been shaving public school budgets or letting money be reallocated to the failed educational experiment called “charter schools.” We have slowly tried to starve public education, so it’s particularly unfortunate that we feel obliged to spend money on addressing a safety problem in the schools that is of our own making.

Keep in mind that it’s possible that the districts spending the most on added security are the wealthy ones that can afford it, those that haven’t seen enrichment programs and small class sizes go by the wayside in the wake of shrinking budgets. That wealthy kids enjoy both better education and better protection merely reinforces the inequity of income, wealth and opportunity that is destroying the American dream and the dreams of most Americans.

The big question is will the added security measures work? The answer will depend on how we define success. If we look just at school shootings, it’s anyone’s guess, because the various factors interact in complex ways. Which of these measures really help and which only make us feel good? How effective will the authorities be in addressing the sickos whom enhanced mental health counseling identifies? Will the primarily white Christian terrorists who commit these acts figure out ways to get around the new security measures? Can a security guard deal effectively with a crazed killer brandishing one or more AR-15s who has no fear of his own death?

The only prediction I will offer is that the sooner or later an African-American father trying to visit a guidance counselor at a primarily white school will be shot down by a security guard.

If we, however, don’t limit ourselves to schools, but ask a broader question, Will new security measures lead to an overall reduction in gun violence?, the answer is clear. No way. Because so many schools are bringing guns onto campus, the number of guns in circulation in the country will increase. An increase in the number of guns will lead to an increase in gun violence and gun deaths. Every shred of research done on the topic in the United States and across the world has always come to the same conclusion: The more guns in a society, the greater the gun violence, the fewer guns, the less gun violence. The unintended consequence of placing more armed guards at any public location has to by definition be an increase in gun violence, even if that increase doesn’t come where the guards are posted.

Thus, arming school personnel will contribute to a reduction of gun violence and deaths if and only if we take measures to reduce the number of guns elsewhere in society. I’m fairly certain that a comprehensive package of federal gun control laws would do more to make our children safe in schools—and elsewhere—than the best efforts of all the school boards across the country to “harden” the campus with guards, buzzers, drills and searches.

I’m the left-wing nut who wants to outlaw all private ownership of firearms and make hunters and recreational target shooters rent or store their guns at hunting lodges, gun clubs and shooting ranges. But even my radical eyes can see that there are a number of actions we can take that allow individuals the privilege of owning firearms yet keep people safe, including:

  • Ban private ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons and require those who currently own such weapons to sell them to the government or face still jail time.
  • Improve the gun national registry and increase participation by the states.
  • Increase to seven days the waiting period to purchase guns and extend the waiting requirement to all gun purchases, even those at gun shows and on the internet.
  • Require all individuals to pass a rigorous written and operational test before being allowed to buy or own a gun, similar to a driver’s test, and retest every 5-10 years.
  • Require all gun owners to carry firearms insurance.
  • Ban open and closed carry at all schools, universities, downtowns, malls, theatres and other public places.
  • End all “stand your ground” laws.

I have expressed the radical form of virtually all these ideas to limit and control guns in United States. More moderate versions in all cases are approved by large majorities of Americans, including majorities of gun owner. Both surveys and my extensive anecdotal evidence find that virtually all gun owners would have no problem with longer waiting times. Most don’t see any reason for anyone to own an AR-15. Most would be happy to keep guns away from known bad actors, those with ties to terrorist organizations, domestic abusers and the mentally ill.

The only impediment in the way of reducing gun violence are our elected officials who are too frightened to oppose the National Rifle Association (NRA) or depend on NRA largess for their election. Pundits assume that Russia funneled tens of millions of dollars to the NRA to help elect the Republican candidate for president in 2016. But think about it. By fostering greater ownership of firearms and therefore greater gun violence, the NRA weakens the United States, with or without the excesses of Donald Trump.