Changing Course

After talking with someone about the constant stream of bad news assaulting us every day, I decided to do something different with this blog. I’m going to try to post about more positive topics. Given how things are, this will probably mean I’ll have less to say.

The same phenomenon is visible in a political newsletter I get. The section called “Is That Hope?” — which features encouraging news — is always the smallest by far.

My posting less shouldn’t be much of a loss, however, since there is too much to read on the internet anyway (as well as in out of the way places like “books”).

But there’s one qualification: I intend to insert something like the following in every post, as a reminder and because silence might be seen as acquiescence:

The American president is a disaster. He is almost certainly doing something horrendous right now. That’s why we should vote him and every other Republican out of office in November. If you’re willing and able to support Democratic candidates in addition to voting for them, please do.

For example, I might point out that Gary Larson, the cartoonist responsible for The Far Side, has a site now. It features a few of his old cartoons every day (and it’s free). They had one of my favorites yesterday:

Untitled

And by the way, the American president is a disaster. He is almost certainly doing something horrendous right now. That’s why we should vote him and every other Republican out of office in November. If you’re willing and able to support Democratic candidates in addition to voting for them, please do. 

You’ve Been Robbed

From Paul Waldman of The Washington Post on Twitter:

Even if you’re lucky enough not to have lost anyone or gotten sick in the pandemic, you are the victim of a robbery.

Because of Txxxx’s malignant incompetence and the stupidity of his followers, we’ve all been robbed of time we can’t get back – maybe a year or more.

We’ve been robbed of time with loved ones, education for our kids, contact with others, at least a little freedom from this constant anxiety, just the mundane but precious parts of normal life. It is a theft, and it didn’t have to happen this way.

In many countries with competent leadership and a sane populace, the pandemic is under control. Here are new cases yesterday:

Spain: 389
Germany: 361
Canada: 306
Japan: 227
Italy: 191
Netherlands: 64
S. Korea: 53

USA: 50,934

Robbery victims often speak of a sense of violation, one that turns into rage that has nowhere to go. You may be feeling that now. And you should. We all should. We’ve been robbed of so much, even if we’ve escaped the worst.

Maybe you’re not an immigrant or a racial minority or a trans person or someone else Txxxx has attacked directly. Maybe you still have your job and haven’t lost a loved one or gotten sick. But we are all his victims now.

And he should never be forgiven.

[Neither should his accomplices, especially the politicians.

You can use the Search Directory at ActBlue to find Democrats to support.]

What He Does and Doesn’t Have Going For Him

People who write headlines often do a crappy job. Here’s an example from The New York Times:

Even if presidents have less sway over the economy than is widely assumed, perception can be important.

The headline implies that the economy is just about perfect. It’s not. As Steven Rattner points out:

T—- promised growth of “4, 5, 6 percent”, a tax cut that would raise workers’ wages significantly [and pay for itself!] and new trade policies that would again make the United States a manufacturing powerhouse. None of those things has happened….

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut explains the situation:

One of T—-‘s favorite tactics is taking credit for Obama’s economy. Democrats need to stop letting him get away with it. A quick thread debunking some of his favorite lies:

Job Creation:

Obama created 227K jobs a month in his last three years in office. In T—-‘s first three years, it’s only been 191K per month.

Job creation numbers were 20% higher under Obama during that three-year span.

Deficits:

T—- DOUBLED the budget deficit, creating over $3 trillion in new debt.

Where did all this money go? Mostly to tax cuts for corporations and rich people. But instead of boosting the economy, business investment has actually fallen since the tax law passed.

Wages

Real wages aka what you can buy for the amount of money you take home, are actually doing worse under T—-.

They increased just 0.8% since T—- took office, compared with 1.3 percent over a similar period under Obama.

Trade War

Trump’s self-inflicted trade war contributed to outright job declines last year in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Indiana and New York.

Overall, the trade war with China cost America 450,000 jobs in 2019.

Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the great depression and pulled America out of it.

T—- was handed a healthy economy and has made things harder for working families while juicing corporate profits.

Don’t let his lies try to tell you otherwise.

Paul Krugman provides needed context:

[It’s] worth talking about why the economy is growing. The answer is, it’s the deficit, stupid.

T—-‘s deficitpalooza is giving the economy as much stimulus now as it was getting in 2012, when the unemployment rate was 8%. Imagine what Obama’s economy would have looked like if [Republicans] and Very Serious People had let him run deficits that big.

And of course imagine if we were using that money to build infrastructure and help children, not give corporations more money to buy back their own stock.

[In 2009] some of us were tearing our hair out over the fact that the stimulus was obviously too small. But Obama and his inner circle insisted that it was inconceivable to [get around the filibuster by using] reconciliation to enact something bigger, because norms or something.

In the end Obama [and other Democrats] paid a heavy political price because recovery was too slow, thanks to inadequate stimulus; T—- is getting a dividend because nobody, including the bond market, actually cares about budget deficits. So many bad things have followed from Obama’s caution back then. The course of history could have been very different.

… Republicans hobbled the Obama economy in the name of fiscal responsibility, which they abandoned as soon as T—- came in. But how big a deal was that?

Absent [Republican] sabotage, we would have been down to 4% unemployment in 2014. Think how different everything would look if we’d done that.

Finally, a few words from Nancy Pelosi:

Under Obama…

  • Unemployment dropped from 10% to 5%
  • Stock market went from 6,000 to 18,000
  • Deficit was reduced by a trillion dollars
  • The US gained more than 14 million private sector jobs.

[T—-] did not inherit “a mess”, he inherited a momentum.

Her Dream Candidate Exists

Quote:

If I was going to invent a dream candidate, she would be grounded in small-town, rural or heartland America but able to hold her own in the citadels of power on the coasts. She would comfort the afflicted with the same passion with which she afflicts the comfortable, and she would understand the causes of those afflictions and have good ideas about how to remedy them. She would be moved by compassion but wouldn’t ask us to rely on compassion; she would have tangible strategies for widening our distribution of income, healthcare, education and opportunity, and she would be smart about the intersections of race, gender, class and the rest.

She would have been around long enough to remember that since the 1980s the government has dismantled a lot of systems that made us more safe and more equal, and she’d be fresh enough to imagine new ways out of the consequences of that catastrophic dismantling. Also she would have to be funny and have big plans to address climate change. OK, she already exists, and I’m talking about Elizabeth Warren. She is, to me, a better candidate for president than I ever expected we’d have.

My … dreamiest dream candidate would be a woman of color with Medusa hair who could turn the entire Republican Senate to stone with a glance, but Warren is who’s left in the race, and she is magnificent, and superheroes from Megan Rapinoe to Roxane Gay agree. Also, she pretty much turned Wells Fargo’s CEO into stone in a 2016 Senate banking committee hearing, more than a decade after she became one of the most outspoken experts telling Wall Street why it’s vicious and half a decade after she endorsed Occupy Wall Street. The strength of her candidacy is shown by how she’s made it to the front of the race despite misogyny from across the political spectrum, the wrath of the billionaires pouring money – and themselves – into the race, and the smears and distortions of the mainstream media.

Really I see her as a combination of three superpowers: wonkiness, radicalness and what for lack of a better term I would call Big Structural Mom Energy. The wonkiness is how she set new standards in primary campaigns with those famous plans – far more detailed, with the costs accounted for, than was usual before she arrived. The depth with which she understands the economic system – taxes, banks, bankruptcies, credit cards, home and student loans, redlining – is the depth with which she can change it.

That wonkiness is how she got here, how she looked long and hard at the data around how things work and found her own path forward from where she started out. It’s true that she didn’t start out as a progressive, and she was registered as a Republican during some (not all) of her formative years, but she never voted for Reagan, and she did vote for McGovern in 1972 and Carter in 1980 and other Democrats while she was supposed to be a Republican.

I’m from the urban coastal immigrant-Jewish left myself, which does not actually make me virtuous, but lucky in that I didn’t have to travel far to land in progressive positions (and gives me a front-row seat on how much misogyny and meanness the left can include). The word radical comes from a word for roots; Warren has certainly been radical in her analysis of root causes since 1975, when her first law-review article savaged an anti-busing court ruling. Way back then, she was delving deep into how the law blocked equal educational opportunity, and she weighed in on the side of Detroit’s black families and the urban poor generally.

Her radicalness now includes, first of all, a willingness to make big changes, whether it means breaking up big tech or taxing billionaires or bringing healthcare coverage to everyone. Our first and most urgent priority must be addressing climate chaos, and the great obstacle to doing anything about it is corporations and the elites who profit from them. Warren has shown no fear of going after them and no fear of the kind of massive structural change we need to address the climate crisis. (In addition to supporting the Green New Deal and promising to ban fracking and stop fossil fuel extraction on public land and coastal waters, she just released a Blue New Deal for the oceans.)

At the heart of her campaign is kindness as an emotion, as a value – and as a basis for policy

What I call Big Structural Mom Energy could also be called radical compassion. It lies in the homey delivery and quality of attention she brings to, for example, the young queer woman in Iowa she encouraged and hugged earlier this month. Warren, who has said more about trans rights than any other candidate, has made her credo clear, over and over: that everyone matters, and matters equally, and that the systems that shape our lives should value, defend and give everyone opportunity equally. She got a lot of attention for her comic answer to the question about what she’d say to someone opposed to marriage equality, but after the laughter was over, she said something she’s said in many forms in her campaign: “To me, that is the heart of it. That was the basis of the faith that I grew up in, and it truly is about the preciousness of each and every life.”

It’s about equality, but not just economic equality: as understood from a deep engagement with where the dangers lie, where the suffering is, whether it’s black maternal mortality or the plight of refugees or the burden of student loan debt. At the heart of her campaign is kindness as an emotion, as a value – and as a basis for policy. As she put it in her call with Megan Rapinoe: “We really believe in equity. We believe in racial equity, we believe in gender equity, we believe in everybody gets a chance in this country.”

All this makes her, in my eyes, not just the best candidate to undo the damage of the Trump era but the best candidate to make this country live up to its promises, potential and ideals in ways it never has before.

Unquote.

That is Rebecca Solnit writing in The Guardian.

The bad news is that many of us don’t want this country to “live up to its promises, potential and ideals in ways it never has before”. Others don’t think a woman could or should do the job Warren is seeking.

As a result, we may get the candidate we deserve, not the one we need.

The Passing Parade

The year is almost over and so is the decade that’s strangely ending with a “19” instead of a nice, round “20”. There is lots of news and commentary out there. An extremely truncated summary:

It didn’t make a splash, because this is 2019, not 1971, but The Washington Post reported:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable…

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking … Who will say this was in vain?”

The Afghanistan Papers won’t get as much publicity as the Pentagon Papers. They should have called them the “Afghan Papers”, more concise language now being the custom.

The Post also explained the history of the “It was Ukraine, not Russia” myth that has taken up permanent residence in what’s left of the Toddler’s brain and is so popular among right-wing politicians and propagandists everywhere. In a few words, the Russian government created the myth in order to cast blame on somebody else:

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity [of course]. . .One former senior White House official said [the president] even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

The Popular Information political newsletter summarized new analysis of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors:

An extraordinary analysis by top legal experts, published by Just Security, clearly explains how the impeachment inquiry [implied] that [the pres] committed at least three (and probably more) federal crimes. All of these crimes involved him abusing his presidential powers, making them particularly relevant to impeachment….

  • Federal campaign finance law
  • Bribery
  • Honest services fraud

[This last one] occurs “when a public official breaches his duty to act in the best interests of his constituents by performing an official act in exchange for personal gain”, such as “withholding funding that had been allocated by Congress —  money intended to advance U.S. national security by helping Ukraine combat Russian aggression — to advance his personal political interests”.

Cool.

By the way, Congressional Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash (an independent who was kicked out of the Republican Party when he exercised his conscience) finally got around to impeaching the monster. Paul Krugman reacted:

What we saw Wednesday was a parade of sycophants comparing their leader to Jesus Christ while spouting discredited conspiracy theories straight from the Kremlin. And as they were doing so, the object of their adoration was giving an endless, rambling, third-world-dictator-style speech, full of lies, that veered between grandiosity and self-pity…

Republicans, in other words, are beyond redemption; they’ve become just another authoritarian party devoted to the leader principle. And like similar parties in other countries, the G.O.P. is trying to rig future elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression, creating a permanent lock on power

But if Trump’s supporters look just like their counterparts in failed democracies abroad, his opponents don’t.

One of the depressing aspects of the rise of authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice has been the fecklessness of their opposition — disunited, disorganized, unable to make an effective challenge even to unpopular autocrats as they consolidated their power.

Trumpism, however, faced determined, united, effective opposition from the beginning, which has been reflected both in mass marches and in Democratic electoral victories. In 2017 there were only 15 Democratic governors, compared with 35 Republicans; today the score is 24 to 26. And last year, of course, Democrats won a landslide victory in House elections, which is what made the impeachment hearing and vote possible.

Many of the new Democratic members of Congress are in Republican-leaning districts, and some observers expected a significant number to defect on Wednesday. Instead, the party held together almost completely. True, so did its opponents; but while Republicans sounded, well, deranged in their defense of Trump, Democrats came across as sober and serious, determined to do their constitutional duty even if it involved political risks.

Now, none of this necessarily means that democracy will survive….

What we learned Wednesday, however, was that those who define America by its ideals, not the dominance of a particular ethnic group, won’t give up easily. The bad news is that our bad people are as bad as everyone else’s. The good news is that our good people seem unusually determined to do the right thing.

Finally, speaking of good people, the widely-read evangelical magazine Christianity Today called for the Toddler’s removal from office. The editorial got so much attention, their website crashed:

His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused…. .Whether [he] should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments….

To the many evangelicals who continue to support [him] in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of [the president] influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off [his] immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

You have to wonder how many of the president’s supporters understand that, if the Senate did its duty in the new year, our convicted president would be replaced by super-Christian Mike Pence, not the dreaded mainline Protestant who failed to carry Wisconsin.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we face two major issues:  climate change and bringing majority rule to America.

Majority rule would mean dealing with the courts, the Electoral College, a skewed Senate, gerrymandering, election security, campaign finance reform and voter suppression. It’s quite an agenda. But, as Senator Warren [subject of the latest Rolling Stone interview] keeps saying, we need big, structural change in our political system if we’re going to make progress on issues like climate change, inequality and much more.

Oh, and you might check out “The Historical Case for Abolishing Billionaires” in The Guardian. It begins by quoting another well-known proponent of regulated capitalism, Adam Smith.