Thursday, February 09, 2017

What a racket: Crooked Donald and the family presidency

Donald Trump used a lot of rhetoric during the presidential campaign that resonated with people for reasons other than bigotry. Nearly all of his actions have betrayed that.

He talked about “draining the swamp” and taking on Wall Street, which he quickly betrayed by appointing a cabinet almost entirely madeup of Wall Street fat cats and other oligarchs.


He talked about reviving American manufacturing. Now he’s going after an American retailer for dropping his daughter’s failing line ofmerchandise which is… made in China.


The real purpose of Trump’s presidency is simple: to be an extension of his and his family’s businesses.


He bellowed non-stop about “crooked Hillary” but what he’s doing is worse. Far worse


It started with him violating the Constitution since the moment he swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend that Constitution.


It was followed quickly using the White House website topimp his wife’s jewelry line.


He hired his son-in-law to be his unaccountable taxpayer-paid advisor.


Now, he’s using his taxpayer-paid spokestools to defend hisdaughter’s private business interests.


All this and he’s only been in the job for three weeks.


Any one of these things might excusable.


But put them all together and you who is acting like some two-bit banana republic dictator.


Then again, we’ve devolved into a political culture where big business has successfully bought politicians to advance their corporate interests at the expense of the public. I guess Trump is just skipping the middle man. Maybe that’s where Betsy DeVos got the idea from.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Eminent domain: public good or crony capitalism?


Kelo v New London is arguably the worst Supreme Court decision of my life time still in effect. Citizens United is terrible too but it mostly legimitized a system that was increasingly corrupt anyways.

 

The US Constitution permits the taking of “private property for public USE" with just compensation.This process was typically used to obtain land to build highways, bridges, parks and other things the public has access to. There have often been battles over what constitutes just compensation but the principle of what constituted “public use” was pretty clear.

 

The Kelo ruling threw this out and authorized eminent domain  to be used for the far more nebulous reason of the public benefit. This is often invoked to justify giving the land – or selling it at a pittance - to a private developer to build a private structure because of the “public benefit” of greater tax revenue.

 

In other words, it opened the door for the government to seize property and use it to further crony capitalism.

 

In this story, the city of Hartford, CT, seized land from a developer who wanted to build a mixed-use structure adjacent to where a new baseball stadium was being built. The city seized the property from one developer and gave it to another developer.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The biggest loser of this presidential election: journalism

I’ve been saying for a long time that the decline of journalism would have a major impact on civic life in America. It was not an original though... Chris Hedges even wrote a book about it. 


This decline did not start in 2016 nor did its effects.


My dad pointed out the start of this trend about 20 years ago. It was reinforced to me when I lived abroad and listened on shortwave to foreign radio stations and noticed how differently they covered issues.


The decline is essentially the increasing emphasis on polls and “analysis” and opinion at the expense of in-depth factual reporting. Journalism has become less about revealing what’s going on beneath the surface and mostly dominated by parroting of superficial conventional wisdom. It’s shallow b.s. and the media that pats itself on the bdack as watchdog is suffocated by it.


For the last several years, Nate Silver has been canonized by adherents of the analysis school of “journalism.” I think only a week before the election, I checked his site. It said that Hillary Clinton had at least a 95% chance of winning (might have been 99%). It said that she had 268 electoral votes in the bag and Trump 210. And that basically Trump had to win every single swing state, bar none, to win the election. Clinton will end up far short of even that 268 that Mr. Infallible predicted. He epitomizes the failure of modern journalism. He’s a statistician yet the media treated what he did as journalism.


Trump/Pence’s fascist bigoted agenda was only endorsed by one of every four Americans. Trump is our president but the overwhelming majority did not endorse his agenda. Only one of our four


Nearly half of all Americans did not vote. This shows how sick our democracy is far more so than the identity of the winning ticket. The media only reports on two choices. And despite overwhelming disgust with those two, they almost completely ignore the two (national ones) that offer something meaningfully different. “Conventional wisdom” was that you were wasting your vote if you voted for a smaller party candidate. Even on those rare occasions a smaller party candidate gets media attention, there is NEVER an occasion where s/he isn’t asked about being a “spoiler” or chances of winning or other horse race garbage. S/he is lucky if meaningful policy discussion is even half of the interview.


So when you are told that your choices are to waste your vote on a good candidate or support someone you find morally repugnant, it is any surprise nearly half of Americans said “the heck with all this”? When they find out that the person who gets the most votes doesn’t win – unlike EVERY OTHER OFFICE IN AMERICA – it makes the process seem even more pointless. When “experts” and the professional pundit class tell them must vote for the “lesser of two evils” and to vote for A because B sucks even more, does that really inspire them with a deep sense of patriotic and civic pride?


If you want those half of Americans to actually vote, don’t lecture them. Don’t condescend to them. Give them a positive reason to do so.


 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Donald Trump will be your president. It's up to you to make sure he knows that.

Donald Trump will be my president in a few months. Just as Barack Obama will be my president until then. This is true even though I never voted for either of them.

There is a very simple reason for this.

If he is not my president, he owes me nothing.

If he is my president, then he is my public SERVANT. If he is my president, then he has the obligation to represent me. If he is my president, then I have standing to hold his rear end accountable and his administration's if he doesn't. If he is my president and I don't think he's doing a good job, I can try to get him fired in four years.

He will be the president of ALL Americans in a few months, whether he likes it or not. He needs to be reminded of that. Don't give him and his team an excuse to do otherwise.

He will be your president. It's up to you to make sure of that.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Fearmongering didn't prevent Brexit, won't prevent President Trump

The departure of the UK from the European Union and the rise of Trump are interesting and related phenomena. 

It's often said in this country that Trump is a threat to our democracy. In fact, he's a product of our democracy's failures. The same could be said of the Brexit.

Hatemongering fascists have always been an undercurrent of most societies. They only rise to prominence when the ruling elite is discredited as corrupt and dishonest and betraying those who work for a living. 

The EU is not really a coherent organization or set of institutions. Although it does confer many benefits, it's marginally democratic and hard for people to feel a sense of loyalty toward. Fixing it was a harder sell that quitting it. But the latter will have consequences too. 

It's easy for someone to look at Hillary Clinton's traditionally sketchy relationship with truth and ethics and think "The heck with that." As Trump is the only alternative most are made aware of, the disgusted gravitate toward him. 

It's beyond question that many racists and other bigots support Trump. But it's a mistake to infer that all, or even most, Trump supporters are like that. Many just want something different from the corporatist sellouts that the Democratic and GOP elites have been shoving down our throats for decades and erroneously think Trump is their only option. 

Trump's a more firmly part of the exploitative elitist class than even Clinton. And he's not their only non-Clinton option. Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Dr. Jill Stein are both far better choices than Trump and Clinton and offer positive, affirmative agendas. 

Spending decades trivializing the concerns of people who work for a living - and claiming they are just racists - is what's caused the huge backlash against the Democratic and Republican elites. 

Establishment fearmongering didn't prevent the Brexit and it will not be enough by itself to prevent a Trump presidency. When you don't give people an affirmative option to say yes to, the vacuum will usually be filled with something more nefarious.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Why the 'spoiler' and 'wasted vote' smears are so resented

"The reality of Washington, D.C., today is that we have one party, the Republican Party, completely dominated by big money and right wing folks. And you have another party, the Democratic Party, too much controlled by corporate money...” –Sen. Bernie Sanders. This is presumably why he himself is not a registered Democrat. This is definitely why I am not one.

A lot of mainstream Democrats and Republicans do not understand why phrases like 'spoiler' and 'wasted vote' are so resented by smaller party and independent voters. The reason is simple: it profoundly offends our notions of fair play and of what democracy is supposed to be about.

I think voting is supposed to be an expression of your values and priorities. If you vote this way, you, by definition, cannot spoil democracy because this IS democracy. If you honestly believe that a Democrat or Republican better corresponds with your values and priorities than a smaller party opponent, then by all means vote for him or her.

Somebody saying, "[Democrat/Republican] is the best choice because of positions on x, y and z and is superior to [smaller party candidate] because of a, b and c" is not only fair game but exactly how democracy is supposed to work.

Whereas, somebody saying, "Vote for [smaller party candidate] is a wasted vote" or "... is only running to feed his ego" is offensive. It's saying that ideas are irrelevant to how one should vote.

(Incidentally, you don't subject yourself to the grind and expense of an electoral campaign as a smaller party candidate with no money because of the glory. It's a fairly absurd implication)


In the last Congressional race in my area, nearly 20,000 citizens voted for the Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello. Everyone did so because they thought he reflected their values and beliefs better than his Democratic and Republican opponents. If you want to those citizens and told them to their face that they only cast their votes that way to 'spoil' the race, I suspect you'd get some unpleasant reactions.

Smaller party members are going against so-called conventional wisdom simply by joining a smaller party. Most do so because they still think elections should be governed by ideas, not polls, analysis, speculation and punditry. Telling them otherwise is usually going to be counterproductive. Make the case based on ideas or don't bother.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trump, not Sanders, is the candidate for the entitled generation

Sen. Bernie Sanders promotes taxpayer-funded college so that students can earn a degree, EARN a living, pay taxes and contribute to the system, rather than live off social programs. And he's the candidate of the entitled?

Sorry, but Donald Trump is the spoiled brat. Don't get what you want? Don't like the well-established rules? Just throw a temper tantrum and bait your supporters into doing the same. Try to intimidate the judges. Compare your critics to ISIS (but then claim you don't want them hurt). And enable this entitlement by paying the legal bills of thugs who break the law as long as they support your candidate. Trump is an entitled brat for the entitled brat demographic.

Oh and if building a wall and expecting someone else to pay for isn't 'socialism,' then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Happy birthday Peace Corps


Today is national Peace Corps Day. In 2004, I wrote this essay (slightly modified since) in honor of Peace Corps Day. It's become a bit of a tradition for me to re-post it every March 1.

Moms and dads have their day. Old presidents have their day. So do labor unions and medieval saints. Soldiers have two official days plus numerous 'support our troops' rallies. Even bosses and secretaries have days, according to Hallmark. So why not Peace Corps volunteers?

Today is Peace Corps Day. It's the 54th anniversary of the day President Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

Some people think the Peace Corps is a military organization. In fact, it's the antithesis. It's an organization which sends volunteers to developing countries to engage in such activities as teaching, public health, environmental management and small business development.

Volunteers receive a living allowance to cover their basic expenses and are provided housing, but are otherwise not paid. They received a modest readjustment allowance following completion of their service and a small (10 percent when I left) reduction in federal student loans. But they otherwise receive no further medical care or educational benefits. There is a small movement to obtain for departing volunteers benefits more similar to those received by those leaving the military, but it hasn't gotten anywhere.

The goals of the Peace Corps, according to the organization's website, are three:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.

Suffice it to say, all three goals have been important since the organization was created but #2 seems particularly crucial in the era of post-9/11 random invasions. Though increasingly, it feels like a "one step forward, three steps back" routine.

There have been many books on "the Peace Corps experience" (which is about as broad a generalization as "the American mentality"). Nevertheless, some themes tend to be pretty common among them.

-Go to God-foresaken country with the expectation to save the noble savages.

-Learn that they are not savages and that they are noble/ignoble in more or less the same proportion as Americans.

-Sense of loneliness in a totally alien culture.

-Learn that life without TV/computer is not the apocalypse.

-Leave with the realization that you learned more than they did.

-Sadness when they have to leave their village/city.

-Transmit these themes interspersed with a lot of humorous anecdotes.

-Commentary on the impact of American foreign policy, French foreign policy and the IMF/World Bank may be included.



Common themes for volunteers who served in sub-Saharan Africa, as I did, are as follows:

-Annoyance at people who call you 'toubabou' (or whatever the local language word for 'white person' is); "My name isn't 'toubabou'," fumes the author. "My name is John!"

-Agitation that everyone wanted you to marry their sister/brother/son/daughter or get them a visa to go to America.

-Rage at the dichotomy between the fabulous wealth of the political elite and the overwhelming poverty of the masses.

-Observation to the effect that "[nationality] are so poor monetarily but so rich in spirit/culture/community."

-Elegies about how welcoming [nationality] are to strangers.

-A brief history of the country and the legacy of European colonialism.

-Maddening anecdotes about dealing with corrupt officials, musings on heat, mosquitoes and hygeine and comical (or frightening) travel stories.

-General commentary about "the African condition" may be included.


(And just so I don't sound like a snob, I included every one of these themes in my journal and letters home)


The best book I've ever read about "the Peace Corps experience" was George Packer's The Village of Waiting. It was a wonderfully written book in its own right. But I enjoyed it even more because, even though it was set in Togo and I served in Guinea, it was pretty much the story of my experience. Reading The Village of Waiting is why I decided not to write a strictly autobiographical account of my experience: it had already been done.

Update: Just a reminder that in the history of the Peace Corps, 296 men and women have died in service, at least one in every year (except 1986) that the Peace Corps has existed. A website has been devoted to them.