Biden controversy has clarified touching rules between people who are not related or involved. But should Joe get a free pass?

Many people are giving Joe Biden a free pass for his past touchiness because his intentions were never sexual. That’s absurd. He invaded the personal space of a lot of women and it made them feel very uncomfortable. Plus, even in the benighted days of Joe Biden’s youth, when grabbing someone’s shoulders from behind and rubbing them was perceived as a sign of encouragement, it was never okay for a man to kiss a woman’s hair unless she was a close relative or a paramour.

And just like Al Franken, he should have known better. In all of his years of hanging around well-educated, liberated, articulate and outspoken women, you’d think Joe Biden would have encountered at least one person who told him his touchiness creeped out a lot of people, and that the younger the person, the more likely she would find his little lip musses to the hair repulsive. Let’s remember that the #Metoo movement is now two years old. A politician more attune to the times than Citizen Joe would not have waited until an accusation to change his hugging ways.

The Joe Biden controversy has gone a long way to clarifying what the rules should be regarding public interactions between people who are not related or involved. Touching and hugging should never be allowed unless preapproved by both parties, but we’ll forgive everyone older than 75 for all past public non-sexual touching without prior permission. I’m happy to give Joe Biden a free pass for past actions because his intentions were always noble, which essentially means that I’m happy to welcome Al Franken back into the fold, too.

But then there’s the little matter of the Anita Hill hearings. I saw about 80% of the hearings live and at the time was disgusted by Joe Biden’s behavior towards Hill. He treated her with a great deal of disrespect and suspicion, which made no sense since Clarence Thomas represented judicial values far to the right of the centrist Democratic Party of the early 1990’s. You would think Biden would have wanted to sink the confirmation, not run interference for a pervert. But Biden took it upon himself to serve as prosecutor trying a case of false accusation and perjury.

Biden, like Bernie, is of the generation directly before the Baby Boomers—a generation that used to be called the “Silent Generation”—and thus out of step in many ways, not just with Gen Xers and Millennials, but with Boomers, too. His touchiness symbolizes the generation gap that leaves people on either side of the age divide with different attitudes about race, women, LGBTQ, mass media and music. The Biden controversy has demonstrated how inappropriate it is for Citizen Joe and Bernie Sanders to run for president because they are out of touch to some degree with what will attract young people to the Democratic Party in a way that Baby Boomers Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee and Kamala Harris are not. Biden was already in his thirties when feminism became a political and cultural force, whereas Warren and Kamala Harris (the oldest and youngest Boomers running) were among the first women to take advantage of the doors feminism opened. Inslee is young enough to have had to confront women’s issues from the very beginning of his career.  

The Democrats have a number of qualified candidates from which to choose this election cycle and the differences between them are narrow compared to the vast gap between their views and the Trumpublicans. There is no rational reason for Biden to siphon off resources from younger, more dynamic, and frankly more qualified candidates.

On the other hand, if Biden runs and wins the nomination, we should be ready to support him with enthusiasm. No matter who heads the Democratic ticket, we must send her-him money, talk her-him up to our acquaintances and vote for her-him on Election Day.

If instead of waging wars, we spent money on education, alternative fuels & infrastructure, we would create millions more jobs

The first week after the announcement of the arrests of dozens of selfish and unethical rich folk who committed fraud to get their kids into college, the New York Times must have had 25 articles analyzing various aspects of this disgraceful scandal. All of these articles repeated a limited number of basic facts, with each article providing a different frame—the kids, the parents, the corrupt coaches, the investigation. After a while, it was just so much blah, blah, blah…

I wonder whether that’s why there has been no room in the Times to cover “War Spending and Lost Opportunities,” a truly startling piece of research by Heidi Garrett-Peltier, a research fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Garrett-Peltier studies the impact of war-related spending compared to other ways the federal government could spend the money. The paper demonstrates that if instead of going to war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the federal government had spent the money on other government programs, the economy would have created approximately 1.4 million more jobs since 2001.   

In 2017, her first paper on the subject, published by the Watson Institute of International Affairs at Brown University, Dr. Garrett-Peltier took a look at how many jobs various government activities produce, including waging war, investing in education, support of wind and solar energy, maintaining our infrastructure of mass transit, sewers systems, highways and bridges and healthcare. Her analysis consisted of three parts:

  1. Distinguishing between wartime spending and the base Pentagon budget.
  2. Comparing the number of jobs created by waging war to the numbers created by other federal spending.
  3. Creating a reasonable mix of other ways to spend and comparing the number of potential jobs created with the number of jobs actually created by our war economy.

As it turns out, virtually every other kind of federal expenditure creates more jobs than bombing and invasion. Check out some of these numbers: Healthcare sending creates 107.2% more jobs, which means that if war money created 100 jobs, the same amount spent on healthcare would have created more than 207 jobs. Elementary and secondary school education spending creates 178.3% more jobs, infrastructure spending creates 42% more jobs, retrofitting existing manufacturing and energy systems creates 53.6% more jobs.

While other researchers could disagree about how much alternative spending should go to education versus renewable resources, whatever mix you pick will create significantly more jobs than spending it on war.

Her initial study was ignored by the mainstream media at the time, and the same fate has met her 2019 update so far. Her latest numbers estimate warfare spending from FY 2001 through FY2019 (FY = fiscal year) and fine tune some details of her analysis.

Perhaps the most shocking number Dr. Garrett-Peltier provides is the average annual amount we have spent on war-related activities over the past 19 years. The number is in addition to the base Pentagon budget, which already puts us way ahead of what any two other nations combined spend on the military. Get ready for this number. Sit down. Relax. Maybe ready a glass or pipe of your favorite anti-anxiety home remedy. Or an Ativan or two.

Here goes…

On average, every year since 2001, the United States has spent $290 billion fighting wars. Again that’s not the total, but the annual average. Using Dr. Garrett-Peletier’s model, it works out 1.8 million defense-related jobs, instead of 3.7 million jobs that spending that money on a realistic mix of education, infrastructure, retrofitting, healthcare and renewable energy would have created.

And what did we get? Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and our bloody little adventures throughout Africa.  

Dr. Garrett-Peltier doesn’t measure the toll our wars have taken on American soldiers, their families and the soldiers and civilians of our adversaries. She hasn’t measured the monetary value of the wrecked cities, roads and bridges. She hasn’t taken into account the millions of refugees created by our wars. On a more Kissingerian “Realpolitik” note, Dr. Garrett-Peltier’s research doesn’t measure the loss of status we have suffered throughout Western Europe and the Muslim world for our stupid, goalless bullying wars. She doesn’t compute the value of the loss in global leadership to China and other countries in the areas of alternative fuels and infrastructure development. Or the value of the loss of status as a leader in the future by spending trillions of dollars on bombing and shooting instead of investing in meeting the Paris Accords on climate change.

None of these wars made the United States any safer. None of them advanced our expressed interests. None of these wars created greater democracy, freedom of speech, equality for women or economic growth. All they did was to kill people, destroy economies and enlarge the bank accounts of military contractors and weapons manufacturers.

It’s time to bring home all our troops, reign in development of new weapons of mass and pinpoint destruction, and start investing our tax dollars in life, not death.

Feel-good story of homeless 8-year-old chess champ should make us feel ashamed that other homeless children won’t get the opportunities now open to him

A homeless eight-year-old refugee from Nigeria wins the New York State Chess Championship in the K-3 division. Within weeks, the publicity that Tanitoluwa Adewumi receives, primarily through the New York Time’s Nicholas Kristof, leads to the boy getting a home, a six-figure bank account, scholarship offers from three private schools and an invitation to meet with former President Bill Clinton.

What a wonderful story of deserving talent being rewarded! How heart-warming to see this very smart young man get some breaks in what has been until now a perilous life! Only in America, land of opportunity. All you need is hard work and perseverance.

At least that’s all you need if you’re Tani, as he is mostly called. But for most other homeless children, eight years of age is not when things start getting easier. Tani left behind thousands of school-aged children without homes, many of whom have one or both parents who work but don’t make enough money to afford permanent lodging.

Right-wingers can point to Tani and say that those with extraordinary talent have the best chance to do something with it in the United States. These knee-jerk flag-saluters and liars ignore statistics showing there is less economic and social mobility in the United States today than in virtually every other western country, and far less than we had 40, 50, 60 and 70 years ago. More to the point, virtually every society in all ages has found ways to identify and reward the very talented. From ancient China’s system of examinations to the rise of meritocracy-based civil service bureaucracies in European nation states to academic scholarships in the 20th and 21st centuries, ruling elites have never had a problem locating the geniuses and the great athletes, and then helping them get to a point that they can contribute to society.

But what about everyone else?

While Tani is to be praised and honored, we should also examine how lucky he has been. Lucky to be born with great mathematical talent and an inborn competitive edge, as both are needed to win at chess at any level.

Lucky to go to a school that had a chess program in a city and state that care about the game.  

Lucky not to be born in the first half of the 19th century, when he would arrive in the United States not as a homeless refuge required to attend school, but as a slave.

Lucky to excel at an endeavor in which an eight-year-old can have the success of an adult. In a few years, he’ll have competition from a lot of kids whose families can afford chess lessons with grand masters, chess camps and other kinds of enrichments like foreign travel that help children learn to think. By the age of 12, there may be 25 children across the country with the same kind of talent Tani has who come from wealthy families and practice three hours a day or more. With more kids playing and more kids serious in the future, Tani might have already had his best chance to win a major tournament. Or maybe he’ll become a chess professional. Hikaru Nakamura, one of the 10 highest rated chess players in the world had about the same rating as Tani at about the same age. Of course, Hikaru was studying chess three hours a day by the time he was ten.

But even if Tani never wins another chess tournament, his early achievement has identified him as a very special talent, and American society will now help him.

But kids like Tani are really few and far between. True talent, of the Tani or LeBron level, while distributed evenly among large populations (be they defined nationally, racially, by sex or by economic class), is nevertheless rare.  It’s not the Tani’s of the world who get screwed when wealthy parents put their kids through test prep after test prep, hire consultants and use their money to cheat or bully their children into highly rated colleges. It’s the average kids, and especially the above average but not brilliant kids of limited means who get screwed. And the screwing starts early, as wealthier parents are able to give their children the type of enrichment that most other parents can’t afford, unless they live in a large city with lots of free cultural opportunities. You know, the kind of stuff for which Republicans have spent the last 40 years slashing budgets, like libraries, music and drama programs, free lessons after school

Let’s face it. We love our little darlings and think they are all little geniuses. But most people are pretty average in ability and potential. Luckily, our economy produces a wide range of jobs that require every possible talent at every level. What we don’t do is value everyone or value every job. Our current society produces CEOs who make hundreds of millions of dollars no matter how the company performs, while millions of people have to live on a minimum wage that has remained stagnant for so many years that it’s buying power has been eroded to the point that in not one state in the country can someone afford a home on minimum wages. Meanwhile, many million more have seen no raise or even a shrinking of income when you adjust for inflation.

Imagine a world in which the range of salaries and wealth was much less than today, a world in which the cost of tuition at state universities was in the hundreds of dollars, a world in which a relatively high level of unionization insured that both union and non-union jobs paid middle class wages, a world in which high rates of marginal income tax (marginal meaning you only pay the rate for income above a certain amount, not your entire income) financed the building of roads and bridges, cheap public education, robust research and development and other government programs that create a level playing field and equalize the rewards of the winners and losers.

That world existed for the most part from 1940-1975 or so. It was not a perfect world, as minorities, women and the disabled did not have the opportunities that white males had in the workplace. Some would call it ironic that the era in which American society created a more level playing field for minorities and women was the very period in which the playing field became tilted in favor of the rich and the rewards became to be distributed in a less fair manner. Of course, many, including myself, wouldn’t call the simultaneous emergence of these two trends a coincidence.  Those interested in returning society to the Gilded Age of extremes in rich and poor in which selfishness reigned used the real plague of racism and the phony threat of job and status loss to the “other” to convince large numbers of both poorly and well educated voters to support candidates who created the conditions for today’s growing inequality by lowering taxes on the wealthy and cutting government programs.

The story of Tanitoluwa Adewumi makes us feel good, but it should make us feel ashamed and guilty, because it reminds us by virtue of being human everyone deserves the basics of an affordable home, a quality education, lifelong healthcare and a secure retirement. We shouldn’t judge a society on how well its talented do, but on how well the average and under-average do. We’re all people, whether we can figure out checkmates or have trouble adding two-digit numbers.

Trump supporters and the GOP are building a house of cards on Attorney General William Barr’s four-page interpretation of the Mueller report

Trump supporters and the GOP are building a house of cards on Attorney General William Barr’s four-page interpretation of the Mueller report

We don’t have the Mueller report yet, but we do have the quick-and-dirty analysis of it by an attorney general who got the job because of his previous strong public statement against the idea of a special counsel and a long-held disposition to declare all presidential actions as legal.

Trump supporters and other Republicans seem delighted in Barr’s version of the conclusions, but they have built themselves a house of cards which tumbles as soon as we look at the recent history of special counsel investigations.

First to the house of cards: Barr declares that there is insufficient evidence that the Trump campaign explicitly asked Russian to swing the election to Trump. It’s true that the events that have been made public such as the infamous Trump Tower meeting and Trump’s public request that the Russians help find Hilary’s so-called missing emails suggest that there’s a lot of smoke. But the standard for finding fire when it comes to Republicans colluding with foreign entities to swing presidential elections is extremely high. We know that South Vietnam’s reluctance to come to the negotiating table in 1968 helped Nixon win. We know that Iran not freeing the hostages in 1980 helped Reagan win. And we know that Russian interference in the 2016 election helped Trump win. In all cases, there is strong documentation that the representatives of the Republican campaign in each case met with foreign entities. But in all cases, Congress and the American people found that the idea of a major party colluding with a foreign power was so horrific that the proof had to be absolutely incontrovertible—some would say a standard too high ever to be met in the real world.

Trump actually gets off easier than Nixon or Reagan when it comes to considering a possible collusion, because the idea that Trump was an unwitting stooge or a useful idiot is just as believable as that he knowingly colluded. Russia may have conducted their nefarious assault on U.S. elections because Putin and his advisors felt strongly that a Trump presidency would weaken the United States. His history overflows with examples of not only his stupidity and his willingness to break laws, but also of a vanity that makes him brag about things that didn’t really happen. Then there’s his obvious ignorance of law dictating how governments and political parties operate that may excuse him. It’s thus believable that Trump did not collude/conspire.

However one wishes to interpret the smoke of collusion and conspiracy, Mueller found no smoking gun. But reducing a 22-month investigation to that one sentence is a weak foundation for what Trump supporters and other Republicans, including Barr, are saying now. Their argument goes like this:

  1. Mueller found no proof of collusion or conspiracy.
  2. Collusion/conspiracy was the underlying crime.
  3. Since there was no underlying crime, it was impossible for Trump to have obstructed justice, even if there are strong indications that he obstructed the investigation.

Over the past few days, I have heard some version of this argument delivered by both avid Trump supporters and other Republicans. The logical conclusion to this line of thought, of course, is that all the emerging investigations of Trump should stop, or at least those investigations related to collusion/conspiracy and obstruction.

But if we look back at the history of impeachment we have to conclude two important if usually unspoken principles of American justice as applied to presidents:

  1. Obstruction of an investigation equals obstruction of justice.
  2. Obstruction of an investigation is not only an impeachable offense, it may be the only offense for which a president can end up being impeached in the real world.

Let’s look at history: The articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson had nothing to do with obstruction of an investigation and Johnson was not impeached. The articles of impeachment against Nixon focused exclusively on the Watergate cover-up (i.e., obstruction). Does anyone doubt that Nixon resigned because he knew he was certain to be impeached by the Senate, and then convicted by the House of Representatives? Not for green-lighting a third-rate burglary, but for leading the cover-up, i.e., for obstruction. The articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton only mention obstruction of justice, for a simple reason. Kenneth Starr and his crew had spent years going through Clinton’s past looking for both high crimes and misdemeanors and found nothing. Zilch. A clean record. All Clinton did was lie about having a consensual affair with an adult woman. Messing around on your wife is not illegal, meaning that Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and not for any underlying crime.

The history of impeachment proceedings and politics therefore suggest that Trump supporters and other Republicans are dead wrong to suggest that Trump can’t be charged with a cover-up because there was no underlying crime proven, or that the cover-up isn’t impeachable because there was no crime. They have built a house of cards that tumbles as soon as we remove the false foundation that a cover-up exists only when we have proof of an underlying crime. The cover-up is in and of itself impeachable, and as history has shown, perhaps the only crime that a president can commit that will lead to impeachment.

Thus it comes down to how we interpret Mueller’s evidence, which Mueller himself refused to do. So far, only William Barr and his staff have attempted to cull through the hundreds of pages of Mueller’s analysis. Barr admits that there are signs of a cover-up, but he has decided to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. Would Kenneth Starr have made the same decision regarding Bill Clinton with the same basis of facts? What about Leon Jaworski about Nixon? Or Jeff Sessions about Trump?

With all due respect to Barr, there is plenty of public evidence of obstruction. His conclusions represent the efforts of one man, one with a known predilection to having an extremely high bar of proof when it comes to presidential actions. Before we let Trump off the hook, we need others—many others—to look at the Mueller report and perhaps the raw data behind it, too. At this point, that’s the job of the House of Representatives. We can assume, thankfully, that its investigators take longer than 48 hours to do their analysis, and that they will take into account the history of impeachment proceedings in deciding whether to drop the obstruction issue.

Private insurers will make a lot of money off Medicare-for-all, but that’s okay: everyone will be covered and overall costs will go down

There are a number of myths floating around the mainstream news media that portray Medicare-for-all as politically unviable, too expensive and impossible to implement.

The biggest misconception is that there would be no place for the politically powerful private insurance companies if everyone is on the government plan. This myth proposes that the eradication of private insurers makes passing a Medicare-for-all bill virtually impossible. If it did pass, consumer choice in plans would be severely limited, because private sector competition creates choice. Yet even a cursory look at the real world proves that only people with no actual experience of Medicare could seriously entertain the idea that Medicare-for-all would eliminate private insurers.

Private insurance has been an integral part of Medicare for decades, in three ways:

  • Private insurance companies offer supplemental plans that pay for the 20% of medical costs that Medicare doesn’t cover.
  • Private insurers also sell Medicare Advantage plans, which replace Medicare coverage with coverage through a private insurance company that Medicare pays for. Typically these plans offer a dental and eye benefit and wellness programs, but they also usually force participants to use a limited healthcare network of physicians and facilities. All of the Advantage plans saddle participants with co-pays.
  • Private companies offer prescription drug policies (Medicare Part D).

I doubt an American single-payer system could exist without the support of private companies. What’s more, private companies should embrace the Medicare-for-all concept. Although they will be forced to offer less profitable policies, tens of millions more people will be covered, a bonanza opportunity for private healthcare insurers. Moreover, the more people who are covered, the lower the overall cost of healthcare coverage, which will cut costs at the level of the individual insurance provider.

The next myth is that Medicare-for-all will give people less choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, people don’t get that much choice to begin with. Virtually every private healthcare insurer offers the same portfolios of benefits, with the same perks like wellness classes and on-line tools and apps, differing only in the size and composition of their provider networks and the combination of deductibles and co-pays they require. Everyone offers annual physicals. No one will pay for custom shoes unless the patient has diabetes. Cardiac stress tests, yes. Coronary calcium tests, no.

In fact, I would assert that Medicare offers more choice than private commercial insurance. For the past 15-20 years, it has been impossible to find a commercial plan that didn’t have co-pays or deductibles. I know, because I tried many times, having gotten use to buying healthcare plans without co-pays or deductibles for the employees of my company before the insurers did away with premium-only policies. (BTW, my company always paid the entire premium for employees and their families.)

By contrast, Medicare offers people the option of buying a supplemental plan—from a private insurance company—that pays all the costs that Medicare doesn’t cover without a deductible or a co-pay. That’s the kind of choice that appeals to this American!

Perhaps the most egregiously wrong-headed myth about Medicare-for-all is that it will be so expensive that it will bankrupt the country. That makes no sense, assuming that the money that companies and individuals now pay for commercial insurance goes towards taxes to pay for Medicare-for-all. It’s true that more people will be covered, but research and the results of Obamacare show that the more people who are covered, the lower the cost to insure each. The uninsured tend to wait until they are very sick to seek medical care, often using the very expensive emergency department. Society pays for those costs in one way or the other. It is much less expensive when people get regular check-ups, get their flu shots and other needed vaccinations, and are encouraged to go to the doctor as soon as they get sick. Most economic estimates predict that Medicare-for-all will eventually drive down the cost of medical care.

But who will pay? That’s the big question and the big fear. The answer, however, should be obvious: raise the Medicare tax on both employers and employees so that the additional tax collected is somewhat close to the current total cost for non-Medicare related commercial policies. We could exempt employees earning under a certain amount, but not their employers. We would, of course, have to make certain the tax applied to sole proprietors, freelancers and the companies who hire gig economy employees. At the end of the day, though, rich folk will tend to subsidize a Medicare-for-all system, while poor people will pay less than what they use. The same will be said for healthy people and young adults who will use the system less and the elderly and infirm, who will use it more.

This solution will leave some companies and individuals paying less for healthcare than they currently do and some paying more. But let’s remember that when governments decided to standardize weights and measures, merchants with scales that were “light” made less money as they adjusted what a pound meant up and merchants with “heavy” pound scales made more as they started selling “pounds” that weighed less. Likewise, when governments decided to prevent bakers from putting sawdust in bread—some bakers made more money and others made less. When American governments in the first half of the 20th century decided to tax mass transit systems while subsidizing the construction of highways, some companies and individuals made more money and some made less. When a government decides to go to war, change a safety standard, ask for a new piece of paperwork, or do just about anything, someone is going to make more money and someone is going to make less. That’s the nature of all economies. Don’t mistake these comments as an argument against regulation, though: the decisions of companies and consumers also always economically benefit certain parties and hurt others. Just ask towns when factories move away or the employees of small downtown stores when Wal-Mart builds a super store at a nearby mall. Or the people who manufacture Cleveland Cavalier paraphernalia.

Political questions always come down to who benefits and who pays. In the case of Medicare-for-all, a system can be created in which everyone, including the private insurance industry, benefits, except those rich folk who don’t like to subsidize the health care of others, those racists who don’t like society to help minorities, and those fanatics deathly afraid that people will like Medicare-for-all so much that they’ll start doubting the ideology of the free market which to many conservatives is their most cherished religious belief. In other words, only those who believe in or benefit from the politics of selfishness should fear Medicare-for-all.

In defiance of Nov’s blue wave & will of the people, NRA pursues challenging NYC’s strict gun law & Trump acts to make it easier to sell AK-15’s abroad

The blue wave that swept Democrats into office on the local, state and federal levels has given progressives and centrists hope that legislatures will soon start passing tougher gun control laws.

Meanwhile back at the ranch—or in Trump’s case, the garish, overpriced resort—those who want to expand the sale of guns and the rights of gun owners to create unsafe environments for everyone else are winning two major victories, both of which will lead to an increase in gun-related crimes, deaths and acts of terrorism in the United States and around the world.

When I write “in the United States,” I specifically mean my home town of New York City. As Amy Davidson Sorkin describes so well in her “Talk of the Town” article in the February 4 New Yorker, the New York state affiliate of the National Rifle Association and two Bronx gun owners are trying to get the Big Apple’s gun law declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law is so tough that gun owners can take their guns out of their home only if they are unloaded and in a locked case.  It will be the first time the Court will be considering gun rights since its awful 5-4 decision in D.C. v. Heller that proposed that the Second Amendment gave people an absolute right to bear arms that had nothing to do with serving in a government militia. With Brett Kavanaugh on the court, it’s likely that the New York City gun law will be overturned.

I take this lawsuit personally. In fact, it pisses me off bigly. One of the reasons I moved back to New York seven years ago after being gone for decades was because of the extremely tough gun control laws. It’s a no-brainer to figure out why New York has among the very lowest rates of crime, violent crime and murders anywhere in the United States. It is effectively illegal to carry a gun in the street and there is a relatively low level of gun ownership. Every legitimate study on the issue shows that the lower the number of guns in a locality, region or country, the fewer deaths and injuries from guns; the higher the number of guns, the higher the deaths and injuries from guns. No wonder New York is so safe. I can’t be the only New Yorker offended to the quick that these Bronx bozos and the NRA want to force their minority views on the overwhelming number of New Yorkers who like to be able to walk the streets and ride the subway safely. Keep in mind that large majorities of Americans, including gun owners, want stronger gun control laws, including the banning of assault weapons like AK-15’s and wait periods for all gun purchases.

Gun sales are down in the United States, primarily because gun owners loaded up on weapons during the Obama years, when they feared administrative action to regulate firearms ownership. But while enjoying success in corrupting and intimidating legislators on all levels of government, the NRA has not been able to grow its market, as the number of gun owners has declined steadily over the past 50 years. Of course, each of these gun owners own more guns than they used to. There are, however, still only so many guns the shrinking number of gun owners can afford to buy.

Luckily for U.S. firearms manufacturers and unfortunately for everyone else, the Trump administration intends to rescue them from a shrinking market by making it easier to sell AR-15s and other weapons to individuals in other countries by loosening export regulations and oversight. Many American gun and ammunition manufacturers that sell primarily to consumers will no longer have to register with the State Department, which currently licenses international arms sales, or to pay the department an annual fee. Instead, those sales would be licensed by the Commerce Department, which has a simpler process and does not charge a fee. According to the New York Times, the State and Commerce Departments privately told Congress that they intend to finalize the new rule soon. Once the administration gives Congress formal notice of the rule change, lawmakers will have 30 days to decide whether to intervene. It’s unlikely that Congress could permanently prevent the rule from going into effect unless the Democrats controlled both houses.

So it looks as if the federal government is going to facilitate the spread of the epidemic of mass shootings from the United States to the rest of the world.

As is usual with gun laws and gun violence, the hands of both major parties are dripping in blood. The Times reports that the Obama administration originally wanted to make a similar change. They were about to complete the rule when the Sandy Hook massacre occurred. Even though the rule change affects sales outside the United States, the Obama administration thought it was politic to drop the idea.

Trump uses threats to public safety that don’t really exist to justify building a wall along our southern border with Mexico that we don’t really need. Yet he and the Republican Party ignore the pressing need to strengthen gun control laws. Instead, they create more of a danger to the public by supporting laws, regulations and lawsuits that make it easier to buy guns or give gun owners more rights in the public square.

Let’s face it. The GOP has become the party of death and the culture of death. While both parties are dominated by militaristic thinking, the Republicans spend far more on the armed forces than the Democrats and start more wars, which after all, help their crony defense contractors and suppliers. Republicans are just as enthusiastic about helping commercial gun sales, as shown by their eager embrace of every proposed law and regulations of the gun lobby.

But the conservative predilection for death goes well beyond support for gun manufacturers and policies that kill people. We can start with their approach to healthcare, which denies coverage to people who can’t afford it to save wealthy taxpayers a few bucks. The GOP’s environmental and energy policies support the coming death of other species and millions of people in areas suffering extreme weather events. The GOP’s support for gutting social welfare programs shows a mean-spirited disregard for human life. The immigration policy if taken to its extreme will lead to the death of the American economy, since native-born Americans are reproducing at very low rates which, if unaugmented by immigration, will result in a rapidly shrinking population within a few years.

Even the GOP’s support of laws that prevent abortions is pro-death. Here’s my reasoning: You can’t die unless you are born. By forcing unwanted births and then shredding the social net that helps children in impoverished circumstances, anti-abortion laws almost by definition add to the toll of human suffering, including some number of unnecessary premature deaths.

The Democrats aren’t much better when it comes to killing people outside the country, but their domestic policies for the most support the health and well-being of the population.

I would like to write that never has a political party been so dedicated to death and so fascinated by destruction as the current edition of the GOP. But then I remember our genocide against the Indians, our dropping of two atomic bombs on Japanese cities, slavery’s destruction if human life. That’s just in U.S. history, and doesn’t consider the Soviet Union, England, France, China or Rwanda. The collective thinking of individuals that occurs in political parties too often falls prey to the dark nightmares of its most blood thirsty members.   

If Schultz runs for president, will business-oriented Republicans planning to hold nose & vote for Trump instead desert the Donald for Mr. Café Latte?

In daydreams I imagine a 2020 Democratic presidential ticket consisting of some combination of Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Jeff Merkel, Chris Murphy and Kamala Harris trouncing Trump or whoever the GOP nominates in 2020. Sometimes I throw Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand into the mix, or reluctantly configure a ticket that includes pre-boomers Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. My craziest fantasy is that Democrats nominate Hillary and she gets her, and the country’s, sweet revenge.

Really, I’d be delighted with just about any Democrat considering a presidential run, except for Beto or Tulsi. But like most people I know fed up with Donald Trump’s stupidity, racism, anti-intellectualism, bad policies and possible treason, I’d hold my nose and even vote for these inexperienced and undistinguished centrists rather than chance another term of ignorant and autocratic insanity.

But this week, those dreams turned ugly as I pondered the very real possibility that in November of 2020 Americans have the choice of a qualified Democrat versus two unqualified conservatives, Howard Schultz and Donald Trump. If Schultz runs, most experts and pundits expect him to filch more voters from Democrats than from Republicans, for one simple reason: Schultz, who proclaims he is a Democrat, will split the anyone-but-Trump vote. Non-racist centrists and conservatives planning to vote Democratic will flock to the Starbuck’s founder instead. In both 2000 and 2016, votes for third-party candidates handed the election to an unqualified Republican candidate who got fewer votes than a qualified Democrat.

I’m not sure whether this analysis is correct. We know that many business-oriented Republicans—you know, those who only care about low taxes on the wealthy and no government regulation of business—voted for Trump rather than any Democrat. It’s possible that those voters, fearful that a Democratic president will reverse Trump’s regulatory rollback and enormous tax cut for the well-heeled, are currently planning to vote Trump again, but will see Schultz as a “responsible” business-friendly alternative. In such a scenario, Schultz hurts Trump.

No one really knows what Mr. Café Latte’s influence on voters will be, but whatever it is, an independent Schultz run complicates the race into something other than Trump versus decency and science.  

Schultz qualifications are as illusory as Beto’s. That he is at all qualified to be president is as ridiculous as the false but highly publicized notion that Hillary or Warren are not likeable or that Octavio-Cortez acts inappropriately. But as long as the mainstream and right-wing news media keeps pumping out these myths, the American public will have to shift through the deceptive labeling and conflation.

If Schultz runs, the media will have a field day repositioning the Democratic candidate, making her/him seem far more left-wing than he/she really is. They will keep jabbering that Schultz is a centrist, someone who represents a middle position between the generic Democrat and Trump.

His statements about issues so far put Schultz at the far right of the Democratic Party, inhabiting a space similar to Beto or West Virginia’s Joe Manchin: He thinks the national debt is the most important problem facing the country. Remember, just about every politician who has ever stated that the deficit was our biggest threat, or a bigger threat than global warming or wealth inequality, has proposed cutting Social Security and Medicare to close the deficit. While Schultz favors same-sex marriage, gun control and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, he has stated explicitly that universal healthcare—“Medicare for all”—is un-American. His negative comments about Alexandria Octavio-Cortez’s realistic and fiscally responsible proposal to raise marginal tax rates to 70% suggests that his stated support of comprehensive tax reform probably means he wants the middle class and poor to pay more and the rich to keep paying a miniscule portion of their fair share. He wants to enhance border security, but is against building a wall.

There are a lot of issues about which Schultz hasn’t thought or has only expressed superficial or fuzzy ideas, unlike the typical candidate who has a long list of positions and specific proposed legislation before forming an exploratory committee. Whereas Harris, Gillibrand and Warren will be able to give you detailed policy analysis on every major or minor issue, for the most part Schultz hasn’t thought through much, not even his aversion to budget deficits.

And yet the news media takes him seriously!

Schultz’ billions of dollars and public visibility as the creator of one of the most prominent 21st century brands gives him several unfair advantages over other candidates for president. First and foremost, his money and prominence enable Schultz to capture the imagination of the news media, much as Trump did. He is immediately considered serious, regardless of his lack of policy or government experience. The quality of his ideas matters not. Now in Schultz’s case, he really has had great success in business, unlike Trump who has run every business he ever managed into the ground except for his forays into entertainment and branding. But over the history of the United States, there has been absolutely no correlation between success in business and success in government.  More important, only one president never either served in the military or in government before his election. That, of course, is the disaster who won the Electoral College vote in 2016.

Mr. Café Latte’s money enables him to ignore the primaries, and thus avoid the sifting through of candidates and positions that a political party does before agreeing on a nominee. Obama, Hillary, Bush II and even the Donald fought heavily contested primaries. By virtue of his billions, Schultz can automatically declare himself a finalist. Like so much in today’s society, it’s the privilege of instant credibility that is reserved only for the ultra-wealthy.

If Schultz is a patriot and not another billionaire full of himself, he will either run in the Democratic primaries or declare himself out of the race. If he truly cares about the United States, he will realize that his independent candidacy will only make things easier for Donald Trump. If he truly respects our American democracy, he won’t use his money to cut in line, but follow the system of primaries and caucuses that we have established after a few centuries of trial and error.  

AUMFs are really MFs, as they give POTUS authority to wage wars w/o first asking Congress. Let’s support Barbara Lee’s legislation to repeal 2001 & 2002 AUMFs

Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California wants to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the 2002 Iraq AUMF, which three presidents have now used to start shooting wars in what the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) calculates to be 18 different countries.

AUMFs authorize the president as commander-in-chief to authorize the use of American military forces unilaterally, without having to go to Congress for the permission or money. The 2001 AUMF enabled President Bush II legally to invade Afghanistan, and pretty much anywhere else he wanted to send troops. The 2002 AUMF specifically allowed Bush II to invade Iraq without having to go back to Congress for approval.   

These AUMFs are really MFs, to use the parlance of Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Until repealed, they just keep on keeping on, giving a legal fig leaf to unconstitutional authoritarian actions by the president. Our Constitution states that Congress has the sole authority to decide when we go to war. Yet a majority of current members of Congress did not vote on any war that the United States is currently fighting.  

To most Representatives and Senators, handing war-making authority to the president lets them off the hook with their constituents. They can say that they are in favor of or against a particular conflict, but they never have to have a voting record to put the lie to their words. It gives foreign powers—and the president himself (until a woman president comes along)—the illusion that the country is unified in supporting the war. Of course, I dare say most Americans would be unable to name the 18 countries in which we have fought under cover of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Tragic to note, not one of these wars has worked out with the U.S. getting what it wants. Iraq was perhaps the most foolish American invasion ever and led to the growth of ISIS throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Afghanistan has been the quagmire that even a cursory reading of world history would have predicted.

We must repeal the two AUMFs as a first step in shrinking the military budget and changing U.S. foreign policy to focus on multilateral negotiations and economic actions, not brute force. In 2019, the United States is going to spend more than $700 billion in the military budget. We could easily cut the military budget to under $400 billion if we withdrew from our many dirty little wars and stopped development of robotic weapons that work without human command and the next generation of nuclear weapons.

Imagine having $300 billion to spend on building dedicated mass transit, fixing roads, bridges and sewer systems, cutting the number of children in public elementary school classes, preparing vulnerable areas for extreme weather events and investing in carbon neutral technologies. Combine that with the billions more we could raise by doing what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes: returning to the income tax system pre-Reagan, when the highest marginal rate was 70%. Then we would have enough to address our many social problems and pay down our national debt. The entire history of the United States and the Western European democracies demonstrate that replacing military spending with domestic investments and raising taxes on the wealthy leads to a stronger economy in which there are mostly middle class people, with few ultra-wealthy. The opposite approach, favored by Republicans, of lowering taxes on the wealthy and spending as much as possible on the military to the detriment of domestic programs, has proven to create a society in which most are struggling to get by and a few have fabulous incomes and assets.

Repealing the AUMFs thus carries constitutional, moral, foreign policy and economic implications. Constitutionally, it will put war-making decisions back where they belong—in the hands of Congress. The moral dimension is obvious: fewer wars, less death, destruction and displacement. On the foreign policy level, we will end up in fewer wars, because the bar for starting a war will be much higher—not just the whim of an imperial president, but the vote of democratic Congress. Finally the economic case for repealing the AUMFs is compelling: fewer wars means fewer expenditures, which in turn should lead to investing more in building our future.

Representative Lee is working to get 50 co-sponsors to legislation to revoke the two AUMFs. I urge all readers to write, call, email or telegraph their Representatives and Senators and tell them that you want them to support and co-sponsor legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Trump’s wall is a typical GOP maneuver: Propose a stupid idea that hurts non- whites to solve a non-existent problem

As Stephen Colbert pointed out, Republican strategist Stuart Stevens best characterized Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech about the proposed wall along our Southern border hours before Trump gave the speech: “There are numerous examples of presidential addresses made to calm a public. This will be the first to frighten a calm public.”

The partial federal government shutdown is now well into its third week and millions of Americans are suffering because Donald Trump and his Republican flunkies in the Senate insist on building a wall along the border of Mexico, a bad solution to a non-existent problem. We already do tight security screening and illegal entry is way down, thanks to a combination of better Latin American economies and the unwelcoming attitude of the current administration.

It’s not the first time that Republicans have addressed a non-existent problem with a solution that will hurt many people, primarily non-whites, and not help the country. Remember, the states under GOP control have passed dozens upon dozens of restrictive voting laws to address the non-existent problem of voter fraud by individuals. Just as the origins of building a wall is racism, so was the wave of new voter laws, which have targeted minorities, the young and the poor. For example, the Texas voter ID law allows voters to use a hunting license as proof of identification, but not a Texas university ID card. As with the wall, new voter registration laws solved a non-existent problem by targeting non-whites.

Time and time again, Republicans have used non-existent problems in the economy as the excuse to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Once again, there were no long-term problems with the economy. But even if there had been—as there were in 2008—the way to grow the economy and create jobs is never to give tax breaks to the wealthy. What works much better is to give tax breaks to the poor and lower middle class. But what works the best is to raise taxes on the wealthy and invest the money in the economy—building new dedicated mass transit, fixing roads and bridges, making college more affordable, developing carbon neutral technologies. Yet every time the Republicans seize power, the first thing they do is lower taxes on the wealthy. They did it under Reagan, Bush II and now, Trump. Lowering taxes on the wealthy hurts not only racial minorities and the poor, but the middle class and most of the upper middle class, in several ways: It takes money out of the economy, as the rich invest their tax savings in the secondary stock market, bigger houses and other non-productive assets. More important, the government has fewer funds to invest in programs that actually grow the economy and create jobs.

The Afghanistan war breaks the GOP pattern of solving a problem that doesn’t exist with something stupid and racist, but just a little bit. We did have a terrorism problem in 2001. The Afghan War started within a month of 9/11, supposedly to hunt Al Qaida. So the problem was real, but the solution was just plain stupid—the wrong answer, almost by definition, since every outside power that has ever tried to invade or control Afghanistan has instead got caught in the worst kind of intractable, unending, unwinnable quagmire. The Soviet Union, England, the Sikhs, the Mughals—all of these governments invaded Afghanistan, and all soon regretted it. As has the United States.

That brings us to Iraq. Let’s set aside the war for a second and think about what the government had done by 2003 to fight terrorism—greater cooperation with allies, an enormous increase in surveillance, enhanced airport and border security and the development of drones are just some of the many ways we fought terrorism from outsiders after 9/11. Some would say, and include me in this group, that we committed overkill. By 2003, terrorism was no longer a problem, thanks to the Draconian measures the Bush II Administration took, with the cooperation of the Democrats. Thus the war in Iraq was another wrong-headed GOP solution to a non-existent problem that ended up severely hurting populations of non-whites. It perfectly follows the pattern of the wall, voting restrictions and tax breaks for the wealthy.

Those who say Trump has taken over the Republican Party are absolutely and completely wrong. Trump and the GOP were a match made in heaven. Trump’s policies and actions are completely consistent with Republican ideology since Reagan. His decision-making process fits right into Republican strategizing: Create a problem and solve it with a cockamamie idea that hurts non-whites. The wall represents the apotheosis of Reaganism. Those Republicans like Romney and Corey Gardner who criticize Trump only dislike his obvious emotional instability, his crude style, his addiction to lies and the overtness of his racism. They’re fine with his policies.

Trump’s foreign policy does represent a break from Republican ideology, to be sure. He rejects traditional alliances and seems fond of autocrats—perhaps picturing himself as the de facto leader of an international white nationalist movement. Of course, the true leader is Vladimir Putin.

But he deserves credit for announcing the drawdown of about half the troops in Afghanistan. We can only hope that he follows through on this promise, and soon brings home all our remaining troops in Afghanistan.

That would be a start to dismantling the global U.S. military machine now operating in 80 countries total. We have active troops fighting in 14 countries and have recently bombed or used drones in 7. Our military personnel conduct counterterrorism training in 65 countries. All this, in addition to our 40 military bases around the globe. While Trump courts disaster to turn his back on our allies, start a trade war with China and replace multilateralism with go-it-alone bellicosity, his instinct to bring home U.S. troops is a good one.

But even when he gets it right, Trump screws it up. Of all the many places where the United States has an active military engagement, just about the only one we can justify is our presence in Syria. We have no business in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Central African Republican, Yemen, Mali and elsewhere, but our small force in Syria does bring a small measure of stability to the civil-war ravaged country. We can only leave once there is a permanent political solution that protects the Kurdish population. To do otherwise would mean we have abandoned an ally, a despicable action that we know Trump has embraced before in both his business and political careers.